Sexual harassment is something no worker should have to tolerate. Your job is to do your job, not be your boss’ sexual conquest or target for inappropriate, crude language or physical contact. You should be given respect at work, not a work atmosphere that turns your stomach. If severe enough, sexual harassment can be the subject of a civil lawsuit against a current or former employer.
The #MeToo movement is the most recent public push to publicize and end sexual harassment. It started with the exposure of Hollywood executives’ desire to manipulate and sexually exploit actresses and spread to high ranking members of the media and other industries.
Though this effort is relatively new, discrimination based on sex in the workplace was forbidden by federal law (known as Title VII) in 1964 and sexual harassment was recognized as a cause of action by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1986. Sexual harassment is considered to be a type of sex discrimination.
When you think of sexual harassment you may imagine an overbearing, disrespectful male boss who can’t keep his hands to himself, but it could cover any number of situations.
- Sexual harassers could be co-workers, contractors or customers.
- Men can be victims of sexual harassment by women.
- There can be sexual harassment when the harasser and victim are of the same sex.
- You could be sexually harassed without suffering inappropriate physical contact.
- Though normally sexual harassment needs to include a number of instances over a period of time, a single or a few incidents could be considered sexual harassment if they’re severe enough.
Whether you work for a worldwide pharmaceutical company, a major university or hospital, or a small “Mom and Pop” employer you could be subjected to sexual harassment and be protected by federal or similar state law.
The heart of a sexual harassment claim is proving the alleged conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create an abusive or hostile work environment for the victim. This generally comes down to the plaintiff establishing:
- He or she belongs to a protected class under Title VII (is male or female),
- The conduct was unwelcome,
- The conduct was based on the plaintiff’s sex,
- The plaintiff subjectively viewed the harassment as creating an abusive work environment, and,
- A reasonable person would objectively view the work environment as abusive.
If you’re being sexually harassed at work, document what’s happening and keep that information to yourself, away from work. Don’t use your work computer and do not store the information in your desk because they’re not yours and your employer has a right to control them. If you’ve received emails as part of the harassment, print them out and take them home. If the harassment includes text messages, don’t erase them.
You should call my office. Don’t talk to your personnel or human resources department before understanding the law and the legal process. Very importantly, don’t sign anything. Together we can talk about the facts of your situation, what happened, who did it, whether there are any witnesses or substantiating evidence, and if there are other victims you know about. Your company should have a sexual harassment policy we can review.
Our course of action may include:
- Talking with your direct supervisor,
- Discussing the situation with your personnel department,
- Ensuring the incidents are documented, and,
- Filing a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
If negative actions are taken against you (being fired or laid off, a demotion, reduction in hours, threats, assigned “do nothing” tasks, or being isolated) because of your sexual harassment complaint, you could have an additional legal claim of retaliation, which is also illegal under federal and state laws.
Regardless of where you work or what you do in New Jersey, sexual harassment should not be tolerated. If you believe you’ve been subjected to sexual harassment call (732) 784-2880 for a free consultation with attorney Tara Breslow-Testa.