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What are signs of sexual harassment in a New Jersey workplace?

You'd think it would be easy to spot, but sometimes it isn't. Sexual harassment in Bergen County workplaces can be direct or indirect. You may be a witness to an atmosphere of misbehavior without being the target of it.

Protections from sexual harassment in the workplace are outlined under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The federal law applies to all government and private employers with a minimum of 15 employees, plus labor organizations and employment agencies.

The law is not gender specific; a victim or perpetrator can be a man or a woman. Harassment claims may involve individuals of the same or opposite sexes. The harasser can be a peer at work, someone at a different pay grade or, in some cases, a non-employee associated with the company.

Some employees wonder whether an offensive comment was the result of a manager's poor judgment or part of a work culture that encourages or ignores sex discrimination. Unwanted physical advances are fairly clear. Verbal horseplay can be hard to interpret.

Whether this is a real problem can depend upon how the behavior affects you. Has the behavior transformed a workplace into a hostile environment? An employment lawyer can help you answer this question and determine whether an incident constitutes sexual harassment.

Sexual harassment doesn't have to have any effect on whether you're hired, promoted or fired, but it can. Some employees are asked to grant sexual favors to advance in the company. In any case, the unwelcome behavior should be reported, obviously a problem when the complaint is filtered through a harasser.

Employees may hesitate to complain, but they have every right to do so. Sometimes it's easier to talk this over with an attorney before reporting harassment to clarify your position. Take the opportunity to ask about legal options, including the process of filing complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or other agencies.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, "Facts About Sexual Harassment," accessed April. 03, 2015

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