Strong Anti-Harassment Policies are Critical Component of a Company’s Employee Handbook

New Jersey lawyers recently won a long awaited defense to sexual harassment charges in the workplace. The landmark employment law decision, Ilda Aguas v. State of New Jersey, is a victory for employers and workers, alike. The decision is specific to charges for sexual harassment when brought against a business entity or its principals. In addition to formally recognizing an affirmative defense for businesses with clear anti-harassment policies, the courts also broadened the definition of supervisor with regard to vicarious liability. Vicarious liability refers to the NJ Supreme Court’s decision, years ago, that an employer can be held liable for sexual harassment that another supervisor commits.

Sexual harassment can occur in many different forms. One of the more common harassment claims, however, is when an employee reports a hostile work environment due to behavior based on his or her sex. Many businesses have policies to address sexual harassment, however, statistics show that up to 70 percent of women and 20 percent of men have been sexually harassed in the workplace.

The NJ Supreme Court’s new decision addresses the impact that an employer’s anti-harassment policy has on an employee’s claims harassment. If a strong anti-harassment policy is in place, it can protect businesses from liability in cases involving hostile work environment claims. The court reasoned that this decision is in line with the goals of the NJLAD by “motivating employers to maintain effective anti-harassment policies and by encouraging employees to take prompt action against harassing supervisors in accordance with those policies.”

While the decision offers increased protection to employers, it also requires them to be slightly more vigilant. The court broadened the definition of a supervisor as it applies to hostile work environment sexual harassment claims. An individual with the authority to take or recommend employee actions will be considered a supervisor under the NJLAD.

If you are concerned about your company’s sexual harassment policies, or would like to put a clear policy in place, contact a skilled employment attorney at Posternock Apell, PC today.