Rutgers holds workplace sexual harassment prevention workshop

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NEW BRUNSWICK -

Rutgers University held a workshop Friday for employers to learn more about combatting sexual harassment in the workplace.

The workshop comes as more women around the country open up about sexual harassment and gender inequality.

“What was acceptable 20 or 30 years ago isn’t acceptable now,” says Michael Phelan, former MTA director of training.

Phelan says that what some people call “locker room talk” can actually play a role in sexual harassment.

Phelan used to investigate sexual harassment claims of subway employees at the MTA. He says that profanity and offensive words were the common complaints he dealt with.

“Break room, lunchroom, background talk where people don’t realize that others are hearing their conversation or they’re just louder than co-workers and they’re oversharing,” he says.

Phelan was one of the professionals at Rutgers' Labor Education Center who signed up for the sexual harassment workshop. These workers say that they want to go back to their companies and teach employees about today's standards of what's appropriate.

As the #MeToo movement gains steam, more industry leaders say that they are trying to combat sexism. This includes those that are majority male, like carpentry.

“Our organization itself set up a program…to really mentor women who work in this environment and really give them a voice to come forward if they’re not comfortable with something that happened,” says carpenter Anthony Abrantes. “It’s been pretty effective.”

So where is the link when it comes to inappropriate office talk? Rutgers professor Jim Cooney says that the courts say if it's a comment a "reasonable person" would find offensive and it’s either severely offensive or ongoing, that can be viewed as sexual harassment.

“If it’s a comment made because clearly the person was female, then that can make it so that you can bring a claim,” Cooney says.

The workshop today also focused on how employers can investigate claims of sexual harassment.

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