Lipsky Lowe, LLP discusses the steps for filing a sexual harassment claim at work.

How to File a Sexual Harassment Complaint at Work

By Douglas Lipsky

Recent amendments to the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) allow workers in the state to pursue legal action over sexual harassment without filing a workplace complaint beforehand. At the same time, filing a sexual harassment complaint at work could serve to support any future claims you make against your employer. 

Nonetheless, it is critically important to document any unlawful harassment that subjects you to inferior terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of a protected characteristic. If you have been the victim of sexual harassment in the workplace, you should consult an experienced employment law attorney for guidance during this difficult time.

What is sexual harassment in the workplace?

Sexual harassment in the workplace is considered to be a form of unlawful employment discrimination under local, state and federal law. In particular, sexual harassment involves unwanted or unwelcome sexual advances or misconduct that unreasonably interferes with the victim’s work performance or creates an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment.

Workplace harassment can be perpetrated by supervisors, managers, coworkers or clients. The offensive conduct may be physical or verbal and occur inside or outside of the workplace. An offhand comment or an inappropriate joke may not rise to the level of sexual harassment, however. By contrast, you may be the victim of workplace harassment if the conduct is unwanted, persists over a long period of time, makes you feel uncomfortable, threatened, or intimidated, adversely affects your work performance, results in an adverse employment action, or forces you to quit your job.

How do I file a sexual harassment complaint with my employer?

If you have been subjected to sexual harassment in the workplace, you should immediately notify your employer. Although it may be to difficult file a sexual harassment complaint, failing to do so can result in the harassment persisting and may also impede your ability to file a successful legal claim. 

If the perpetrator is a coworker, you should report him or her to a supervisor. If the harasser is your supervisor, you should report the misconduct to human resources or your supervisor’s supervisor. To ensure your complaint is properly filed it is crucial to write down the details of any incidents (e.g. date, time, location, names of potential witnesses), and retain any evidence such as emails or text messages. You should also insist that the harassment report be included in your employee file.

Next Steps in a Sexual Harassment Claim

Once you have filed a complaint with your employer, you have the option of filing a charge with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or a similar state or city agency. Under state and New York City law, however, it is not necessary to file such a claim to pursue a sexual harassment lawsuit. In addition, if you are treated unfairly or terminated by your employer after reporting sexual harassment, you may also have a claim for employment retaliation. Ultimately, the best way to enforce your right to a workplace free from sexual harassment is to work with an experienced employment law attorney.

About the Author
Douglas Lipsky is a co-founding partner of Lipsky Lowe LLP. He has extensive experience in all areas of employment law, including discrimination, sexual harassment, hostile work environment, retaliation, wrongful discharge, breach of contract, unpaid overtime, and unpaid tips. He also represents clients in complex wage and hour claims, including collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and class actions under the laws of many different states. If you have questions about this article, contact Douglas today.