Employers generally understand that all forms of workplace harassment, be it racial harassment, age-based harassment, disability-based harassment, sexual harassment, etc., are unlawful. It is in all employers’ best interest to be concerned about workplace harassment and to take steps to prevent it within their company or organization. Workplace harassment puts employers at risk for low employee morale, a ruined reputation and expensive employee lawsuits, and financial damages — all of which can compromise profitability, recruitment, retention, loss of profitability and overall negative consequences for your business.
Federal law and New Jersey state laws prohibit two main categories of workplace harassment. The first is called quid pro quo sexual harassment, when a supervisor makes submission to unwelcome sexual advances or sexual conduct a term or condition of employment. The second form of harassment is hostile work environment harassment, which occurs when communications are made or actions are taken by one or more persons against another person(s), which would not have occurred but for the protected status (gender, race, age, religion, disability, etc.) and was severe or pervasive enough to make a reasonable person of the same protected status believe that the working environment has become harmful or offensive. Both types of harassment can be verbal, nonverbal or physical and may include a broad array of behaviors, including for example, jokes, questions, pictures, messages, touching, gestures, and others.
How can I minimize risk of workplace harassment lawsuits?
- Monitor your organizational culture: As an employer, it is critical for you to be proactive and to pay attention to the interpersonal dynamics of your staff. Talk to your employees and your managers. Get a sense of how things are going. In this way, you will be able better to identify, prevent and respond to potential or existing issues. Set an example of appropriate behavior at all levels of the organization.
- Review your policies: Make sure have a policy prohibiting all forms of employment discrimination, and a policy prohibiting workplace harassment. Your workplace harassment policy should include a statement prohibiting workplace harassment, a definition of what constitutes harassment, a procedure for reporting harassment complaints, including designating specific persons to receive complaints, an explanation of how complaints will be investigated, a statement about discipline for policy violations, and a prohibition against any retaliation against employees who report workplace harassment or participate in harassment investigations.
- Distribute and enforce your policies: Policies are useless unless they are widely distributed to all staff, and consistently enforced throughout your organization. Policies also are essential if you ever have to defend against claims of employment discrimination or workplace harassment.
- Train your staff: Employers are legally obligated to conduct periodic training of supervisors and all employees on workplace harassment. Many employers take it further and include workplace sensitivity as part of training, to help employees understand not only what is prohibited, but also what is permitted and expected and why it matters. Managers and supervisors at all levels should be trained to avoid, recognize, prevent and report workplace harassment and to recognize that they are representatives of the organization and can create legal liability if they violate or fail to enforce your organization’s policies.
- Know how to protect your business: There are many New Jersey and federal laws that govern the workplace and it pays to be aware of and comply with them. Employment Practices Liability Insurance can help protect you if an employee claims you engaged in wrongful employment practices.
Weiner Law Group: Committed to the well-being your company… and your employees
If you want to learn how to protect your organization, or if a harassment issue develops within your organization, count on the experience of Douglas S. Zucker, Esq. and the Employment Law Attorneys at Weiner Law Group to guide you and to protect your interests throughout the process. We have the expertise to help you stay in compliance with New Jersey laws against harassment, spot potential legal issues early, and to represent you in defending or prosecuting your cases. Weiner Law Group is an AV Rated firm representing businesses and their owners, as well as non-profits and public entities in all aspects of labor and employment law for New Jersey employers. Contact us for more information or to arrange for a consultation.