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Recognizing Behaviors That Can Foster a Hostile Work Environment

For decades, New Jersey has been at the forefront of laws against discrimination in the workplace, including harassment of employees based on race, ethnicity, faith, gender and other personal characteristics. One type of harassment is the creation or tolerance of a hostile work environment. This means subjecting employees to unwelcome conduct that is severe or pervasive enough that people with certain personal characteristics would consider it intimidating, hostile or abusive.

Hostile workplace harassment usually means there is observable behavior that would make a reasonable employee feel the work environment had fundamentally and negatively changed. Such behavior can manifest itself in a number of ways, such as:

  • Verbal expression — Examples are jokes, slurs, derogatory remarks, insults, threats and sexual advances.
  • Nonverbal expression — Unwelcome conduct can consist of gestures, unwelcome physical contact or displaying negative imagery.
  • Online communication — Work emails, group chats, social media posts and other online communications might be used to promote hostile attitudes.
  • Social exclusion — Not inviting certain employees to after-work group activities, such as bowling, game nights or even dinner outings, can be part of a pattern of hostile behavior. 
  • Abusive management — A manager or supervision might vent hostile attitudes selectively against certain employees. These tactics may include public shaming and scapegoating.

A court deciding a harassment claim will look at various factors to determine whether the conduct in question contributes to a hostile work environment, such as the frequency and severity of the conduct and the effect that it has on workers’ ability to do their jobs without interference.

Even a single instance, if severe enough, can create a hostile work environment. An example would be a manager’s racially charged comment made to or about an employee of the applicable race in the presence of other employees in the workplace. If the manager goes undisciplined, the comment could signal to that employee and to witnesses that the company tolerates such prejudices.

Organizations can be held liable even if management is not directly involved. A hostile workplace can be orchestrated by not only by managers and supervisors but also by co-workers, independent contractors and vendors who come into the workplace. Company liability can be based on failure to adopt and promote anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies that call for training staff, establishing reporting mechanisms and taking prompt action when complaints are filed.

If you believe you’re in a hostile work environment and have reported the problem to your company’s management to no avail, you have the right to file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. You may also have grounds for bringing an action in state court. An experienced employment law attorney can advise you on the best path and can assist you in the process.

Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in Hackensack is devoted to fighting for New Jersey employees’ rights to be free of workplace harassment. Call us at 551-245-8894 or contact us online to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.

Neil  H.  Deutsch Attorney Photo
Neil H. Deutsch

Neil H. Deutsch has been practicing law for over 35 years and is known as a skilled negotiator in employment and discrimination law. He believes in a bottom-line approach of risk analysis and cost effectiveness for his clients. "Case evaluation is something we take seriously," says Mr. Deutsch who seeks top net dollar for his…

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Bruce L. Atkins
Senior Partner

Bruce L. Atkins is the Senior Managing Partner at Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt P.C., a prominent plaintiff employment law firm in the tri-state area. Mr. Atkins believes employees’ rights should be aggressively pursued when they’ve been wrongfully dealt with by their employers. He brings this philosophy to his practice when considering each case and its…

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Adam J. Kleinfeldt

Adam J. Kleinfeldt joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in March of 2015.  He primarily represents individuals in employment litigation such as discrimination, retaliation and whistle blowing matters. He has extensive experience in all phases of the litigation process. Adam has obtained significant results for his clients, including a $525,000 jury verdict in a sexual…

Debra M. McGarvey Attorney Photo
Debra M. McGarvey

Debra M. McGarvey joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in December 2019. She has extensive experience defending employees and employers in state and federal court in employment litigation matters. She has represented clients on various issues arising out of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), the…

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Carly Skarbnik Meredith

Carly Skarbnik Meredith, Esq. is a Partner at the firm. Carly has focused her career exclusively in the field of employment law. She has a plethora of experience representing both employees and employers with their employment issues, needs, and concerns. She believes representing both employees and employers has made her an extremely well-rounded client advocate.…


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