Accusations of harassment can come up in many different circumstances and can affect anyone. Whether you are being accused, or are the victim, it is important that you understand what is the punishment for harassment in New Jersey and if a situation is in fact considered an offense.
In this article, we will go over what is considered harassment and what are the different penalties an offender can face.
What Is Considered Harassment in New Jersey?
Under New Jersey’s law, a wide variety of behavior can be described as harassment. According to N.J Statute 2C:33-4
, a person can face harassment charges if they engage in any of the following actions.
Making any type of communication anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours. Using offensively coarse language or any other form of communication that may (to a reasonable extent) cause annoyance or alarm.
For example, if someone in your office leaves threatening notes on your desk every other day. Maybe they want to keep you from applying for a position they want. Whatever reason they have, if this results in you feeling fearful or annoyed, it can constitute harassment in NJ
Physical Offenses (Striking, kicking, shoving, etc.)
The second type of forbidden behavior under New Jersey's anti-harassment laws is striking, kicking, shoving, and any other offensive physical touch, as well as the threat of doing so. If this behavior results in an actual bodily injury it may no longer be considered as harassment. Instead, it would be charged as a Simple Assault
For example, if someone in your office keeps standing too close to you because they know it bothers you, or approaches you in a threatening way, to corner you (even if they do it as a joke). If this behavior makes you feel uncomfortable and threatened, it is considered harassment.
Repeated Alarming Acts
Another behavior that would be considered harassment is repeatedly committing acts with the purpose to seriously cause annoyance or alarm another person. Equally, any alarming conduct that causes a reasonable person to feel anxious, distressed, or threatened, even if it’s not constant.
For example, if you have a dispute with your coworker, he says he knows where you live and seriously threatens to kill you, he can face harassment charges. Even if it is not done repeatedly, it can cause a great deal of anxiety and distress not only at the moment but for a long period after the threat.
In general, the statute in New Jersey harassment charges can be quite broad, and people might have different opinions in regards to what actions can alarm or seriously annoy someone. However, repeated threatening phone calls and any offensive and pervasive physical contact usually meet the definition of harassment.
But what are other situations that could also lead to harassment charges?
The charges of cyber-harassment can have a lot of the same elements as ordinary harassment charges in New Jersey. In this case, they are electronic communications (online) that are offensive and can alarm or seriously annoy someone.
It is considered cyber-harassment if the person threatens to physically harm or commit a crime against another person (or a person’s property) via an electronic device. Also, social media harassment
can happen when someone knowingly posts, comments, or makes any sexual/obscene suggestions about a person with the intention of emotionally harming them.
For example, a coworker who constantly sends you sexually suggestive emails, even if you never respond or acknowledge them. Or, if they send text messages to everyone in your office, spreading mean rumors about you. When these actions make you feel fearful, threatened, or extremely annoyed, they are considered harassment.
This is the most common type of harassment accusation, especially in the workplace. Sexual harassment includes offensive and any unwelcome behavior
, comments, requests for sexual favors, and physical advances. Although sexual harassment in the workplace is more common, it can also take place in learning environments like schools/universities and even among friends and family.
Sexual harassment is not always considered a harassment offense in the New Jersey statutes. This may be because harassment is usually a minor offense, whereas sex-related crimes are taken more seriously.
If you are accused of sexually harassing someone, depending on the circumstances you may be charged with a sexual offense instead of facing harassment charges, and be sued in civil court.
For example, if your supervisor at work constantly hugs you, touches your arm or leg when he has a chance, or pressures you to go on a date with him, he can be charged with harassment (this behavior must be unwelcome and unpleasant to you).
On the other hand, if he forcibly kisses you and intentionally gropes you without your consent, this would be considered a sexual assault crime.
What is the punishment for harassment in New Jersey?
Depending on the circumstances of the incident, the New Jersey harassment charges can be different. In most cases, harassment is classified as a petty disorderly persons offense (which is similar to misdemeanors in other states), but there are certain scenarios when it could become a fourth or third degree crime.
Let’s review these cases and the punishments for each.
Petty Disorderly Persons Offense
This is considered to be the lowest level of criminal charge you can face in New Jersey. If you are found guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense, you don’t have a right to a jury trial because these offenses are not considered crimes. You will be subject to the following penalties.
- A $500 fine
- Jail time of up to 30 days
- A permanent criminal charge on your record with a possibility of expungement (asking a judge to seal the record by going to court)
Anyone found guilty of harassment will be charged with a petty disorderly persons offense, with the exception of the following scenarios.
If you are charged with harassment while you are on probation or parole for an indictable offense, the charge will instead be considered as a fourth-degree crime, even if the previous charges are not related to the harassment accusation. Cyber harassment is also considered a fourth-degree crime.
This, being a felony, carries the following penalties.
- A fine of up to $10,000
- Jail time of up to 18 months
- Permanent criminal record (expungement available only after 5 years)
A cyber-harassment accusation can be a third-degree offense if the perpetrator is over the age of 21 and was harassing a minor by pretending to be a minor as well. The potential penalties you can face if you are charged with a third-degree crime in New Jersey include.
- A fine of up to $15,000
- From 3 to 5 years in jail
- A felony conviction on your criminal record
How do you prove harassment in New Jersey?
Proving harassment can be difficult, because feeling or being fearful or annoyed by someone is very subjective. The behaviors that someone can consider harassment may be viewed differently by someone else (including an attorney or judge). You must provide enough evidence that the perpetrator “had the purpose to harass another”.
Such evidence can include
- Proof of any similar threats made by the same person in the past
- Any footage or pictures of the incident
- The testimony from a witness or another victim
- Any other material you can gather like notes, text messages, or voicemail threatening you can help you backup your accusation.
If you are being sexually (or in any way) harassed, you should report it to local authorities and be prepared to provide as much information as you can from the incident (what, when, and where it happened, as well as witness information if you have any)
Are the accusations against you?
In the case of being accused of harassment, you should seek legal guidance and/or contact the Office Of The Public Defender
to apply for a New Jersey criminal defense attorney or a free consultation. Having the help of a harassment lawyer from the start is very important, even if you think the charge has no merit.
Harassment charges are not typically serious, and a lot of times come from misunderstandings or poor communication skills. But, without the correct guidance from a criminal defense lawyer, you may take the wrong steps and end up worsening the situation.
The process of reporting a harassment offense is different if it happens at work. Here’s what you need to know about workplace harassment.
Harassment in the workplace
Harassment in the workplace is a form of employment discrimination. The harassment incidents that often take place in a work environment are not usually based on personal or relationship conflicts. A person can be a victim of workplace harassment on the base of their race, color, religion, sex (this can be gender identity, sexual orientation, or pregnancy discrimination
When should you take legal action?
Harassment at work is only legally actionable if it is so pervasive and severe that, in fact, it ends up changing the terms or conditions of your job. For example, if a coworker uses derogatory and offensively coarse language, or constantly makes jokes at your expense, the offensive conduct can become so annoying that it creates a hostile work environment
. This can affect your performance and put you at risk of losing your job.
The first step is to report the incident to your direct supervisor or the human resources department (if your supervisor is the perpetrator). It is your employer’s responsibility to follow up with the allegation and stop the offensive behavior.
If the issue is not resolved, and the harassment continues, it should be escalated to the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
(EEOC) where they will evaluate the situation and determine whether there can be any legal action taken.
Employers Can Be Liable For Harassment
An employer can be held liable for hostile work environments and harassment charges. This can happen if the company was made aware of the problem and had the opportunity to provide a resolution through investigation, but failed to do so.
In this case, the victim (employee) can seek help from the EEOC to bring a lawsuit against the employer and the company will be subject to investigation. Employers should take all possible preventive measures to ensure a workplace free of harassment and discrimination.
How can employers prevent workplace harassment?
As an employer, you are required by the state of New Jersey to maintain effective anti-discrimination as well as anti-harassment policies. These policies should be aimed to prevent, stop, and resolve any harassment incident in a timely and effective manner.
These preventive measures include a zero-tolerance policy and mandatory harassment training in NJ
. If you need help providing the proper training to all of your employees, EasyLlama is exactly what you need.