The state of New Jersey already sets a notable example for the rest of the country in the strength of its anti-discriminatory employment laws. But rather than being satisfied with the state’s current standing, Governor Phil Murphy has proposed that the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination be expanded to provide even greater protection for workers and narrow the ability of employers to avoid liability. The decision was based in large part on a two-year study conducted by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, in part on rapidly shifting societal values, and in part on a notable ruling by the state’s Supreme Court.
The New Jersey Division on Civil Rights’ study was simply titled “Preventing and Eliminating Sexual Harassment in New Jersey.” It revealed that the problem of harassment is not limited to any one race, religion, gender or sexual orientation, and that it in fact impacts all types of people. It pointed to the imbalance of power in the workplace, in housing and in places of public accommodation as the root of workplace employment discrimination and sexual harassment, saying that this imbalance increases the likelihood of harassment, as well as the chance that it will not be reported.
The report concluded that employers need to be aware of and act upon shifts in attitude about workplace discrimination and harassment, and this dovetails with a recent ruling in the New Jersey Supreme Court. The court asserted that in weighing whether an employer has been negligent regarding workplace sexual harassment or discrimination, courts should consider whether the accused employer made training available to supervisors and employees. Training is one of the key changes that the proposed changes to NJLAD would make: it would require all employers to provide anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training to educate their staff about the prevention of these offenses.
Other proposed changes would extend the amount of time in which workers could file a Law Against Discrimination Claim against an employer from two years to three. It would also add six months to the time in which a complaint against their employer could be filed with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. For the courts, there would be a loosening of the guidelines for what constitutes a violation of the law, allowing a single severe violation to be interpreted as representative of a severe or pervasive problem that leads to liability.
The announcement of these proposed changes comes just one month after Governor Phil Murphy pledged that he would make sweeping changes to the state’s workplaces. Speaking of the proposed legislation changes he said, “The message from survivors and advocates alike has been clear: It’s time for New Jersey to reject the norms of yesterday that overlooked workplace harassment and discrimination as business as usual. 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.”
If you have been the victim of workplace discrimination or sexual harassment, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination provides you with invaluable protections. To learn how we can help you access these protections and assert your rights, contact us today.