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Sexual harassment in the workplace

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Sexual harassment in the workplace is illegal both under federal and state law. In New Jersey, employees are protected under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. N.J.S.A. 10:5-1. Sexual harassment may occur to both men and women, whether the alleged harassment was intentional or not. There are generally two types of sexual harassment in the workplace: hostile-work environment sexual harassment and quid pro quo sexual harassment.

Hostile work environment sexual harassment “occurs when an employer or fellow employees harass an employee because of his or her sex to the point where the working environment becomes hostile.” Lehmann v. Toys R Us, Inc., 132 N.J. 587, 601 (1993). In other words, an employer can be held responsible for the conduct of its coworkers and supervisory employees when the employer authorizes the conduct or even fails to investigate such reported conduct. Usually, hostile work environment claims arise out of unwanted sexual touching and comments. However, an employee may have a claim for hostile work environment that is not sexual in nature as long as the harassment in occurring because of his or her sex. In New Jersey, an employee bringing a hostile work environment claim must prove that (1) the conduct occurred because of the employee’s gender; (2) the conduct was severe or pervasive; and (3) a reasonable person would find that the alleged conduct created a hostile environment.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment “occurs when an employer attempts to make an employee’s submission to sexual demands a condition of his or her employment. It involves an implicit or explicit threat that if the employee does not accede to the sexual demands, he or she will lose his or her job, receive unfavorable performance reviews, be passed over for promotions, or suffer other adverse employment consequences.” Lehmann, 132 N.J. at 601. As this definition suggests, the sexual conduct cannot be consensual, but must be unwelcome.

If you believe you have been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace, contact an employment attorney at Cohn Lifland to schedule a consultation today.