In New Jersey, it is illegal under state and federal law to be harassed on the job because of your sex or gender. Sexual harassment can take the form of explicit demands for sexual favors, in exchange for job security, promotions, or other terms and conditions of your employment. Sexual harassment can also consist of conduct that is either so severe, or so pervasive, that it creates a hostile work environment. Either form of harassment is illegal.
Many employees believe that sexual harassment can only occur when a man harasses a woman. Others believe that sexual harassment only occurs when there is a sexual touching, or explicit demands for sex. While these are common forms of sexual harassment, in fact, the law's ban on sexual harassment sweeps much more broadly than that. Any form of harassment that creates a hostile work environment is illegal, even if there is no physical touching or demand for sexual favors. Moreover, sexual harassment is illegal when men harass women; when women harass men; when men harass men; and when women harass women.
You have an absolute right to a harassment free work environment. You have the right to come to work and perform your job, without fear that you will be abused because of your sex.
At Dwyer Barrett, we have litigated several sexual harassment cases, in a number of settings, and have tried to verdict harassment cases involving unusual fact patterns, such as male-on-male sexual harassment. If you have been sexually harassed on the job, you have a right to get help to stop the harassment.
It is illegal for an employer to treat an employee unfairly on the job for reasons that are discriminatory. This means that an employer cannot lawfully discriminate in any of the terms or conditions of work. An employer who fires or demotes an employee, denies an employee a promotion or a raise, pays an employee less money, or discriminates in any other fashion, is violating the law, and is subject to a lawsuit for damages.
"Discrimination" under the law does not refer to any form of unfair treatment. Instead, it refers specifically to various forms of unlawful treatment based on certain characteristics. For example, as almost everyone realizes, it is illegal to discriminate against an employee based on race or gender. But the discrimination laws in New Jersey reach much more broadly than that. In New Jersey, it is illegal to discriminate based on, for example, age, national origin, disability, ethnicity, color, sexual orientation, religion, obesity or marital status.
It is not necessary to have "smoking gun" or direct evidence of unlawful discriminatory intent. Instead, courts recognize that employers are well aware that discrimination is illegal, and that they will try to hide discrimination, just like they will try to hide other illegal conduct. Discrimination can be and often is proved by indirect or circumstantial evidence. For example, proof that workers affected by a layoff were older would be evidence of age discrimination.
At Dwyer Barrett, we have litigated to verdict several types of discrimination claims, including claims involving age, race, gender, national origin and disability discrimination. If you believe you have been discriminated against on the job, you should seek competent counsel from experienced attorneys, to advise you whether you have a valid claim, and if so, how to seek redress.
Employees are permitted to complain on the job in good faith about conduct that is illegal, without fear of retaliation. An employee who "blows the whistle" on illegal activity at work, has a right to be free from any form of reprisal by the employer.
When an employee complains about discrimination on the job, of course, the employer may not punish the employee for speaking out. But New Jersey's protections for whistleblowers are much broader than that. In New Jersey, it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who complains about any activity, policy or practice that is illegal, or that violates a clear mandate of public policy. This applies not only to complaints of discrimination but also, for example, to complaints concerning health, workplace hazards, public safety and financial improprieties.
Because the law is designed to protect employees who are acting in good faith, the employee does not have to prove that the illegal conduct is actually occurring. Rather, the law protects any employee who complains about illegal conduct in good faith, even if ultimately turns out that the employee was mistaken. Either way, the employer may not retaliate against an employee who registers a complaint in good faith.
At Dwyer Barrett, we have repeatedly litigated retaliation claims to verdict, and we have set important precedents in the law under New Jersey's whistleblower statute. If you believe you are being retaliated against for whistleblowing, you should get help from experienced attorneys, to protect your right to speak out in the workplace.
Employees who have disabilities or handicaps have the right to participate in the workforce just like everyone else. And this means that employers are affirmatively required to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees, to empower them to perform their jobs.
New Jersey's anti-discrimination law does more than just protect employees with severe or major disabilities. Even employees with more mild impairments or limitations are protected. The law is designed to insure that all employees, regardless of the nature of their limitations, are able to engage in work without arbitrary obstacles placed in their path.
When a disabled employee seeks an accommodation on the job for her condition, the employer may not simply dismiss the request. Rather, every employer is under an affirmative obligation to make a good faith effort to explore the issue with the employee, in a meaningful attempt to find a workable solution. The employer cannot refuse to help just because it may cost money or cause an inconvenience. Unless the accommodation request would impose an unreasonable burden on the workplace, the employer must comply.
At Dwyer Barrett, we have repeatedly handled accommodation claims, and have repeatedly tried those claims to verdict. If your disability is not being properly accommodated by your employer, get assistance from experienced attorneys, so you will be able to work in a discrimination free environment, that respects and values your contributions.
Employees often find that they need time off from work because of their own medical condition, to care for a new child, or to attend to a family member with a serious medical problem. At one time, employees were at the mercy of their employer's leave policies, and sometimes were forced to choose between their jobs, or their families. However, under federal and state law, it is now often possible for the employee to seek a leave of absence from work, with the assurance that she won't lose her job.
The federal and state family leave acts, however, are not without limitations, and they do not protect employees in every instance. They are, in fact, complex statutes that are difficult to apply, and have several pitfalls that can leave an employee without protection. If they are understood and applied properly, however, they can often save an employee's job at a time of crisis.
Dwyer Barrett has extensive experience handling family leave claims under both federal and state law. If you are concerned that your leave rights have been violated, you should consult with a knowledgeable attorney, to help you navigate through this complicated and specialized area of law.
Some employees work under employment contracts that give them important rights to job tenure, compensation, stock awards, and other benefits. Unfortunately, sometimes employers will not respect their contractual obligations. Some employers will try to cheat an employee of his contractual rights, by denying him pay, compensation, commissions or other benefits that the employee has a right to under the contract. In some instances, the employer may force an employee to accept a unilateral change by threatening to fire the employee if she refuses to give up her contractual rights. In other instances, an employer will fire an employee for no valid reason, even when the contract says employment cannot be terminated without just cause.
In New Jersey, however, an employee's contractual rights extend even beyond written individual contracts. New Jersey's Supreme Court has enforced other binding promises against employers, to insure that employees are treated fairly on the job. For example, in some instances an employee handbook that promises job security can be an enforceable contract, so that an employee cannot be fired without just cause. In other instances, even an employer's oral promise to an employee can be binding, if the employee relied on the promise and gave up something of value in exchange.
At Dwyer Barrett, we have handled several contract claims for employees, enforcing both written employment contracts, as well as other binding promises, such as handbook claims, and we have successfully litigated employment contract claims to verdict. If you are concerned that your employer is trying to evade its obligations to you under an employment contract, you should get help from experienced and knowledgeable employment attorneys, to insure that your contractual rights are respected.
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