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What Counts as a Hostile Work Environment

There are state and federal laws that protect employees against a hostile work environment. This raises an important question: What constitutes a hostile work environment? The short answer is a hostile work environment is one that includes severe or pervasive harassment based on a legally protected characteristic. In this article, our New Jersey employment law attorney provides a more detailed overview of the key things you should know about hostile work environment claims

Understanding the Standard for a Hostile Work Environment Claim

Employees should be able to enjoy a workplace that is free from harassment. As described by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment constitutes a “form of employment discrimination” if an employee was subject to a hostile work environment. To prove a hostile work environment, an employee must establish the following three things: 

  • Employee Made Uncomfortable or Unwelcome: The first element of a hostile work environment is that the employee in question must have been made to feel unwelcome or uncomfortable to the point that it adversely affected their ability to do their job. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) require covered employers to provide employees with a work environment in which they are not held back by discrimination, including discrimination due to harassment.  
  • Based on a Protected Characteristic: Neither New Jersey law nor federal law protects workers against mistreatment in the general sense. To bring a hostile work environment claim, an employee must prove that they were subject to harassment based on a legally protected characteristic. Some notable examples include race, color, national origin, gender, sex, sexual orientation, pregnancy status, and disability status. 
  • Offending Conduct is Severe or Pervasive: A hostile work environment is not merely a “subjective” matter. The harassing conduct at issue in the case must also meet an “objective” definition of a hostile work environment. The offending conduct must be so severe or so pervasive that it would interfere with a reasonable person’s ability to comfortably do their job in a similar circumstance. One severe incident could constitute a hostile work environment on its own. Likewise, many small incidents could constitute a hostile work environment when taken together. 

It should be noted that a hostile work environment can be created by anyone. It could be that harassment is coming from a business owner, a supervisory level employee, a co-worker, or even a client/customer. Employers have a proactive responsibility to prevent hostile work environments and to take the appropriate action when an issue arises. 

Contact Our New Jersey Hostile Work Environment Lawyer for Help

At the Law Offices of Usmaan Sleemi, our New Jersey employment law attorney has the skills and experience to handle hostile work environment claims. If you believe that you or a loved one was subject to an unlawfully hostile workplace, we are here to help. Contact us today to set up a strictly confidential initial consultation. With law offices in Parsippany-Troy Hills and Paramus, we provide employment law representation throughout the surrounding communities.