Most people are aware of how to conduct themselves properly in a work environment. Through news reports, movies and television nearly everyone who is old enough to work knows that they are certain behaviors that are inappropriate in work settings. Things like telling racist or off-color sexual jokes are known to both the person making those statements as well as the listeners as obviously offensive.
Ironically, some other behaviors are often overlooked for their potential to offend. For example, posting a partially nude calendar in a common break area may seem like a relatively benign act. So may staring at a coworker's backside as he or she passes by you. Taken by themselves, these acts might seem to be of little consequence. However, when subtle acts of harassment are perceived in the totality of their circumstances, they can sometimes have the effect of creating a hostile work environment for some members of protected classes.
The general definition of a hostile work environment is when some form of harassment occurs that is directed against a protected class. Examples of protected classes are age, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity and more.
In a previous entry on our blog post, we wrote about a situation in which a coworker was whispering crude jokes and making other sexual remarks to other colleagues. This is a good example of a situation that might create a hostile environment, despite the fact that the comments were not directed to any particular individual.
If you are a New Jersey employer, you should know that you could be inadvertently allowing things to occur in your workplace that might make you vulnerable to harassment claims. Alternatively, you could be working at a place where you feel stressed constantly by the behaviors and attitudes that your coworkers express to you.
Since 1969, our law firm has been providing legal services to clients throughout New Jersey from our Nutley offices. We understand the sensitive nature of hostile work environments, whether you are an employer seeking to defend your company against sexual harassment claims or you are a victim. Prospective clients should also know that four of our 11 attorneys are certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as civil trial attorneys.