In the best-case scenario, you enjoy your job and have a collegial relationship with your co-workers. More often, though, people consider their jobs tolerable if the social environment is not unpleasant enough to offset the financial motivations for going to work. Sexual Harassment in the workplace is very common, though, and it often resolves around the same topics as it does for teens in school, namely the victim’s physical appearance and speculations about the victim’s romantic relationships and sexual behavior. The legal term for this is sexual harassment, and workplace sexual harassment is against the law. To find out more about seeking justice as a survivor of sexual harassment in the workplace, contact a sexual harassment lawyer.
Which Behaviors in the Workplace Count as Sexual Harassment?
According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) (N.J.S.A. 10:5-3 et seq.), sexual harassment in the workplace can include unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. The harassment can occur between two people of any gender, and can be initiated by an employer, co-worker, supervisor, client, or customer.
Threatening to fire an employee or ruin his or her career if the employee does not engage in a romantic relationship with the work supervisor is one of the most egregious forms of sexual harassment. It is called quid pro quo sexual harassment. “Quid pro quo” is a Latin phrase that means “this in exchange for that.”
The only type of sexual harassment that is more obvious involves unwanted touching or attempted sexual assault; people who engage in this kind of sexual harassment may be held liable in a civil lawsuit. Many, if not most, cases do not involve physical contact or direct threats. Instead, they fit into the definition of a hostile work environment. This normally includes interfering with the victim’s ability to perform their job duties on account of the victim’s sex, gender presentation, gender identity, or sexual orientation. The following are some examples:
- A woman frequently makes critical comments about her female coworker’s appearance, weight, and relationship status
- Coworkers tease a heterosexual male employee about things he does that they consider inconsistent with the behavior of straight men, such as wearing light-colored clothing and orthodontic aligners and dancing as a hobby
- Coworkers watch videos of comedy sketches where the humor revolves around stereotypes about women, even though one or more female employees have asked them to stop
- A supervisor tells women employees that they will receive negative performance reviews if they do not wear makeup at work, even though the employee handbook does not require this
- A gay male employee frequently makes comments about a straight male employee’s appearance, even after the latter has said that these comments make him uncomfortable
- Coworkers frequently make jokes about an employee’s “ticking biological clock” and interpret almost anything she does (such as drinking nonalcoholic beverages at the office Christmas party or admiring pictures of other employees’ young children and grandchildren) as an indication that she is pregnant.
The harassment does not necessarily have to be sexual in nature and can include offensive remarks related to the person’s sex. One-time comments and minor isolated incidents are not specifically prohibited by the law, but can turn into sexual harassment if they become frequent, severe, create a hostile work environment, or lead to the victim being terminated, demoted, or otherwise affected.
Workplaces and occupations where sexual harassment is common include:
- Sexual Harassment Of Administrative Assistants
- Sexual Harassment In Doctors’ Offices And Healthcare
- Sexual Harassment in Nursing
- Sexual Harassment In Dental Offices
- Sexual Harassment Of Housekeeping And Janitorial Workers
- Sexual Harassment In Bars And Restaurants
- Sexual Harassment in the Entertainment Industry
Legally Protected Activities and Employment Discrimination Law
According to federal and state employment law, employment discrimination is when an employer takes adverse action against an employee because of a protected characteristic of the employee. Sex, gender, and family status are protected characteristics (as are race, religion, age, and disability), and a hostile work environment is an adverse action (as are refusal to hire, unfairly negative performance reviews, denial of promotions and raises, and termination of employment); therefore, sexual harassment in the workplace is a type of employment discrimination.
Employment discrimination law defines protected activities as actions that employees have the right to do, and in response to which the employer does not have the right to take adverse actions against the employee. Filing a complaint about sexual harassment or any other type of workplace discrimination is a legally protected action.
Exercising Your Legal Rights if You Have Experienced Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
All employees who experience discrimination at work have the right to file discrimination lawsuits, but they must first go through a preliminary process. As soon as possible, you could contact a Sexual Harassment Lawyer in New Jersey. As soon as you notice sexual harassment, you should write notes to yourself about it, including the dates of the harassment and who witnessed it.
Contact a New Jersey Employment Lawyer About Workplace Sexual Harassment
An employment lawyer can help you report workplace sexual harassment to your employer’s human resources department or file a lawsuit on your behalf. Contact McOmber McOmber & Luber in Red Bank, NJ, Marlton, NJ, or Newark, NJ to discuss your case.