What Are My Rights Regarding Sexual Harassment in NJ?

Sexual harassment is a serious issue that affects individuals in the workplace, causing emotional distress and hindering professional growth. As an employee in New Jersey, it is crucial to be aware of your rights and protections against sexual harassment.

In this blog post, we will delve into the various aspects of sexual harassment laws in New Jersey, providing you with tangible and useful tips to navigate these common issues.

Recognizing Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Understanding what constitutes sexual harassment is the first step toward protecting your rights.

Sexual harassment encompasses unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors, or any other verbal, physical, or visual conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive environment. It can occur between individuals of the same or different genders and is not limited to the workplace. New Jersey recognizes two types of sexual harassment: quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo harassment occurs when an individual in a position of power makes unwelcome sexual advances or demands sexual favors as a condition for employment or career advancement.

Hostile work environment harassment refers to an environment where unwelcome sexual conduct interferes with an individual's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive atmosphere.

Reporting Sexual Harassment: Steps to Take

If you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment in New Jersey, consider taking the following steps:

  1. Document incidents: Maintain a detailed record of all instances of sexual harassment, including dates, times, locations, and descriptions of the incidents.

  2. Inform the harasser: If you feel safe doing so, let the harasser know that their behavior is unwelcome and ask them to stop.

  3. Report the harassment: Follow your employer's or educational institution's internal procedures for reporting sexual harassment. If those procedures are inadequate or if you face retaliation, contact the appropriate government agency.

  4. Seek legal advice: Consult an experienced attorney who specializes in employment law or civil rights to understand your rights, evaluate your options, and guide you through the legal process.

Understanding Employer Responsibilities

Employers have a legal obligation to prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace. In New Jersey, there are legal obligations placed on employers to create a safe and respectful work environment for all employees. This section will highlight the responsibilities of employers, including implementing anti-harassment policies, conducting investigations, and taking appropriate disciplinary actions against offenders.

Developing and Implementing Anti-Harassment Policies

Employers in New Jersey are expected to establish comprehensive anti-harassment policies that clearly define sexual harassment, emphasize its prohibition, and outline the procedures for reporting complaints. These policies should be easily accessible to all employees and effectively communicated through employee handbooks, training programs, and workplace posters.

Key components of anti-harassment policies may include:

  • A clear definition of sexual harassment, encompassing various forms of unwelcome conduct.
  • Guidance on reporting procedures, including multiple reporting channels and assurance of confidentiality.
  • Assurance of non-retaliation for reporting complaints or participating in investigations.
  • A commitment to conducting prompt and thorough investigations.
  • Details of potential disciplinary actions for substantiated harassment.

Training and Education Programs

Employers are responsible for providing regular training and education programs to their employees on preventing sexual harassment. These programs should focus on raising awareness, promoting respectful behavior, and providing information on reporting procedures. Training should be conducted during onboarding and periodically thereafter to reinforce the importance of maintaining a harassment-free workplace.

Prompt and Thorough Investigations

When a complaint of sexual harassment is reported, employers have a legal obligation to promptly and thoroughly investigate the allegations. Investigations should be conducted by trained personnel who are unbiased and knowledgeable about the process. Employers should ensure confidentiality throughout the investigation to protect the privacy of the complainant and the accused.

Taking Appropriate Disciplinary Actions

If an investigation substantiates a complaint of sexual harassment, employers must take appropriate disciplinary actions against the offenders. The disciplinary actions should be proportionate to the severity of the harassment and may include verbal warnings, written warnings, suspension, termination, or other measures that aim to prevent future incidents.

Prevention and Corrective Measures

Employers should proactively take measures to prevent sexual harassment and create a culture of respect in the workplace. This may involve ongoing monitoring, regular assessments of the effectiveness of policies and procedures, and making necessary adjustments to ensure a harassment-free environment. Employers should also provide support and resources to victims of sexual harassment and offer corrective measures to address any harm caused.

Retaliation Protection in New Jersey: Your Rights

Retaliation for reporting sexual harassment is strictly prohibited under New Jersey law. Coming forward with a complaint of sexual harassment takes courage, and it is essential to understand that New Jersey provides protection against retaliation for employees who take such action.

Retaliation refers to any adverse action taken by an employer or colleagues in response to an individual's complaint or opposition to sexual harassment. These protections are in place to encourage individuals to report harassment without fear of reprisal and ensure a safe environment for all employees.

Legal Protections against Retaliation

  • New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD): The NJLAD not only prohibits sexual harassment but also includes provisions that safeguard individuals from retaliation for reporting or opposing such conduct. If you file a complaint or participate in an investigation related to sexual harassment, your employer cannot take adverse actions against you in response.

  • Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA): CEPA extends protections to employees who report illegal activities or practices, including sexual harassment, within their organizations. It prevents employers from retaliating against employees who disclose such information.

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964: Title VII is a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination, including retaliation for reporting sexual harassment. If your employer retaliates against you for reporting or opposing sexual harassment, you can file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or pursue a lawsuit.

Steps to Take if You Face Retaliation

Facing retaliation for reporting sexual harassment can be disheartening and challenging, but there are steps you can take to protect your rights:

  1. Document incidents of retaliation: Keep a record of any retaliatory actions taken against you, including dates, times, and details of the incidents. This documentation will be crucial in establishing a pattern of retaliation.

  2. Review your company's policies: Familiarize yourself with your company's policies regarding reporting sexual harassment and the procedures for addressing retaliation. These policies should outline the steps you can take if you face retaliation.

  3. Report the retaliation internally: If you experience retaliation, report it to the appropriate person within your organization, such as your supervisor, human resources department, or designated authority. Follow the established reporting procedures and document your communication.

  4. Seek legal guidance: If your employer fails to address the retaliation or if you face further adverse actions, consult with an experienced employment law attorney. They can provide guidance on your legal options, including filing a complaint with the relevant government agency or pursuing a lawsuit.

  5. File a complaint with the appropriate agency: If internal remedies do not resolve the issue, you may choose to file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, the EEOC, or any other relevant government agency. They will investigate the matter and take appropriate action on your behalf.

Seeking Legal Help: When to Consult an Attorney

Resolving a sexual harassment claim can be a complex and challenging process. In some cases, seeking legal intervention becomes necessary to protect your rights and pursue appropriate remedies. 

It is advisable to consult with an attorney experienced in sexual harassment cases under the following circumstances:

  • Severity of the Harassment: If you have experienced severe or persistent sexual harassment that has had a significant impact on your well-being, career, or personal life, it may be appropriate to seek legal assistance.

  • Ineffectiveness of Internal Remedies: If your employer has failed to address the harassment adequately or has retaliated against you for reporting it, legal intervention can help protect your rights and seek appropriate remedies.

  • Complex Legal Issues: Sexual harassment cases can involve complex legal considerations. If you are unsure about your rights, the legal standards applicable to your situation, or the potential remedies available, consulting an attorney can provide clarity and guidance.

  • Filing a Complaint with a Government Agency: If you decide to file a complaint with a government agency such as the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), an attorney can assist you in navigating the process, gathering evidence, and presenting a strong case.

The Law Firm of Morgan Rooks, P.C. is dedicated to advocating for victims of sexual harassment and fighting for their rights. With a team of experienced attorneys, they provide comprehensive legal representation, guidance, and support throughout the process. Our team will assess the details of your case, explain your legal rights, and help you understand your options for pursuing a workplace sexual harassment claim.

We will negotiate on your behalf during settlement discussions and represent your interests in litigation, building a strong case and gathering additional evidence if needed.

Being aware of your rights and protections against sexual harassment in the workplace is crucial for maintaining a safe and respectful work environment. By recognizing the signs of sexual harassment, understanding the reporting process, and knowing when to seek legal help, you can take proactive steps to protect yourself and hold offenders accountable.

The Law Firm of Morgan Rooks, P.C. is here to provide expert guidance and support should you require legal assistance. Contact us today to discuss your case!