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What Is “Unwelcome Conduct” That Can Create a Sexually Hostile Workplace?

A hostile work environment is a type of sexual harassment that occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct that is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would find the workplace intolerable. Typically, the unwelcome conduct must be persistent and repeated. However, in New Jersey, a single incident can create a hostile work environment if it is severe enough.

An essential element of hostile workplace sexual harassment is “unwelcome conduct.” Such conduct can come in many forms and be engaged in by many different people within a business. For example, you could be subjected to unlawful behavior by any of the following on the business premises:

  • A co-worker
  • A supervisor (your direct report or someone further up the chain)
  • A vendor
  • A customer

As for what conduct could be considered unwelcome, there are many different possibilities. The following are common examples:

  • Unwanted sexual advances
  • Asking inappropriate questions
  • Giving someone an inappropriate or sexually-charged nickname
  • Verbal harassment
  • Unwanted physical touching
  • A co-worker pinning up an offensive photo in their cubicle and not removing it when asked

A single instance of unwelcome conduct can create a hostile workplace if the conduct is severe. A sexual assault in the workplace would certainly qualify. Otherwise, unwelcome conduct must be persistent and repetitive. For example, if a co-worker makes one sexist comment toward you, that comment alone is probably not enough. However, if that person makes such comments on a regular basis over a period of time, then the conduct as a whole may support a hostile work environment legal claim. You should always document instances of unwelcome conduct when they happen to you, so that you have a record of the repeated nature of the actions or comments when you report them.

It is stressful to experience a hostile work environment and it can be equally stressful to summon the courage to report the behavior and assert your legal rights. You are entitled to a working environment that is free from harassment and you can always turn to a lawyer for advice on how to handle the situation.

Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in Hackensack is devoted to helping employees throughout New Jersey protect themselves from all forms of workplace sexual harassment. If you believe you are working in a hostile environment, call us at 551-245-8894 or contact us online to schedule a meeting to discuss the situation with one of our attorneys.

Neil  H.  Deutsch Attorney Photo
Neil H. Deutsch

Neil H. Deutsch has been practicing law for over 35 years and is known as a skilled negotiator in employment and discrimination law. He believes in a bottom-line approach of risk analysis and cost effectiveness for his clients. "Case evaluation is something we take seriously," says Mr. Deutsch who seeks top net dollar for his…

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Bruce L. Atkins
Senior Partner

Bruce L. Atkins is the Senior Managing Partner at Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt P.C., a prominent plaintiff employment law firm in the tri-state area. Mr. Atkins believes employees’ rights should be aggressively pursued when they’ve been wrongfully dealt with by their employers. He brings this philosophy to his practice when considering each case and its…

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Adam J. Kleinfeldt

Adam J. Kleinfeldt joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in March of 2015.  He primarily represents individuals in employment litigation such as discrimination, retaliation and whistle blowing matters. He has extensive experience in all phases of the litigation process. Adam has obtained significant results for his clients, including a $525,000 jury verdict in a sexual…

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Debra M. McGarvey

Debra M. McGarvey joined Deutsch Atkins & Kleinfeldt, P.C. in December 2019. She has extensive experience defending employees and employers in state and federal court in employment litigation matters. She has represented clients on various issues arising out of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD), the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), the…

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Carly Skarbnik Meredith

Carly Skarbnik Meredith, Esq. is a Partner at the firm. Carly has focused her career exclusively in the field of employment law. She has a plethora of experience representing both employees and employers with their employment issues, needs, and concerns. She believes representing both employees and employers has made her an extremely well-rounded client advocate.…


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