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LAW Home > Legal Topics > Jobs and Employment > Sexual Harassment

What to do About Sexual Harassment


What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is unwelcome, offensive, non-consensual conduct consisting of sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other behavior resulting in an alteration of the terms and conditions of employment. Sexual harassment does not always have to be sexual in nature or involve physical contact. The only requirement for conduct to be considered sexual harassment is that the harassment occurs because of the employee’s gender. Both heterosexual and homosexual sexual harassment is unlawful.  The harasser may be female or male, and the victim may be female or male.

Examples of conduct that may be sexual harassment are:

  • Non-sexual taunts or adverse treatment because of gender
  • Sexually suggestive behavior, including staring or leering
  • Sexual or sexually suggestive jokes, comments, language, insults, or teasing
  • Sexual propositions, including continually asking you out or asking for sexual favors
  • Sexual or physical contact, such as touching, slapping, kissing or pinching
  • Sexually offensive gestures
  • Intrusive questions about sexual activity
  • Sexually explicit or offensive material that is displayed in a public place or put in your work area or belongings

There are two kinds of sexual harassment – quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid pro quo (“this for that” in Latin) harassment occurs when an employer or an employer’s agent (someone who acts on behalf of the employer, such as a supervisor) tries to make submission to sexual demands or advances a condition for employment, or uses an employee’s reaction to harassment as a basis for an employment decision. Quid pro quo harassment makes victims feel like they must tolerate the harassment in order to keep their job, advance in the workplace, or avoid negative employment consequences.

A hostile work environment exists when harassing conduct that occurs because of an employee’s gender is severe or pervasive enough to make a reasonable person of the same gender believe that the conditions of employment have changed and the working environment is hostile. This harassing conduct creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment and has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with employees’ work performance.

The Law on Sexual Harassment

New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination prohibits sexual harassment in the workplace. The Law Against Discrimination protects employees whether they are permanent, full-time, part-time, casual, or volunteer. An employer has a duty to ensure that there is no sexual harassment in the workplace and to take steps so that supervisors, managers, co-workers, and even customers and clients at work do not sexually harass you. 

If You Experience Sexual Harassment at Work

First, make it clear that behavior is unwelcome. Tell the harasser to stop and that such behavior is offensive. If the harassment does not stop, tell your supervisor, senior manager, human resources representative, or anybody designated by your employer to receive such complaints.

Follow your employer’s sexual harassment policies or formal and informal complaint processes, if available. You must inform your employer about sexual harassment complaints so that they know what is happening and can take action to investigate and stop the harassment. If your complaint is not taken seriously or not acted upon quickly and effectively, your employer is violating the law. If you are a member of a union, your union can also help you address the sexual harassment. It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against you because of your complaint or intent to file a complaint or suit.

You may choose to leave the job if your employer knowingly allows the situation to be so intolerable that any reasonable person would resign. This is called constructive discharge. In this situation, if you decide to sue the employer for the sexual harassment, you must prove that you took steps to complain, you followed available procedure, and you did everything necessary to stay employed, rather than just quitting.

If you are the victim of sexual harassment, you have the right to pursue an administrative or judicial remedy.

You may file a complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.  The complaint must be filed within 180 days of the act of discrimination. You may also file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (but you cannot file complaints in the both the DCR/EEOC).  Complaints to the EEOC must be made within 300 days of the discrimination/sexual harassment. 

Alternatively, you may sue directly in New Jersey Superior Court. However, you cannot file an administrative complaint with the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights at the same time that you file a lawsuit in court. Lawsuits in Superior Court must be filed within two years from the act of discrimination/sexual harassment.  You also have the right to sue in federal court (but you cannot sue in both state and federal court for the same thing – you must choose one).  However, you may only sue in federal court if you have obtained a “Right to Sue” letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

For more information on enforcing your rights in the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights, New Jersey Superior Court, Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, and federal court, see Employment Discrimination.​