male coworker unpleasantly touching female coworker

All employees in New York and New Jersey have a right to a work environment free of sexual harassment, including unwelcome touching. Differentiating between lawful and unlawful touching on the job can be complicated, however. What one individual sees as a friendly expression of affection may be perceived as harassment by another. Nonetheless, local, state and federal anti-discrimination laws make unwelcome touching in the workplace illegal.

At Lipsky Lowe, we know that unwelcome touching is a particularly egregious form of sexual harassment that can result in both emotional and physical harm. At times, a victim may be prevented from performing his or her job while an employee who refuses a sexual advance may also experience retaliation, such as by being denied a raise or promotion. If you have been the victim of unlawful harassment or touching on the job, Lipsky Lowe will be the strength in your corner.

When is touching someone in the workplace considered sexual harassment?

To understand when touching in the workplace is unlawful, it is necessary to understand what constitutes sexual harassment. Workplace harassment may either involve demands for sexual favors in return for a job benefit (referred to as quid pro quo sexual harassment), or conduct that creates a hostile work environment. Depending on the circumstances, touching a coworker may constitute either form of harassment.

While certain forms of physical contact are customary, such as a handshake or an occasional pat on the back, touching rises to the level of sexual harassment when a touch is unwelcome, inappropriate or violent, or makes the victim feel uncomfortable. In short, many forms of touching can be considered harassment, particularly if they create an intimidating, abusive or hostile work environment, such as:

  • Hand holding
  • Brushing or rubbing against another person’s body
  • Massaging
  • Groping
  • Unwanted sexual contact
  • Kissing (on the lips, cheek, or anywhere else)
  • Slapping or pinching body parts
  • Physical assaults

While a simple annoyance or non-severe isolated incident may not meet the definition of sexual harassment, a serious, unwelcome incident or a persistant pattern of conduct is unlawful. In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has determined that unwelcome touching of an intimate body part rises to the level of sexual harassment and that a single incident of unwanted physical contact may result in a hostile work environment.

What can I do about unlawful touching in the workplace?

Employees who experience unwelcome touching in the workplace may be hesitant to speak out because they don’t think it’s worth pursuing or they don’t want to start trouble. Unwanted physical contact is a form of sexual harassment, however, which is considered sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), the New York State Human Rights Law, the New York City Human Rights Law and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. This means that you may have grounds for a lawsuit if you were subjected to unwanted touching in the workplace.

It is worth noting that a company can be held strictly liable for the conduct of a supervisor or manager even if it did not know about the incident. So, if a supervisor touches you in an inappropriate manner and you do not make a formal complaint through the company’s protocol (if one exists), a lawsuit can still be filed against the company. While an employer can also be held liable if a co-worker is the offender, you must be able to prove that you (1) indicated that his or her touching was unwelcome and (2) notified the company through its complaint procedures.

What Our Sexual Harassment Lawyers Can Do For You

If you have been subjected to unwanted physical contact, touching or grabbing at work, we know how to fight for your rights. Our experienced sexual harassment attorneys will conduct a thorough investigation to assess whether you have a viable claim and explore your options for obtaining compensation. If your claim is successful, you may be able to recover damages such as lost wages (back and front pay), compensation for emotional distress, as well as punitive damages. The applicable local, state and federal laws also allow you to recover attorneys’ fees and reasonable costs, which means you will not have any out of pocket legal expenses.

We realize that victims of sexual harassment often experience lingering humiliation as well as lost opportunities. Our legal team has a proven track record of achieving successful outcomes in administrative proceedings as well as in state and federal court. At the other end of the spectrum, we have also defended business clients against unfounded claims of harassment, which often arise in unrelated employment disputes. Above all, we are dedicated to eradicating sexual harassment in all forms. Please contact our office as soon as possible to set up a consultation.