In February, Governor Murphy unveiled legislation to overhaul the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). The bill was the result of a two-year review of the state’s discrimination laws by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights (DCR).
“It’s time for New Jersey to reject the norms of yesterday that overlooked workplace harassment and discrimination as business as usual,” said Governor Murphy.
Key provisions of the measure include:
- A legal standard to define a hostile work environment
- Accountability for employers
- Antidiscrimination and anti-harassment training
- Expanded employee protections
“With this legislation, New Jersey has the opportunity to set a high standard for progressive workforce policies and give marginalized voices the ability to hold perpetrators accountable,” Murphy said.
Establishing a Legal Standard for Hostile Work Environment Harassment
The bill would significantly lower the threshold for how offensive or frequent misconduct must be: a single nonphysical incident could constitute harassment, and a complainant need not show the incident caused a loss of tangible job benefits or productivity.
The bill would also require courts to consider the totality of the circumstances, including the complainant’s (1) subjective reactions to the alleged misconduct and (2) secondhand knowledge of similar misconduct.
If the legislation is enacted, employers who know or should have known of the allegedly harassing conduct by employees and non-employees (e.g. customers, vendors), and fail to take preventive or corrective action, would be deemed negligent. Courts would be required to consider the employer’s ability to control non-employee conduct, however.
Antidiscrimination and Anti-Harassment Policies
The bill would require employers to establish a written nondiscrimination policy concerning unlawful discrimination and harassment within one year of the bill’s enactment. At a minimum the policy must contain:
- A statement prohibiting and threatening to punish discrimination or harassment
- Definitions and examples of discrimination and harassment
- A description of the employer’s internal complaint process
- A statement prohibiting retaliation against employees who disclose, report, or participate in an investigation of discrimination or harassment
All employers would be required to annually review their policies and provide copies to each employee at the beginning of his or her employment and at various other times.
Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Training
Within 6 months of the bill’s enactment, the DCR would be required to create model training programs for employees and supervisors. Employers would be required to provide this training to employees within one year of the bill’s enactment.
Expansion of Employee Protections Under the NJLAD
The bill would extend the statute of limitations for violations from two to three years. The definition of “employee” would also be broadened to include domestic workers and interns.
While the proposed law is subject to change, employees in New Jersey will soon have stronger protection against discrimination and harassment. As always, the best way for workers to protect their rights is to consult an experienced employment law attorney.