Workplace harassment is always problematic, but it is not always illegal. Sexual harassment at work is a type of harassment that is illegal under state and federal laws in New Jersey. Understanding what constitutes sexual harassment versus other types of harassment is important for employees so that they can understand their employee rights. The attorneys at Swartz Swidler can help you to understand whether the situation at your job rises to the level of illegal sexual harassment.
What Is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment at work is a type of illegal gender discrimination. It can include unwelcome sexual comments, unwanted touching, unwelcome advances, and other similar types of inappropriate behavior based on the gender, sex, or sexual orientation of a victim. While many people think that the victims of sexual harassment are always women, both men and women can be the victims of workplace sexual harassment. Employees at all levels of employment need to be trained about both sexual and non-sexual harassment and taught that they must avoid acting in those ways. Employers should also have strong policies in place and clear procedures for how employees can report workplace harassment when it occurs.
Sexual vs. Non-Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is the most frequently reported type of workplace harassment. However, illegal harassment can also be based on an employee’s other protected characteristics. For example, when employees are harassed because of their color, gender, age, disability, race, religion, pregnancy status, or other protected characteristics, that could also qualify as illegal harassment when the conduct is pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment that makes it difficult for the victim to do his or her job.
Some forms of non-sexual harassment are not illegal, but they still are problematic. For example, workplace bullying not based on an employee’s protected characteristics is not necessarily illegal. However, it could lead to low morale, reduced productivity, and high rates of turnover.
Workplace Sexual Harassment Examples
A sexual harasser can be anyone in the workplace, including a co-worker, supervisor, or a third party such as a customer, vendor, supplier, or contractor. If a person’s conduct in the workplace is inappropriate and is based on the victim’s sex, it can make it hard for people to work and interfere with their success.
Prohibited sexual harassment can involve more than unwelcome sexual advances. It can also include any unwelcome physical or verbal behavior that cause the work environment to become hostile. Some examples of workplace sexual harassment include the following:
- Showing pornographic pictures or videos to co-workers
- Sending explicit emails, texts, notes, or letters
- Displaying sexual posters in the workplace
- Telling sexual jokes
- Repeatedly asking someone details about their sex life
- Talking about sexual exploits
- Making sexual gestures
- Leering, catcalling, or whistling at a coworker
- Making sexual comments about an employee’s body, clothing, or appearance
- Inappropriately touching someone
- Making offensive remarks about an employee’s gender identity or sexual orientation
Sexual harassment can also take other forms. Regardless of how it is expressed, sexual harassment is illegal in the workplace. The victims of sexual harassment can also include people other than the target who are negatively affected by the inappropriate conduct.
Non-Sexual Workplace Harassment Examples
Other types of conduct based on the protected characteristics of a victim are also illegal. For example, using racial slurs or telling racist jokes to a Black coworker because of his or her color is harassment. Other types of actions, including offensive pictures and gestures, based on a person’s protected characteristics is also harassment.
Non-sexual, discriminatory harassment examples include the following types of behavior:
- Mocking someone’s religious beliefs or trying to convert them
- Using racist slurs, phrases, or nicknames
- Negatively commenting about a person’s ethnic traits or color
- Displaying drawings or posters that are racist or offensive to a protected group
- Negatively referring to a person’s real or perceived disability
- Telling offensive jokes about religious, ethnic, or racial characteristics
- Making derogatory comments to an older worker because of his or her age
There are many other examples of conduct that could qualify as illegal discriminatory harassment.
Non-sexual harassment can include any behavior, action, or comment that is discriminatory, intimidating, insulting, or threatening and causes the workplace environment to become hostile.
What to Do About Workplace Harassment
If you believe you are the victim of illegal sexual or non-sexual harassment at your job, you should file an internal complaint with your company under its reporting policy. Your employer should then promptly investigate what happened and take steps to end the harassment. If your employer fails to take appropriate action or retaliates against you for complaining, you can then file a harassment charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
To prevail with a harassment claim, you will have to be able to prove that the harassment continued after you complained and that your employer either failed to take action to stop the conduct or took inappropriate action. You should gather all of the evidence that you can about the harassment, including copies of notes, letters, text messages, or emails, voice mail recordings, information from your personnel file showing that you had good performance reviews until you complained about harassment, and the names of any witnesses who saw the harassment. Make sure to write down the dates of each instance of harassment and everyone who was present.
You have a short deadline for filing a harassment complaint. The EEOC generally requires people to file charges within 180 days. However, that time can be expanded to 300 days in states with state bodies that have longer time frames.
Know What to Watch For
Employers are prohibited from asking certain types of questions during the interview process. If a prospective employer questions you about your gender, race, age, marital status, religion, intention to have children, ethnicity, national origin, or sexual preferences during an interview, you should take that as a red flag to avoid accepting a job offer from that employer.
Talk to a Harassment and Discrimination Attorney
If you have been the victim of illegal sexual or non-sexual harassment at work based on your protected characteristics, you are entitled to file a harassment charge with the EEOC and pursue damages. Talk to an attorney at Swartz Swidler to learn about your case and the steps to take by calling us at (856) 685-7420.