Bullying and The New Jersey Healthy Workplace Bill: Beyond Harassment and Hostile Work Environment

From the classroom to the break room, bullying is a term that has become ubiquitous over the past several years, and the need for legislation to protect employees from this particular type of behavior has become all the more evident. While current employment laws provide employees protection from discrimination, sexual harassment, other harassment, and a hostile work environment, there is no law that protects employees against the abuses that result from bullying. In order to address this gap in the employment law, the New Jersey Healthy Workplace Bill was submitted to the Senate Labor Committee earlier this year. The Bill goes a step further than the current employment discrimination laws by providing redress to employees who are the victims of abusive conduct, regardless of age, disability, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, or any other protected class for that matter.

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“Abusive conduct” is defined in the Bill as “the malicious conduct of an employer or employee in the workplace that a reasonable person would find hostile, offensive or unrelated to an employer’s legitimate business interest.” Repeated verbal abuse such as the use of derogatory remarks, insults, and epithets may constitute abusive conduct in and of itself. While a single act does not constitute abusive conduct unless it’s egregious, the gratuitous sabotage or undermining of a victim’s work performance does. Notably, “abusive conduct” need not relate to the victim’s age, disability, gender or inclusion in any other protected class. Thus, if an employee is threatened, intimidated, or humiliated by an employer or fellow employee through the use of verbal or physical conduct, a New Jersey employment lawyer representing the victim could seek redress under the provisions of the Bill without having to demonstrate any underlying discrimination.

This comprehensive and necessary Bill will further discourage mistreatment of employees by making it unlawful for an employer to engage in or permit abusive conduct. The Bill also protects employees who bring an action under the Healthy Workplace Act from retaliation by the employer. Under the provisions of the Bill, an employer may not retaliate against an employee who makes a charge, testifies, assists or participates in any manner in an investigation or proceeding concerning abusive conduct and the existence of a hostile work environment.

Under the bill, an employer who knowingly and willingly violates any of these provisions will be held liable. The penalty for such a violation could be as much as $25,000.

Although it may take on different forms, bullying has no more business being in the workplace than it has on the schoolyard. No employee should have to fear repeated verbal assaults, inappropriate or offensive jokes, undeserved verbal or written reprimands, or any other offensive and demeaning conduct. Moreover, when an employee suffers such abuse at the hands of an employer or fellow employee, the victim should not need to demonstrate that he or she is a member of a protected class. It is time that the law prohibits all forms of bullying, not just bullying based on race, religion, or sexual orientation. In this respect, the New Jersey Healthy Workplace Bill is a substantial step in the right direction.

Click here if you are interested in petitioning for enactment of the New Jersey Healthy Workplace Bill.

The Resnick Law Group, P.C. has been advocating the rights of employees, and handling employment law matters on behalf of employees, for more than 30 years in and around New Jersey and New York City. If you feel your employer has violated your rights, contact the Resnick Law Group, P.C. at 973-781-1204 or 646-867-7997. We are located in Roseland, N.J. and Midtown Manhattan on Broadway.

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