As the #MeToo movement brings workplace sexual harassment into the spotlight, some people are expressing concerns. As some employees speak up about their experiences and complaints, others can feel blamed, attacked, or otherwise uncomfortable. For employers, it’s important to develop protocols for properly handling these kinds of situations and ensuring that all employees have a safe working environment.
North Bergen Township is defending a lawsuit brought by two former EMS workers who claim they were wrongfully terminated after a conflict with local law enforcement officers. Luis Deleon and Tamara Sepulveda claim they were disciplined and ultimately terminated in retaliation for refusing to engage in what they believed to be illegal and unethical behavior as directed by North Bergen police.
Discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, and other protected characteristics is prohibited by statutes like the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and the federal Civil Rights Act. The purpose of these statutes is to protect citizens against discrimination in the workplace, in housing, and in obtaining goods and services, and in many other aspects of everyday life.
These statutes bar open and obvious discrimination, such as refusing to employ or rent an apartment to someone based on their race or national origin. Another aspect of discrimination that is prohibited by these laws, however, is known as “disparate impact.” This describes policies that seem neutral but in practice have a discriminatory impact on a protected class of people.
Sexual harassment in the workplace is prohibited by both New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and federal law (Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964). In fact, employers have a legal obligation to their workers to take steps to protect them from all forms of workplace harassment. This includes establishing preventive measures to help minimize sexual harassment and other workplace misconduct, putting a system in place to allow employees to report harassment, and implementing remedial measures when harassment is reported. When an employee reports harassment to HR, the employer has a responsibility to adequately investigate the allegations.
Late this summer, the city of Vineland, New Jersey, entered into a $425,000 settlement agreement with veteran police officer Richard Burke. Officer Burke, who agreed to retire under the terms of the settlement, made claims against the department for violation of New Jersey’s Whistleblower Law (also known as the Conscientious Employee Protection Act, or CEPA). This law protects employees from being terminated or suffering other retaliatory action for reporting situations at work where they reasonably believe their employer or one of its agents is acting in violation of a law including engaging in criminal or fraudulent practices.
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) protects against discrimination based on certain protected characteristics in housing, employment, places of public accommodation, credit, and business contracts. In general, the NJLAD prohibits taking “adverse employment actions” against employees or candidates for employment because of protected characteristics or discriminating against employees or candidates in any actions related to hiring, firing, compensation, terms and conditions of employment, or retirement based on protected characteristics. A recent case involving the Plainfield Fire Department reaffirms that the NJLAD protects members of a majority group against illegal discrimination in the same manner as it protects minorities.
Non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) are common in settlements of workplace sexual harassment suits to limit what the parties can reveal about the facts of the complaint and the terms of a settlement. They often limit what all parties involved can reveal about the accused harasser, the alleged victim, and the workplace culture or environment that may have fostered or condoned behavior that led to a harassment claim. In light of the #MeToo movement, which encourages victims to speak out publicly about their experiences of workplace harassment in an effort to prevent future occurrences, a number of states have passed or are considering legislation limiting NDAs.
Worker misclassification costs more than you may think. While employees who are misclassified as independent contractors may pay higher self-employment taxes and miss out on many benefits and protections of state and federal laws, New Jersey also misses out on significant revenue that businesses must tender to the state on behalf of employees but not independent contractors.
The #MeToo movement has helped bring workplace sexual harassment into the spotlight. As more and more employees speak up about their concerns, complaints, and personal experiences, employers strive to respond to their individual issues and develop protocols for handling these situations. One excellent resource for employers and employees working to establish and implement response systems is the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
Topics: Employment Law