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Union, New Jersey, Legal Blog

Workplace rights regarding harassment and retaliation

An employee who understands workplace rights in New Jersey may be better equipped to confront issues related to sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination. The ability to recognize illegal workplace discrimination and assert legal rights could lead to a solution or prevent a problem from festering.

Federal law defines harassment as severe and pervasive conduct that intimidates or abuses an employee. Someone sexually assaulted at work would have a clear case of a hostile and abusive workplace, but most cases involve ongoing mistreatment inspired by the person's sex. Conduct, such as offensive jokes, lewd pictures, requests for sex or gender-driven insults, could meet the legal standard of what reasonable people would view as sexual harassment.

Study finds that discrimination isn't uncommon

According to the 2019 Diversity and Inclusion Study, 61% of respondents said that they either saw or experienced discrimination on the job. This is in spite of the fact that companies in New Jersey and throughout America are putting more money and effort into diversifying their workforce. The study included 1,100 workers, and it found that workplace discrimination was more common in the United States than in European countries such as France and Germany.

However, the study did find that Americans and Europeans alike believe that more should be done to make workplaces more diverse. Roughly half of those polled in the United States and Europe said that this was the case. Both racism and ageism were common forms of discrimination that workers in the United States saw or experienced at work. According to a representative from Glassdoor, employers need to make sure that employees are free to be themselves while on the job.

Employers cannot discriminate because of pregnancy

Despite there being laws that prohibit employers from discriminating against women because of pregnancy, that sort of discrimination remains a problem in New Jersey and across the country. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reportedly received 2,790 pregnancy discrimination complaints in 2018 alone, and a staff attorney for the Women's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union said that figure likely underestimates the number of workers who are impacted by pregnancy discrimination.

The ACLU staff attorney also pointed out that the number of complaints for pregnancy discrimination increased by almost 50% from 1997 to 2011. According to an estimate by the National Partnership on Women and Families, as many as 250,000 pregnant women annually do not receive the accommodations they are entitled to under the law. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act was passed in 1978, amending the already-existing Civil Rights Act. Under the PDA, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against a worker due to childbirth, pregnancy or a medical condition related to childbirth or pregnancy.

EEOC gives definitions of workplace harassment

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, harassment is unwelcome conduct based on sex, race, religion, color, age, national origin, genetic information or disability. Harassment based on sex includes discrimination related to pregnancy. As another example, harassment based on age is prohibited against people who are at least 40 years of age. The federal harassment laws that apply in New Jersey and across the country are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.

Behavior in the workplace may qualify as actionable harassment if the employee is required to go through offensive conduct under the threat of job loss or the offensive conduct results in a hostile work environment. Employers are also prohibited from retaliating against employees who exercise their rights under anti-discrimination laws. Examples of offensive conduct include slurs, epithets, offensive jokes, name-calling, physical threats or assaults, intimidation, mockery and interference with work performance.

The EEOC describes the type of relief it may order

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released an article that described which types of relief it can provide for victims of federal workplace discrimination. The EEOC is responsible for handling discrimination claims in New Jersey and around the country. When they order relief, their goal is to give the victims compensation that makes them whole or as close as possible to whole.

According to anti-discrimination laws, the EEOC is allowed to provide both financial and equitable relief for discrimination victims. They can order back pay and compensatory damages as well as training, reinstatement, and even appointment to a new position. Relief is ordered on a case-by-case basis according to the circumstances of the discriminatory action. Victims can also be compensated for attorney's fees and costs.

LGBT employees are protected from discrimination in New Jersey

Many people in the LGBT community worry about how they express themselves at work, for fear of being discriminated against. They may not want to reveal certain aspects of their personality, from the way that they like to talk to the way that they like to dress. The truth is that we all have the right to be ourselves in the employment environment. Feeling that we need to hide who we truly are to fit in will only lead to poor job satisfaction and performance.

If you are worried about your managers or coworkers learning about your sexual orientation, you should take the time to learn about the laws in place to protect you. In New Jersey, there are laws in place that prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Uneven enforcement of workplace policies

Employers create internal policies to manage employee behavior and promote productivity. Enforcement of these policies, however, might appear inconsistent, especially to workers in New Jersey who suspect that their gender, race, sexual orientation, age or ethnicity prompted managers to single them out for punishment or termination. A court case involving the dismissal of an openly gay man has established the precedent that uneven enforcement of company rules does amount to discrimination.

The circumstances that led to the case involved a heterosexual married woman and a gay man. The employer hired them at the same time, but only fired the gay man for violating the prohibition on personal use of the internet at work. The woman had also used a company computer to send personal emails, but she did not lose her job. The court concluded that the man had been a victim of workplace discrimination.

Age discrimination common in New Jersey despite aging workforce

A new survey has found a disconnect between workplace attitudes and older workers' intentions of remaining employed. When the Hiscox insurance company queried people about age discrimination, responses showed a widespread problem. Among workers age 40 and over, 20% responded that they had been the target of age discrimination at work. The same survey, however, indicated that 67% of respondents 65 and younger expected to remain employed after age 66.

The prevalence of discrimination varied by gender. After turning 40, roughly 25% of women reported that their age impeded career advancement. Men reported greater difficulty -- 43% of them believed that passing the 40-year mark reduces the chances of getting new jobs. Very few respondents said that their employer's bias training addressed ageism at all.

TSA workers complain about workplace harassment

New Jersey workers can face racial discrimination and harassment in a variety of settings, including in the high-pressure environment of airport security. In the baggage screening area at one international airport, a makeshift noose was discovered. As a result, two Transportation Security Agency (TSA) workers were suspended with pay while an investigation is pursued. The discovery comes following repeated complaints of harassment and racism on the job for TSA employees. Officials described the noose as an "offensive display", and it was found in an employees-only area that was closed to passengers and the public.

TSA employees are not alone in complaining about being treated differently because of their race on the job or harassed with racist remarks or slurs. In June 2019, one black worker at a Boeing plant in South Carolina sued the aerospace firm. He also reported finding a noose near his desk and said that other workers at the plant urinated near his chair and desk in an attempt to harass him and force him from the job. He says that after he complained about the racist abuse, he faced retaliation from the company. Earlier in the year, in March 2019, a group of 19 UPS workers said that they also found a noose at the distribution center in Ohio where they worked.

Study finds fewer instances of sexual harassment

A survey published by Plos One found that workplace sexual harassment complaints had gone down in New Jersey and throughout the country between 2016 and 2018. It is believed that the #MeToo movement played a role in this occurring. Women who took part in the survey said that they felt more confident in reporting instances of harassment. They also said that they felt better about confronting their abusers than they had in the past.

The study included 500 women who were between the ages of 25 and 45. Between 2016 and 2018, reports of sexual solicitation from colleagues went down by 10%. Those who are victims of sexual harassment may experience negative career and emotional consequences. For instance, they may doubt whether they got a job because of their qualifications or because someone thought that they were attractive. Study participants said that they felt less shame after hearing others share their stories as well.

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