Proposed New Jersey Legislation Aimed at Combating Workplace Bias and Sexual Harassment
On February 18, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy unveiled a sweeping proposal that significantly strengthens the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. The proposed legislation was the result of a two year study of workplace employment discrimination and sexual harassment conducted by the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. It also mirrors the current societal shift in attitudes about workplace discrimination and sexual harassment. Employers need to be cognizant of these proposed changes and the current climate.
If enacted, New Jersey would require all employers to provide anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training. The New Jersey Supreme Court held that trial court should consider whether or not an employer made training available to supervisors and all employees when deciding whether or not an employer has been negligent in preventing sexual harassment. This proposed change would require training.
If enacted, New Jersey would be following in the footsteps of a handful of states, like California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, and New York in requiring that employers provide anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training. Even if this legislation is not enacted, I recommend based upon the current case law in New Jersey that employers provide yearly anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training. It’s relatively inexpensive and not overly burdensome to do so.
The proposed legislation would also extend the statute of limitations. The current statute of limitations under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination is two years. The proposed legislation, if enacted, would extend the period in which workers can assert a Law Against Discrimination Claim to three years and give workers an extra six months to file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.
The proposed legislation would revise the legal framework for courts to assess whether or not conduct is “severe or pervasive” enough to constitute a violation of the Law Against Discrimination. Under this new proposed framework, one violation of the Law Against Discrimination (if it is severe enough) could result in liability.
Employers need to think about these proposed changes. If enacted, the legislation will give additional protections to employees. Hence, it is important for employers to be cognizant of these changes and the current climate. Failure to do so will likely expose the employer to liability.