Andrew Rubin, Esq.

Sexual harassment case prompts legislation change

Sexual harassment is a real problem in the workplace. It can take many forms, from unwanted advances to inappropriate touching to even criminal activity. Sometimes sexual harassment is so pervasive that it creates a abusive and hostile work environment for the employee. Two New Jersey women who work in an industry where workers are at high risk for sexual harassment -- hotel work -- spoke out recently about the abuse they have suffered while on the job.

One of them is the housekeeper who filed the sexual assault complaint against former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn. The other, also a housekeeper in a Manhattan hotel, says she was assaulted at work, in her case by an Egyptian businessman.

Their cases have propelled the issue of workplace sexual harassment to the forefront of worldwide media attention, and they have also resulted in proposals such as a bill in New York State that would make it mandatory for hotels to provide employees who regularly have to enter the rooms of guests with panic buttons that would allow them to call security.

A nationwide hotel workers union is pushing for more safety and security to be provided to staff, such as pairing housekeepers up when they enter rooms or changing staff uniforms from dresses to pants or tunics.

Sexual harassment in the workplace is unfortunately all too common, and there are laws already in place at both the state and federal levels intended to protect employees. Unfortunately, both criminal sexual assaults and workplace sexual harassment are underreported, in both cases often due to stigma and the victims' fear of reprisals.

New Jersey legislators seem reluctant to introduce legislation like New York's panic button proposal. One state senator commented that sexual harassment and assault are already illegal, and victims should be expected to take action against their attackers via the criminal justice system. Unfortunately, existing law does not seem to be enough to deter even criminal assault, and more could undoubtedly be done to protect employees in these situations.

Source: Northjersey.com, "The Record: Pevent [sic] assaults," June 3, 2011

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