New Jersey’s State Policy Prohibiting Discrimination in the Workplace is considered amongst many New Jersey employment lawyers as being one of the least protective of employee rights in the entire country. Unfortunately, the newest revisions proposed by the Civil Service Commission do not provide any meaningful improvement for State employees governed under the State’s anti-harassment policy, and particularly with respect to how it conducts investigations of claims of sexual harassment. In fact, when it comes to New Jersey’s controversial “strict confidentiality directive” policy, the proposed changes make the New Jersey’s anti-harassment policy even worse for victims of sexual harassment and discrimination.
Much has been written over the past week regarding the Civil Service Commission’s attempts to strengthen the strict confidentiality directive. While the Civil Service Commission’s proposed revisions could worsen the penalties for breach, the current version of the strict confidentiality directive in effect continues to require incidents of sexual harassment from the public. What many of the news reports seem to have missed is the devastating impact of the current strict confidentiality policy has and continues to have on silencing victims of sexual harassment.
The current strict confidentiality directive in place expressly threatens state employees with discipline up to and including termination if the state employee exercises his or her constitutionally protected right to speak out about allegations of harassment within the state workplace. A state employee who makes a complaint of harassment or discrimination, or is requested to participate in a discrimination or harassment investigation, is required under current state regulations and practice to keep all aspects of the investigation confidential. This means, for example, that if a state employee is the victim of sexual assault or harassment at her state job and she complains about it to the State’s EEO/AA office, she is forbidden under current regulations and practice to tell a lawyer, a co-worker or even her spouse anything about what happened. The strict confidential directive remains in place and every state employee must abide by it or be subject to discipline. N.J.A.C. 4A:7-3.1(j), states: