Piro Zinna Cifelli Paris & Genitempo, LLC Attorneys at law
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Public employees who sexually harass could face big consequences

If some New Jersey lawmakers have their way, the consequences for sexual harassment in the workplace could get a lot bigger for public officials and government employees.

One piece of fallout from the #MeToo movement is that there's been a lot of scrutiny on public officials across the nation sexually abuse or harass their employees. The probability that they'd ever face serious consequences was once pretty slim.

Most victims kept quiet out of fear of retaliation. Those who did speak up often faced a convoluted investigation process that could end up going nowhere. Some officials might take some damage in the polls if their actions became popular knowledge -- or they might not.

A new bill seeks to redistribute the balance of power a bit. Approved by an Assembly committee already, the law would strip both elected officials and regular public employees of their taxpayer-funded pensions if they sexually assault or harass someone. It would only affect people who used their position in some way to commit the offense.

The new measure would simply be an extension of the existing anti-corruption measures already in place. Right now, the law only terminates the pensions of those who use their positions for things like bribery, theft and other misconduct. The rule would kick in only when an individual was actually convicted of (or pleads guilty to) the harassment or assault in court -- which eases fears that someone could lose his or her pension over a false accusation.

New Jersey lawmakers had recently promised to address the concerns raised by the #MeToo movement and this is a direct response to that promise.

However, the new measures aren't without detractors. Some felt that the inclusion of sexual harassment (as opposed to sexual assault) as an action that would result in the termination of a pension was "excessive" because harassment is only a petty offense under New Jersey law -- netting little more than a fine.

Most others, however, feel that the measures are necessary in order to make the gamble some officials have been willing to take too big to take again.

Sexual harassment continues to be problematic in all sectors of employment. Victims should seek legal advice as soon as possible in order to protect their rights.

Source: NJ Spotlight, "Public Employees Guilty of Sexual Assault, Harassment Would Forfeit Pensions," John Reitmeye, May 14, 2018

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