Understanding Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment in NJ
Sexual harassment in the workplace can have a devastating emotional and physical impact on an employee. When sexual harassment by employers or co-workers becomes so severe that it is difficult or stressful for the victim to do his or her job, the workplace is considered a hostile work environment and the employer may be held liable.
From our offices in Red Bank, NJ, and Marlton, NJ, McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. represents both employees and employers throughout the state in a wide range of hostile work environment sexual harassment and other employment discrimination matters. With our many years of experience, we can anticipate any likely challenges in advocating for our clients and work tirelessly to overcome them.
What is Considered Sexual Harassment in New Jersey?
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.
Examples of sexual harassment in the workplace include, but are not limited to:
- Treating employees of a certain gender differently, such as paying them less or failing to promote the;
- Making unwelcome innuendos, jokes or conversation that make a person of a certain gender or orientation feel uncomfortable;
- Objectifying an employee based on their appearance;
- Sending emails or images of a sexual nature;
- Making unwanted physical contact such as patting, touching, or rubbing;
- Subjecting persons of a certain gender to increased scrutiny, criticism, and harassment, or otherwise making their workplace uncomfortable;
- Sexual advances or propositions, including suggestions of trading advancement for sexual favors, commonly known as quid pro quo harassment;
- Verbal or physical abuse;
- Using sexist slurs or comments; and
- Terminating or disciplining an employee in retaliation for making a complaint about sexual harassment.
The harassment does not necessarily have to be sexual in nature and can include offensive remarks related to the person’s sex.
When Does Sexual Harassment Constitute a Hostile Work Environment?
It is important to note that annoyances, petty grievances, and minor isolated incidents from employers or coworkers may not constitute illegal harassment. A hostile work environment exists when several legal criteria are met, including:
- An employer or coworker’s sexual harassment is severe, pervasive, intimidating, or abusive;
- The employee feels their job is in danger if they do not endure the sexual harassment; and
- The sexual harassment involves discrimination of a protected class.
Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment and Employment Discrimination
Harassment of anyone in a protected class (such as age, race, gender, etc) in the workplace is considered discrimination under federal law. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) provides employees in New Jersey with strong legal protection against employment discrimination. If sexual harassment in a hostile work environment is because of an employee’s protected classification, it can overlap with employment discrimination cases such as:
- Marital Status Discrimination
- Pregnancy Discrimination
- Breastfeeding in the Workplace Discrimination
- Discrimination Based on Gender Identity
- LGBTQ Discrimination
- Gender Discrimination
- Transgender Discrimination
How Do I Prove Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment at Work?
In order to prove that the employer has created a hostile work environment, an employee will have to prove that the sexual harassment they endured was:
- Based on a Protected Characteristic. As explained above, this would include factors such as age, race, gender, or pregnancy.
- Offensive. The sexual harassment took advantage of offensive stereotypes of their protected characteristic, such as crude remarks or jokes about race, gender, or disability.
- Unwelcome. Sexual harassment must be proved to be unwelcome to the victim, which is sometimes an area of dispute if the employer claims the employee did not appear uncomfortable with the behavior or language. This is why it is important for employees immediately make it known that they are not comfortable with the behavior and ask for it to stop.
- Severe or Pervasive. Isolated or minor incidents are usually not illegal, so the behavior must be proven to be serious and represent a pattern or series of incidents over time.
An experienced hostile work environment lawyer will be able to examine the employee’s situation and argue the best case.
What Should Employees Do if they Feel Sexually Harassed?
Under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and other federal statutes, your employer has a responsibility to prevent, investigate, and properly address sexual harassment complaints. If you have been subjected to harassment and it has created a hostile work environment, the individual harasser and your employer may be responsible for compensating you for economic damages and your pain and suffering.
If harassment occurs, it is important to take detailed notes. This documentation can help with your sexual harassment claim. These records should include details such as:
- The nature of the harassment;
- When the harassment took place;
- Who was involved;
- The location of the harassment; and
- If there were any witnesses.
In addition to keeping records of the harassment, it is also important to take the following actions:
- Tell the harasser that their actions are making you uncomfortable and ask them to stop;
- If the harassment continues, inform your manager and consult your employee handbook for information about formal complaints; and always
- Consult a New Jersey sexual harassment lawyer.
Experienced Sexual Harassment Lawyers in NJ Can Help You
If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace in NJ and believe it has created a hostile work environment, contact the sexual harassment attorneys at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. today. We can help you understand your rights and decide on the best course of action to remedy your situation.