Sexual harassment — What’s simply never OK in the workplace
Monday, we told you how ongoing revelations about the alleged sexual misconduct of notable individuals in show business, politics and the news business are encouraging New Jersey companies to review their sexual harassment policies.
Kathleen Caminiti, an employment law attorney with Fisher Phillips, said from a legal perspective, sexual harassment in the workplace is unwelcome behavior. But the line between acceptable and not isn't always clear.
“This means conduct such as sexual advances, requests for sex, physical or verbal leering, etc. — they would constitute sexual harassment,” she said.
Acceptable: Caminiti said giving a woman a compliment — maybe, ‘Oh, you look very nice today’ — is usually fine.
Not acceptable: But “can you say, 'Oh you look sexy in that dress, it makes your boobs look big?' No, you can’t.”
Caminiti said the law protects men and women equally, “so a comment about a man’s rear end in tight jeans is just as bad as a comment about a woman in a slinky dress.”
Acceptable: Caminiti said you can still tell a joke at work, but you need to pay attention to the subject matter.
Not acceptable: “Should you be telling jokes that include sexual innuendo or lewd comments? No, you should not," Caminiti said. “If someone is offended a sexual joke, or a joke of a sexual nature, it does not take much for that person to file a claim or a lawsuit. That’s the world we’re living in now.”
Caminiti said from an employer’s perspective, “you want to maintain a workplace that’s really free of discussion of sex. People are there to work. Engaging in sexual banter is not what people should be doing in the workplace.”
Acceptable? Best not risk it: What about making a racy joke with a friend?
Caminiti said even if you’re talking to someone you’re close with at work, you need to be very careful about the subject matter, because if there’s anything off-color mentioned, “and somebody else is in the next cubicle or hears this conversation, they can claim that creates a hostile work environment.”
She said anytime you tell a joke or relate a story with any part of the story referring to something unusual, racy, or dealing with sex, “The issue is, 'Is it unwelcome? Is someone offended by it?”
Definitely not acceptable: Caminiti noted managers and people in positions of power must be particularly careful to avoid “what’s called quid-pro-quo sexual harassment —give me something for a sexual favor (or) deny me a promotion if I do not submit to that kind of behavior.”
Caminiti said if there are jokes or discussions of a sexual nature at work and the person in charge allows that kind of atmosphere to continue for any length of time, he or she may also be liable.
Where to go if you have questions: She adds the issue of unwelcome behavior in the workplace is well understood and the vast majority of companies and businesses in New Jersey have clear rules and policies in place, “and they intend for their employees to follow them."
She said if someone feels uncomfortable about the environment at work, that person speak with the HR department or a manager.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com
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