Physical Contact: Where is the Line?
It is not uncommon for people in the workplace to have physical contact with each other. It happens all the time in completely acceptable ways. For example, if someone does a great job on a project, he or she may receive a handshake, high five, or pat on the back. But when does physical contact in the workplace – even if it is congratulatory or encouraging in its nature – cross the line and potentially become sexual harassment?
Some behavior in the workplace is very obviously inappropriate, e.g. purposely brushing against, or bumping into, a coworker; massaging a coworker; or touching oneself in a sexual manner in front of a coworker. These are no-brainers, but what about the gray areas? Is it sexual harassment to hug a coworker? What about resting one’s hand on the lower back of a coworker while standing next to each other? These behaviors don’t have as clear of an answer.
Physical contact in the workplace – as a general rule – should be minimized. It has been said there are three areas of the body (other than the hands) where bare skin contact is acceptable in the workplace: (1) the wrist, (2) the forearm, and (3) the upper back. There also appears to be an unwritten exception for pro baseball players who are permitted to slap teammates on the backside after a good play. This exception definitely does not apply in any other profession!
What Does the Law Say?
In New Jersey, the law that protects employees against sexual harassment is the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (“NJLAD”). Under the NJLAD, all employers – large and small – are prohibited from allowing sexual harassment in the workplace.
Not only does NJLAD protect employees from sexual harassment, it also protects individuals who report sexual harassment. Employers may not retaliate against individuals who report sexual harassment or people who assist those that report sexual harassment.
Our New Jersey sexual harassment lawyers focus on remedying sexual harassment cases. If you are not sure whether a coworker crossed the line of appropriate physical contact, or you believe you have been a victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, call us at **(973) 509-8500** to schedule a free phone consultation.