What is sexual harassment?
How do you recognize it? How do you name it? How do you complain about it? How do you stop it?
Do you have to get legal help? Can you stop it before then?
How do you talk about it? Who should you talk to about it? When should you start talking about it?
Sexual harassment has become a widely recognized problem in the #MeToo era, but it’s been a big and almost entirely unrecognized problem for a very long time.
The Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Northern New Jersey understands that it’s a problem, and it’s there to help. This Thursday night, it’s offering a workshop on understanding, identifying, and preventing sexual harassment. (See below.)
“We’re having the program in light of everything that’s happened in the news since mid-2016,” Susan Greenbaum, JFCS’s CEO, said. “We know from our caseload that this is a huge issue for some people. We know that everyone who has been in the workforce for the last four or five decades — in any workplace, in any industry — has sustained some amount of harassment, whether sexual or otherwise. And we know that harassment causes depression, anxiety, fear, and all sorts of negative emotions. We wanted to create a forum where dialogue would be open.”
As part of its mission, the agency provides counseling and other kinds of support for people who have been victimized by sexual harassment, among other things.
But before anyone can get therapy, she or he could use some idea of what the problem is. That’s what the evening will provide. Two lawyers — Maxine Neuhauser and James Flynn, both of Epstein Becker & Green, and more specifically of that huge firm’s Newark office — will offer a workshop. After that, a panel will answer questions about what constitutes harassment, and what people can do about it.
Ms. Neuhauser has more than 30 years of experience dealing with harassment, she said; “after that long in the practice of employment law, I know that there are stories that you just can’t make up,” she said.
She will talk about “how it is important for people to understand their rights as well as their obligations in the workplace,” she said. “The workplace is not a free-speech zone, and it is not a consequence-free zone. The fact is that at the workplace, we are dealing with people — and that can sometimes be a challenge. But that challenge should not rise to the level of having to deal with illegal behavior directed at you.
“And so our program is going to be focused not just on what the law is, but on what employees in general — and women in particular — are entitled to expect and to demand in any workplace they’re in.
“And I will illustrate those things through a library of stories,” she added. “And really you can’t make this stuff up.”
It is important for people to realize that “what is acceptable social behavior is not necessarily the same as acceptable workplace behavior. So, for example, if I am a guy and I am going to a Giants football game, I can wear a t-shirt that says ‘10 Reasons Why Beer Is Better Than Women.’
“You can buy that t-shirt on line,” she added parenthetically. “I know because I’ve looked it up. But you can’t wear it to work. And we all know that.
“When you’re with your friends you can go to a comedy club and you can laugh at whatever jokes you want to laugh at. But you can’t necessarily come back to the office the next day and recreate that comedy routine, about the girlfriend or the mother-in-law or the guy at the 7-Eleven. You just can’t do that.
“That’s a lot of what we see,” Ms. Neuhauser continued. “It’s not the Harvey Weinstein stuff, or the Steve Wynn stuff. The things that can bring down a company. That also happens, but for a lot of folks it’s just not realizing that a workplace is a workplace. That we spend a lot of time with people there — sometimes even more than we do with our family and friends — but they are not our family or friends. They are our co-workers. And there are standards of behavior that have to be maintained.”
If a situation gets out of control, then yes, someone feeling harassed should go to the human relations department, or to a supervisor, Ms. Neuhauser said. “But every problem doesn’t have to go nuclear.
“At the end of the day, people want to work. They want to have a job. They want to be left alone. They want to have collegial, respectful relationships with the people they work with.
“And so we are going to talk about why these issues matter in terms of career and reputation.”
As for the offender, “What you intended is not the issue. And ‘I was just joking’ is not an excuse. ‘If I offended you…’ is not an apology. We will be talking about those sorts of things.
“The goal at the end of the evening is to make people aware of what their legal rights are,” Ms. Neuhauser said. “It is to give them some practical information, and maybe some strategies, so that they will be better positioned toward helping to create and maintain a productive and respectful workplace.
“And if things still go south, they’ll have the tools to deal with it,” she concluded.
Who: The Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Northern New Jersey
What: Presents an evening devoted to “Understanding, identifying and Preventing Sexual Harassment”
When: On Thursday, March 8, from 7:30 to 9 p.m.
Where: At Congregation Beth Sholom, 354 Maitland Ave., Teaneck
For more information or to make a reservation: Call Sandra Leshaw at (201) 837-9090 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.