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What constitutes as sexual harassment and how victims can fight back

Many New Jersey residents can likely recall a situation or incident at work that left them feeling uneasy. From an off-color joke about women told by a co-worker to physical advances made by a supervisor, employees of all ages and in all professions can be victims of sexual harassment in the workplace.

In some cases employees who experience comments, acts or behaviors that are sexually harassing and inappropriate second guess themselves. In an attempt to keep a victim from speaking out, a supervisor or colleague who is guilty of sexual harassment may attempt to rationalize or downplay their offensive comments or behaviors. As a result, victims of workplace sexual harassment often feel confused, embarrassed and powerless.

 

With the enaction of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, definitions related to sexual harassment in the workplace were established. These definitions include comments, actions and behaviors that are sexual in nature and interfere with a victim's ability to perform work duties or "creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive work environment".

While many cases of sexual harassment involve a man and woman, sexual harassment can also include individuals of the same sex. Additionally, the comments or acts do not always involve actual sexual advances or comments. For example a gay employee may be adversely impacted by discriminatory and harassing comments or jokes made by co-workers.

In an effort to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace, employers often require that employees go through some sort of sexual harassment training. However, despite increased awareness about sexual harassment in the workplace, many U.S. workers are victims of sexual harassment at some point during their working years.

Cases involving sexual harassment can be difficult to prove. Therefore, New Jersey employees who believe they have been victims of sexual harassment would be wise to document any and all harassing and inappropriate comments and actions. An employment attorney who handles cases of sexual discrimination and harassment can answer questions and help empower victims.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Sexual Harassment," 2014 

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