female employee being harassed by male employer

Unwanted Attention and Workplace Harassment

By Douglas Lipsky

Sexual harassment is associated with unwelcome sexual advances or offensive comments, but another form is harassment is “unwanted attention.” There is a fine line between unwanted attention and harassment and knowing the difference is essential for protecting your employment rights.

Unwanted Attention Can Create a Hostile Work Environment

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), unwanted attention involves behavior that is (1) subjectively unwelcome and (2) objectively severe and pervasive enough to make a reasonable person feel that their work environment is hostile or offensive. abusive. Unwanted attention harassment may involve:

  • Repeated and unwanted communications by phone, email, text, or social media
  • Repeatedly asking a coworker for a date when he or she has already declined
  • Repeatedly targeting another person with jokes that are offensive in nature
  • Sending or leaving unwanted gifts
  • Making comments about someone’s physical abilities or appearance
  • Excluding someone from discussions and decisions
  • Unwanted touching of any kind, including innocent touching like putting an arm around someone’s shoulder or a pat on the back

Unwanted Attention Harassment Violates Federal, State, and Local Law

It is important to note that the EEOC considers harassment an unlawful form of discrimination under federal laws, including Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Americans with Disabilities Act. As such, unwanted attention is not only related to sexual harassment but also harassment based on a wide range of protected characteristics, including:

  • Race
  • Color
  • Religions
  • National origin
  • Age (40 or older)
  • Disability
  • Sexual identity

Moreover, harassment is a violation of state and local law, including the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York City Human Rights Law, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. Generally, unwanted attention becomes harassment when the alleged conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.

How to Stop Unwanted Attention at Work

If you have been the target of unwanted attention harassment by an employer, manager, coworker, or customer, the first thing to do is inform the perpetrator that his or her attention is unwanted and needs to stop. If the behavior continues, notify your supervisor or the human resources department. 

While complaining to your employer about harassment may be scary, doing so will create a record that will be helpful if you need to pursue a claim. This is because an employer who knows or reasonably should have known about harassment can be held liable. Also, your employer cannot retaliate against you by taking adverse employment action against you (e.g. firing, demotion). 

If your employer refuses to stop the unwanted attention harassment, you can take legal action, which includes filing an administrative complaint or a lawsuit. Ultimately, the best way to protect your rights is to consult with an experienced employment lawyer.

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.