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Important points about sexual harassment

To fully understand what sexual harassment may look like in the workplace, it's important to look at what the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has to say about it.

First and foremost, the EEOC notes that sexual harassment is illegal when it consists of unwelcome advances, requests to begin a sexual relationship, and things of this nature. This is left very open-ended, stating simply that it can include both verbal and physical harassment that is in some way sexual.

However, the EEOC then notes that remarks about a person's gender can also constitute sexual harassment, though they may not be strictly sexual. For example, if a male worker said something offense about women--not a specific woman in the workplace, but the gender as a whole--that could still be harassment if someone heard it and was offended.

The EEOC is also careful to point out that gender stereotypes about the roles should not apply. That is to say that the harasser can be of either gender, as can the victim. Additionally, both could be the same gender.

Where things get a bit tricky is when jokes and teasing come into play. A worker may make an offhand comment, just trying to be funny, that ends up being offensive. This is typically not illegal, but it can become so when it happens often and creates a hostile work environment, especially if the victim has asked the person making the comments to stop and he or she has not done so.

If you've been victimized by sexual harassment in New Jersey, you need to know both that the EEOC prohibits it and what legal options you have.

Source: EEOC, "Sexual Harassment," accessed Feb. 25, 2016

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