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Differences Between Unfair Treatment and Unlawful Conduct in the Workplace

Most, if not all, employees experience unfair treatment at work at some time or another. Unfair treatment can include being passed over for a promotion or better opportunity because of nepotism, favoritism, or office politics. It can include a boss who is a bully and yells and screams at you for no reason. It can include being falsely accused of breaking office policy or work rules, or even committing a crime! By this point in my career, I’ve pretty much heard it all. Nothing surprises me when it comes to what goes on in New Jersey workplaces.

Unfortunately, as I have told countless employees over the years, there is no law against “unfair treatment” in the workplace. New Jersey, like every other state, is an “at will” employment state. “At will” employment means that your employer can take any action it wants towards you for any reason or no reason at all. You can be disciplined, demoted, transferred, “harassed” in the generic sense, or terminated at any time. On the plus side, you can quit your employment at any time, for any reason or no reason at all.

In certain cases, employers cross the line into unlawful conduct, which includes discrimination on the basis of age, gender, race, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, and the like. Unlawful conduct also includes retaliation against whistleblowers and employees who receive statutory benefits, such as FMLA leave. Actionable conduct can also include fraud, misrepresentation, breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Before you contact an employment attorney for advice, consider whether the treatment you have suffered at work is due to unfairness or unlawful conduct. If the former, consider whether you can do anything to fix the situation “in house.” I give some strategies for dealing with unfair treatment in a previous post. If the latter, do not hesitate to engage a competent, knowledgable employment attorney who can lay out your legal options and help you decide what steps to take. In either case, feel free to contact my firm for a free telephone consultation. We can quickly diagnose your situation and will let you know how we can help.