Since the rise of the #MeToo movement in 2017, we wonder how many people have looked back on their careers and recounted the harassment they’ve experienced at work. How many will look back and think, “Maybe that was harassment, and I didn’t realize it then?” Here are some tips from experienced New Jersey sexual harassment lawyers on recognizing sexual harassment in the workplace.
What is Sexual Harassment?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, sexual harassment is defined as uninvited and unwelcome verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature, especially by a person in authority toward a subordinate (such as an employee or student.)
The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prohibits sexual harassment in employment. It covers two general types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile environment.
Quid Pro Quo
Quid pro quo harassment is when a benefit (like a promotion at work) is conditioned on sexual favors or when an adverse action (like getting fired or demoted) is threatened if you decline sexual advances. It’s the “I’ll do something for you if you do something for me” concept.
This is when you are subjected to unwanted harassing conduct based on gender that is severe or pervasive.
Here are examples of harassing behavior to recognize:
- Being shown pornographic videos, images, drawings, or cartoons.
- Obscene gestures relating to body parts or sexual acts.
- Sexual comments, such as discussing an employee’s physical appearance
- Innuendos, such as jokes that refer to a sexual act, body part, or item shape.
- Other sexually demeaning comments or obscene language. These conversations may leave you thinking, “Did they really just say that to me?” or “Oh, that comment makes me uncomfortable.”
- When someone’s personal space boundary is interrupted without giving explicit permission to do so.
- Unwanted touching, such as a lingering handshake that is used to pull someone closer, or placing a hand on someone else’s body, including arm, shoulder, leg, face, or hair.
- Assault such as unwanted kissing, hugging, groping, slapping, and other physical contact beyond this.
Why Does Sexual Harassment Happen?
It is well-established that harassment often happens when a person in a leadership, managerial, or supervisory role uses their authority to attempt behavior that is sexual in nature. What these predators are looking for is a perceived lack of confidence, someone they can abuse and get away with their actions. Often, harassers will single out those who are younger, especially those who may have previously experienced other difficult issues or trauma in their lives and lack a solid social or family network.
While harassment in leadership roles is common, sexual harassment at work can happen to anyone of any age, industry, company size, or position. The harasser can be anyone, too. A peer, subordinate, or management. It can be someone that everyone knows about because they are public about it or someone who harasses victims in private during one-on-one situations to keep the activity a secret.
Unfortunately, victims in these uncomfortable situations may not know how to deal with the encounter. After all, it’s their boss or supervisor who could negatively impact their careers. If they ask the harasser to stop, the working environment could become hostile. If they report the encounter to Human Resources, who will be believed?
For anyone who has been sexually harassed, you should know that there are protections from sexual harassment under New Jersey law. If you have been the victim of workplace sexual harassment or sexual assault, contact New Jersey sexual harassment lawyers Schall & Barasch, LLC. We are here to fight for you.