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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 law does not categorize petty slights, non-serious isolated incidents or annoyances as harassment. Rather, to violate the law, the conduct must rise to the level that the work environment would be hostile, offensive or intimidating to a reasonable person. Unlawful harassment may include situations where the victim is not economically injured or discharged from their job. A person need not be the victim of harassment to have a claim; anyone impacted by the offensive conduct might have a valid claim.

Employers in New Jersey are required to provide employees with safe work environments. An individual who believes they have been harmed by harassment in the workplace might want to meet with a lawyer. A lawyer with experience in employment could help by identifying potential claims and negotiating monetary or other relief with the employer. Legal counsel might also draft and file a complaint for damages in civil court.

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