Sexual harassment can be very offensive and make the workplace feel unsafe for its victims. However, sexual harassment is not necessarily criminal. In most cases, sexual harassment is an employment law issue and can lead to consequences like losing your job or paying the victim damages in civil court. However, there are situations where sexual harassment can also lead to criminal charges. The Atlantic City sexual offense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych explain.
Is Sexual Harassment a Crime in NJ?
Sexual harassment is undue attention, words, or actions of a sexual nature targeted at another. In the workplace, sexually harassing a co-worker can often lead to the offender being fired, transferred, or suffering other disciplinary measures. If the employer or company condoned the sexual harassment, failed to stop it, or if the boss was the one directly responsible for sexually harassing employees, the entire company could face civil lawsuits and legal consequences.
Sexual harassment is not always a crime. Sexual harassment usually involves words but may include physical acts of intimidation or touching as well. In some instances, the words alone may not be enough to charge any crime. However, once you begin using physical intimidation or contact, it could become a crime.
Criminal Charges for Sexual Harassment
In cases where there are only words exchanged, it may be difficult for the police or prosecutors to charge you with a criminal offense. Few criminal charges deal with words alone, but they may be appropriately charged for some cases of sexual harassment.
The first crime that comes to mind based off words alone is the crime of “terroristic threats.” This offense includes any threats “to commit any crime of violence with the purpose to terrorize another . . . cause evacuation of a building . . . or otherwise to cause serious public inconvenience.” That means that threatening to sexually assault or rape a co-worker could be considered a serious threat and could lead to charges for a third degree crime as well as legal issues for the sexual harassment.
Disorderly conduct charges may also fit to punish raucous or obscene statements made as part of sexual harassment acts. If you are in a public place, which may include the workplace, and you use “unreasonably loud and offensively coarse or abusive language” to address a co-worker about sexual topics, you could be charged with a petty disorderly persons offense. Other more physical conduct that “[c]reates a hazardous or physically dangerous condition” could also be considered disorderly conduct.
If there is physical activity involved, there are two primary crimes you may be charged with: sexual assault and criminal sexual contact. Sexual assault is a very severe crime and only applies in cases of actual sexual penetration (i.e. rape). If your sexual harassment activities progress so far as to include sexual favors from the victim without their consent or under other circumstances of coercion, you could face charges for a second degree crime. This can be upgraded to aggravated sexual assault, a first degree crime, under certain circumstances
Charges for criminal sexual contact are far more likely for stereotypical sexual harassment actions. Many sexual harassment cases involve groping a coworker, such as grabbing their crotch, buttocks, or breasts. This kind of activity, if accomplished through force or coercion, constitutes the crime of “sexual contact.” This is a fourth degree crime, but it is upgraded to a third degree crime under certain circumstances.
It is important to remember that not every case of sexual harassment arises to the level of criminal activity. In addition, many actions that are criminal are not reported as crimes, and are handled instead through employment law or disciplinary measures at work. However, if there is any indication that you could be facing criminal charges or that your actions may be reported to the authorities, it is important to talk to a criminal defense attorney about your case.
Penalties for Sexual Harassment Crimes in NJ
As mentioned, sexual harassment is not itself a crime. However, it can still mean losing your job, facing other disciplinary actions at work, or facing civil fines.
The criminal charges that could go alongside sexual harassment allegations vary greatly in the level of offense. The level of crime for each charge is what dictates its potential penalties. Be aware that serious sexual offenses like sexual assault or criminal sexual contact also include potential registration as a sex offender. Otherwise, the typical penalties for these crimes are:
- Petty disorderly persons offenses like disorderly conduct can yield up to 6 months in jail and a $500 fine.
- Disorderly persons offenses can yield up to 6 months in jail and fines up to $1,000
- Fourth degree crimes like sexual contact can yield up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.
- Third degree crimes like terroristic threats or aggravated sexual contact can yield 3-5 years in prison and fines up to $15,000.
- Second degree crimes like sexual assault can yield 5-10 years in prison and fines up to $150,000.
- First degree crimes like aggravated sexual assault can yield 10-20 years in prison and fines up to $200,000.
Atlantic City Criminal Defense Lawyers Offering Free Consultations
If you were charged with a crime related to a sexual harassment incident, talk to an attorney today. You may see criminal charges on top of any civil or employment penalties, and you could be facing potential jail time and high fines. For a free consultation on your case, call the Atlantic City criminal defense lawyers at The Law Offices of John J. Zarych today at (609) 616-4956.