TRENTON – Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal today announced coordinated actions by multiple divisions within the Department of Law & Public Safety to combat sexual harassment, while supporting Governor Phil Murphy’s call for the legislature to strengthen the state’s anti-harassment laws.
The announcement came at a press conference at which Governor Murphy unveiled legislation to overhaul the state’s anti-workplace harassment laws for both public and private employers. The bill, which was drafted following a year-long review of New Jersey’s discrimination laws by the Division on Civil Rights (DCR), establishes clear language to define a hostile work environment, mandates that all employers provide their employees training on unlawful discrimination and harassment, and extends the statute of limitations for cases brought under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD).
While the proposed legislation focuses on the broader issues of workplace harassment and discrimination, a new report issued by DCR focuses specifically on the issue of sexual harassment. The report highlights that sexual harassment affects people regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, national origin or immigration status, but also highlights that marginalized communities, including women of color, immigrants, domestic workers, LGBTQ+ people and others, are often uniquely vulnerable to sexual harassment.
DCR’s findings and recommendations are based on three public hearings on sexual harassment that DCR conducted in September 2019, in partnership with the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
To complement the proposed legislation, which will apply to all New Jersey employers, the Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) has initiated a rulemaking to protect individuals who work at New Jersey’s casinos.
Specifically, the DGE intends to propose new regulations, including requiring each casino to develop a “Plan Prohibiting Harassment or Discrimination” (PPHD) designed to strengthen protections for all prospective and actual employees of casino licensees and casino license applicants. The PPHD will require each casino to outline its policies, strategies, procedures and internal requirements for preventing discrimination or harassment, including sexual harassment.
Simultaneously, the Division of Consumer Affairs is conducting a comprehensive review of how its 51 professional boards—which oversee approximately 720,000 active licensed professionals, from accountants to doctors and plumbers to veterinarians—address allegations of sexual harassment and assault by licensees and applicants. The review will include evaluations of whether boards should ask additional questions on license applications, how boards approach investigations and discipline, and how boards engage with complainants alleging sexual misconduct by a licensee or applicant.
"Workplace harassment remains all too common in New Jersey, and now is the time to change the culture that has allowed unlawful harassment to persist for too long,” said Attorney General Grewal. "I applaud our Division on Civil Rights for working with the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault over the course of last year to study the problem and develop proposals for meaningful legislative solutions. Meanwhile, we remain committed to using all of the tools currently at the disposal of every Division of the Department of Law and Public Safety to bring an end to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, in the workplace and elsewhere. In particular, I applaud DGE’s Director David Rebuck and DCA’s Acting Director Paul Rodríguez for taking the problem of sexual harassment head on.”
“Sexual harassment is pervasive. Even as women make up nearly half of the work force, sexual harassment persists in every sector of the workforce,” said Rachel Wainer Apter, Director of the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights. “Yet for too long, sexual harassment has been ignored, overlooked, and normalized. New Jersey had not yet reviewed its civil rights laws with a view towards better preventing sexual harassment in the workplace, in housing, and in places of public accommodation. It is our sincere hope that the report on the hearings that we conducted last fall with the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault helps all New Jerseyans better understand the harm wrought by sexual harassment and sparks much-needed change. The time to act is now.”
“The Division of Gaming Enforcement is committed to ensuring equal employment and business opportunity, including prohibitions against sexual harassment, in all facets within the casino hotel industry,” said DGE Director David Rebuck. “The proposed rules and amendments would strengthen and enhance equal employment protections for all prospective and actual employees of casino licensees and casino license applicants, as such protections are guaranteed under the Casino Control Act and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.”
“As overseers of approximately 720,000 licensed professionals working in New Jersey, our licensing boards have tremendous power in effecting the kind of changes Governor Murphy has called for to bring an end to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct in the workplace,” said Paul R. Rodríguez, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. “By reviewing how individual Boards address issues related to sexual harassment and misconduct by licensees and applicants, we can identify best rules and practices and use them to provide a more uniform approach to promoting a stronger, fairer environment for New Jersey’s professionals and the people they serve.”
DCA’s comprehensive review of the professional boards’ approaches to sexual misconduct by licensees and applicants comes while many of New Jersey’s professional boards are already proactively addressing the problem. Last year, multiple boards cracked down on licensees for engaging in sexual misconduct, either in the scope of their practice or elsewhere. The Board of Massage and Bodywork Therapy also confronted the problem through rulemaking, proposing new rules to help prevent and detect sexual misconduct in the massage therapy industry.
Today’s announcement of the ongoing top-to-bottom review of all of the boards’ practices and policies reflects that sexual misconduct is not unique to any one profession or segment of society, but is pervasive in all types of workplaces.