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What Constitutes Harassment in NJ (New Jersey)?

The unfortunate thing about harassment is that in most cases, the harasser is not even aware that they are harassing the victim. They just imagine they are being funny or goofy. In the case of sexual harassment charges, it’s usually a genuine attempt by one person to win the other one over without understanding that there are boundaries.

It is your responsibility as an employer to prevent these kinds of situations by ensuring that your employees have a clear understanding of what constitutes harassment. Each state has a unique set of laws of regulation to govern harassment and in this post, we will be looking at harassment as defined under New Jersey law.

Once you have understood which activities qualify as harassment in NJ, the team at EasyLlama will introduce a way you can then educate your employees using scenarios that are specific to your business and avoid situations where a person blames ignorance when facing a harassment charge.

Now, when Newt who has been accused of harassment by Beth tries to shrug off the conduct as a silly prank you can tell him, “Hey Newt, we’ve been through this. Hiding Beth’s lunch box every day is not a funny prank. She finds it seriously annoying which means you are harassing her. This is your final warning. If this conduct does not stop we will have to take disciplinary measures. Here is a copy of our policy in case you have forgotten about all the activities that constitute harassment”

Definition of Harassment Under New Jersey law (N.J.S.A 2C:33-4)

According to N.J.S.A 2C:33-4, a person is guilty of harassment if they carry out the following activities with the intent to harass.

Upsetting communication

If a person initiates a communication or communications anonymously or at extremely inconvenient hours in offensively coarse language or any other manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm to any reasonable person that constitutes harassment in New Jersey.

What about situations where communication was not done anonymously, at extremely inconvenient hours, or in offensively coarse language but it annoyed or alarmed the receiver. Is that a valid harassment case? It is if the victim has evidence that proves beyond reasonable doubt that the communication was made with the intent to harass.

For example, let’s say Jerry and Mark are part of a business sales team. Jerry is a top salesman but he is also very competitive. This particular month, Mark has closed several deals and may beat Jerry as the top salesman. So, Jerry starts taunting Mark every time he passes by his desk telling him there is no way he will beat him to the top spot. Jerry does not use any foul language but because of his competitive nature, he comes off as aggressive which alarms Mark. What Jerry is doing to Mark qualifies as harassment in New Jersey.

Striking kicking shoving and other offensive touches

If an employee subjects another to striking, kicking, shoving, or other offensive touches in a way that causes emotional or physical distress to the other employee then that constitutes harassment. However, if these physical offenses lead to bodily injury to the employee then it’s no longer a case of harassment but rather simple assault which has different consequences.

It’s also considered harassment if a person threatens to harm another person through striking, kicking, shoving, and other offensive touches even when they don’t pull through with the threats as long as these threats made the other person fearful or alarmed.

Expanding on our above example. Let’s say Jerry in his competitive nature, corners Mark as he is going out to lunch, stands extremely close to him so that their chests are touching, and begins shoving him. That’s a clear case of harassment. If Mark falls after being shoved and bumps his head, Jerry can be charged with simple assault.

Alarming conduct or Repeated acts

If a person engages in any other course of alarming conduct or repeatedly committed acts with the purpose to alarm or seriously annoy another person then that is considered harassment in NJ.

Again let’s use the Jerry and Mark scenario. Let’s say Jerry does not verbally or physically attack Mark. However, the two salesmen sit opposite each other and every time Mark looks up from his computer he finds Jerry staring at him hard. And when they make eye contact, Jerry does this gesture where he slides his thumb from one end of his neck to the other to mean that he will slaughter Mark. Jerry does not mean this literally but still, it alarms Mark making him uncomfortable and unable to concentrate on his work. This qualifies as harassment.

That said, certain conduct may cause alarming conduct or of repeatedly annoy another person but if it is not done with the purpose to harass, then the conduct cannot be labeled a criminal offense under New Jersey harassment laws.

Like if an employee chews their food loudly or talks with food in their mouth. Or if someone spits while talking. These acts can be highly infuriating but there is usually no malice behind them. It is your responsibility as an employer to come up with a healthy way of dealing with such instances.

Penalties For Harassment Charges In New Jersey

If a person is found guilty of any of the above conducts, they are convicted of a petty disorderly person's offense. It’s the lowest level of criminal charge you can face, but the punishment for harassment in New Jersey is severe and that you would do well to avoid.

For starters, you will have a permanent criminal charge on your record which may cost you future employment opportunities.

Petty Disorderly Person Offense

If a person commits a petty disorderly offense, it can carry a sentence of up to 30 days in jail time and a fine of up to $500.

However, if a person who was serving parole or probation after being convicted by a jury for a serious crime is facing harassment charges, they will be convicted of a fourth-degree crime instead of a petty disorderly person's offense.

These types of harassment charges carry a sentence of up to 18 months in jail, a fine of up to $10,000, and a permanent criminal record.

Sexual harassment in NJ

Sexual harassment in New Jersey is defined under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAS) and it is different from harassment as defined under N.J.S.A 2C:33-4.

There are two main forms of sexual harassment in New Jersey.

Quid pro quo harassment 

It’s also called supervisor harassment and involves a person in authority demanding sexual favors in exchange for an employment opportunity or employment benefit.

Hostile work environment  

It involves unwelcome sexual conduct, comments, or displays in the workplace that interfere with another person’s ability to work. It could be visual conduct like staring or displaying sexual objects, verbal conduct like sexual jokes, or physical conduct like intentionally brushing yourself against another person.

Depending on the circumstances a person accused of sexual harassment can be charged with harassment charges or sexual assault charges.

If an employee constantly hugs or touches another employee in a way that makes them emotionally or physically distressed then that falls under harassment. However, if the same employee tries to forcibly undress another employee or kiss them, that would be considered sexual assault.

The latter carries more serious consequences.

Cyber harassment

Cyber harassment is quite similar to harassment through upsetting communication that we discussed earlier except that communication, in this case, happens online through an electronic device or via a social networking site.

Under New Jersey law, if a person performs any of these acts with the purpose to harass, they can be charged with a fourth-degree crime. A person commits a crime in the fourth degree if they:

  • Threatens to inflict injury or physical harm to the other person or their property.
  • Knowingly sends posts, comments, requests, or proposals to the other person that are lewd, obscene with the intention to cause emotional distress to the person or instill fear of physical and emotional damage.
Moreover, if the cyber-harassment crime was committed on a minor by a person over the age of 21 years pretending to be a minor, the charge is classified as a third-degree crime. This type of offense carries a jail sentence of 3-5 years in jail, a fine of up to $15,000, and a felony conviction on your criminal record.

NJ Harassment In The Workplace

If the different acts we have discussed in this post in regards to NJ harassment happen within the environments of a business then that’s called workplace harassment. And, on top of having legal consequences on the accused person, harassment charges in the workplace come with additional negative effects on your business.

Some implications of harassment incidences on your company include:

  1. Lost business productivity - For starters, harassment causes distress to the victim which affects their performance. Then there is the disruption of business operations as you investigate and correct a reported case of harassment. Not to mention the countless hours that will be lost as other employees gossip about the incident.
  2. Reputational damage to your business - Cases of harassment especially sexual harassment charges are never good for public relations. Don’t be surprised if some clients cut ties with you once they learn about cases of harassment in your organization.
  3. Lawsuits for failing to prevent harassment - It is the responsibility of the employer to prevent harassment at the workplace and take the proper investigative and corrective steps when an employee reports harassment. Failure to fulfill these responsibilities can result in lawsuits which may be accompanied by heavy settlement fees.
  4. Fines for failing to comply with state laws - New Jersey will soon require that employees provide mandatory harassment training to their employees. A case of workplace harassment puts your organization in the spotlight and if after investigations it is found you did not fulfill all the harassment training requirements you will be charged with non-compliance.

How to prevent workplace harassment and stay compliant with New Jersey Harassment laws

Like I mentioned at the beginning of the article, a lot of harassment cases result from ignorance. People doing acts but unaware that these acts constitute harassment. If you commit an offense that may deemed to be harassment, contact a New Jersey criminal defense lawyer or a law firm for a free consultation.

Therefore, the best way to prevent harassment at the workplace is through employee training. At this point, you already know what constitutes harassment in New Jersey and you can enlighten your employees. But, that’s not enough.

Especially now that NJ is about to pass a bill requiring mandatory harassment training of employees.

What you need is a comprehensive training program that covers all types of workplace harassment in-depth and is aligned with the laid-out state laws to ensure compliance. That’s the hard part. Keeping up with all the laws affecting your business while also working to provide the best products and services for your customers is no easy task.

But, we are here to help. We will take care of the compliance and harassment training part and you can, in turn, focus on growing your business.