Workplace harassment and retaliation can take many forms. The law protects job applicants and employees from harassment and retaliation in the workplace if it is based on a protected characteristic, such as your race/color, age, sex, pregnancy, religion, national origin, or disability.
Harassment can include offensive or derogatory remarks about a person’s race, for example. The law does not protect you from isolated or offhand remarks, or teasing. But the law does protect you when the harassment is so severe or frequent that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or it results in an adverse employment decision such as firing or demoting the victim.
- Workplace sexual harassment affects women in every profession and across every demographic. But anyone, male or female, can be a victim of sexual harassment, and a harasser can be a woman or a man, or they can be the same sex. A man might harass another man, a woman might harass another woman.
- Federal law considers sexual harassment a form of sex discrimination, which violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it occurs in the workplace. There are also state laws that prohibit sexual harassment, including the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”). The NJLAD prohibits employment discrimination against any person on the basis of the NJLAD’s protected categories, which include sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.
- EEOC guidelines state that sexual harassment can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, and the harassment is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment, or it results in an adverse employment decision such as firing the victim.
- The harassment does not have to be sexual in nature, though. It could include offensive statements about a person’s sex. For example, it is against the law to harass a woman by making offensive statements about all women.
- Federal and state laws protect job applicants and employees from punishment for asserting their rights to be free from unlawful harassment or discrimination in the workplace.
- According to the EEOC, it is unlawful to retaliate against applicants or employees for:
- Filing a complaint, charge, investigation, or lawsuit, or being a witness in one;
- Answering questions during an internal investigation of harassment or discrimination in the workplace;
- Communicating with a manager, supervisor, or HR representative about harassment or discrimination in the workplace;
- Refusing sexual advances;
- Intervening to protect others from unwanted sexual advances;
- Refusing to follow instructions that would result in discrimination;
- Requesting an accommodation for a disability or religious practice; or
- Asking coworkers or managers about salary information to determine whether there are discriminatory differences in wages.
- Participating in a complaint process is always protected under anti-retaliation laws, but in order for other acts that oppose discrimination to be protected, the employee must be acting on the reasonable belief that what happened in their workplace violated discrimination laws.
- Examples of retaliation could include:
- Increased scrutiny of the employee’s work or lower performance evaluations;
- Making the employee’s work duties or schedule more difficult or less desirable;
- Transferring the employee to a less desirable position;
- Threatening to report, or actually reporting, the employee to authorities such as an immigration agency;
- Verbal or physical abuse;
- Spreading false information about the employee; or
- Treating a family member negatively, such as canceling a contract with the employee’s spouse.