New Jersey’s employment laws protect employees from workplace sexual harassment. People accused of sexual harassment may be subject to individual liability under both civil and criminal laws. Employers may also be found liable for sexual harassment because of their employees’ actions.
Sexual harassment does not need to be sexual in nature. It can take at least two forms: (1) hostile work environment, and (2) “quid pro quo” sexual harassment. Hostile work environment sexual harassment is conduct that has been directed towards someone because of that person’s sex. For example, harassment that is based on stereotypes about women or men can be construed to be sexual harassment. Of course, harassment that is sexual in nature is sexual harassment. Therefore, inappropriate sexual propositions, jokes or advances can be construed sexual harassment and result in a civil lawsuit. This type of conduct is prohibited.
“Quid pro quo” sexual harassment is also prohibited. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is the demand by an employer, manager, or supervisor that terms and conditions of employment, such as raises, promotions, or simply keeping the employee’s job, in return for sexual favors. For example, if a boss requires an employee to have sex or enter into a romantic relationship to keep her job, get a promotion or avoid discipline, then the employer could be liable for quid pro quo sexual harassment.
Employees complaining about workplace sexual harassment are protected from retaliation. In fact, it is a violation of New Jersey’s employment laws for employers to retaliate against employees for their complaints about behavior that that employees reasonably believe is sexual harassment.
Simply, employees should not have to endure the stress or indignity of inappropriate sexual conduct in the workplace. However, not every type of workplace conduct based on gender is unlawful. Instead, to have an actionable claim of sexual harassment the conduct complained of must be serious enough or frequent enough to make a reasonable person believe that her working conditions are hostile or abusive.