What New Jersey Workers Should Know About Sexual Harassment Laws and Office Holiday Parties

The holiday season often presents opportunities for people to relax with their coworkers at a holiday party hosted by their employers. Office holiday parties sometimes have a reputation for being raucous events, often featuring abundant amounts of alcohol. Unfortunately, sometimes people use holiday parties as an opportunity for misconduct. The fact that people are drinking, or that the office holiday parties only occur once a year, are not excuses for acts that would be unlawful if they occurred at work. In fact, office holiday parties are part of the work environment regardless of where they take place. Unwanted sexual advances are just as unlawful at a holiday party as in the workplace. Employees who experience sexual harassment at a holiday party may have legal rights under New Jersey employment laws.

What Is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a type of sex discrimination under laws like the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It can take many forms, but it generally involves unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that is based, at least in part, on an employee’s sex. It can involve a wide range of behavior, from overt sexual advances to sexually-charged comments or jokes. Courts have identified two broad categories of sexual harassment, both of which can occur at holiday parties.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

This type of sexual harassment occurs when someone in a supervisory or managerial position expects an employee to agree to some sort of sexual activity as a condition of their employment. The term “quid pro quo” refers to an exchange. In this type of situation, an employee is expected to agree to a sexual demand in exchange for getting a job, keeping a job, or receiving better work conditions. A classic example involves a restaurant manager who gives the best shifts to servers who submit to whatever sexual activity they are demanding.

Hostile Work Environment

A hostile work environment occurs when unwanted sexual conduct or remarks are so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would find the workplace to be unacceptably hostile. Hostile work environment claims typically involve patterns of behavior that occur over time, such as a work environment that features sexual jokes or comments at such a level that it interferes with a person‘s ability to do their job. A single incident can support a hostile work environment claim, however, if it is severe enough.

Holiday Parties Are Part of the Workplace

Even if a holiday party occurs away from an employer’s usual place of business, such as a restaurant or club, it is still part of the workplace. The employment laws that apply at the office also apply at the party. Examples of sexual harassment that might occur at a holiday party include the following:
– Unwanted sexual advances from a coworker, supervisor, or manager;
– Unwelcome touching; or
– Inappropriate gifts that are overtly or impliedly sexual.

If you have experienced sexual harassment at a holiday party, or another unlawful employment practice in the workplace, you need skilled legal representation to help you assert your rights. The Resnick Law Group’s team of experienced employment attorneys represents New Jersey and New York workers in claims for violations of federal and state law. If you need help with a dispute with your current or former employer, please contact us online, at 973-781-1204, or at 646-867-7997 today to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your rights and options.

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