According to the EEOC, sexual harassment is defined as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to or rejection of this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment”.
Forms and Circumstances
Sexual harassment can come in many forms. Some examples include the following unwanted or unwelcome behavior:
- Pressure for sexual favors
- Offensive jokes or slurs
- Touching, leaning over, hugging, cornering or pinching
- Sexual looks, gestures or comments
- Offensive photos
- Sexual innuendos or stories
- Asking about sexual fantasies, preferences or history
- Sexual comments about someone’s clothes or looks
- Neck Massage
- Kissing sounds or cat calls
Harassment can occur in a variety to circumstances, including some of the following examples:
- A male or female harasser or victim. The victim does not have to be of the opposite sex
- A victim can be harassed by a supervisor, a co-worker, an agent of the employer, a supervisor in another department or even an outside vendor
- The victim is considered anyone affected by the offensive conduct
Legal Recognition of Sexual Harassment
Although sexual harassment can happen in a variety of contexts, the harassing behavior falls under two specific and legally recognized types: Quid pro quo and hostile environment sexual harassment.
Quid pro quo is usually referred to as “this for that” type of harassment. In a quid pro quo case of sexual harassment, an individual’s submission or rejection of sexual advances is directly related to employment decisions or is made a term or condition of employment. A single sexual advance is considered harassment if it is linked to granting or denying employment benefits. If the victim submits to the sexual request but then changes their mind or refuses, they may still bring quid pro quo charges against the harasser.
Hostile environment sexual harassment happens when a person’s job performance and work environment is disrupted by unwelcome sexual conduct. If the unwelcome sexual conduct creates an intimidating or fearful workspace for someone, it is considered a hostile work environment. This type of harassment is not directly connected to economic or job benefits, although it might affect the employee so much that they end up losing pay or passing up a promotion.
An employer can be held liable in cases of hostile work environment sexual harassment if it is proven that the employer knew about the harassment and failed to take action. An employer would be expected to know about the hostile environment if there was a complaint to management, or if the harassment was openly practiced and well known among other employees.
An employer will always be held legally responsible for harassment that ends in a tangible employment action. As per the EEOC, a tangible employment action is a significant change in employment status. For example, it would be considered a tangible employment action if an employee is fired for rejecting a supervisor’s sexual demands.
Sexually Harassed at Work
What should you do if you have been sexually harassed at work?
- Tell your harasser to stop or make it clear the behavior is unwelcome
- Report the harassment to your supervisor or upper management and ask that action be taken to stop it. If you can, put your complaint in writing.
- You may report the harassment to the EEOC.
Sexual Harassment Attorneys in NJ
It is always advisable to contact an attorney to determine whether you have been a victim of a tangible employment action related to sexual harassment.
If tangible action has been taken against you, you are entitled to pursue a lawsuit against your employers.
The attorneys at Davison Eastman Muñoz Paone in Freehold, NJ are highly experienced in employment law. We can help you understand your rights according to the laws and help you pursue a course of action and get the justice you deserve.