What Is Nonsexual Harassment in the Workplace?

By Douglas Lipsky

While the #MeToo movement has shed light on the prevalence of sexual harassment in the workplace, nonsexual harassment also occurs in many work settings, violating New York State, New York City and federal law. If you believe you have been subjected to nonsexual harassment on the job, you should consult an experienced employment law attorney.

What Are the Signs of Nonsexual Harassment?

Nonsexual harassment involves offensive conduct, comments or displays directed at a worker by anyone (e.g. supervisor, co-worker, client, customer, vendor) based on a legally protected characteristic such as race, color, religion, national origin, age or disability. 

A single incident or an offhand comment or joke may not rise to the level of harassment. The harassment must be severe or pervasive enough to interfere with an employee’s ability to perform his or her job or create an environment that a reasonable person would consider hostile or offensive. 

Types of conduct that may be deemed offensive include:

  • Inappropriate jokes
  • Insults
  • Epithets
  • Ridicule
  • Mockery
  • Intimidation
  • Threats
  • Assaults

In particular, the conduct may involve gestures or displays that offend a particular protected class, for example, hanging a picture of a gorilla on an African-American worker’s locker. It may also occur when derogatory comments are made about a worker’s race, color, age, religious beliefs, or other protected characteristics. 

How To Prove It

To have a valid claim, you must be able to show that you belong to a protected class and were subjected to harassment based on your protected status. You must also be able to show that the harassment adversely affected the conditions of your employment, interfered with your performance or created a hostile work environment. It is also important to note that it is unlawful for an employer to retaliate against an employee who complains about nonsexual harassment by taking adverse employment action such as firing, demotion, or reassignment. 

The Bottom Line

Although workplace discrimination and harassment are often gender-based, all employees have a right to work in an environment free from harassment. Because nonsexual harassment is often subtle, pursuing a claim can be complicated. If you are being subjected to nonsexual harassment on the job, you should keep a record of any offensive comments or conduct and tell the offender to stop. If the behavior continues, contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Lipsky Lowe LLP. We will be the strength in your corner and help you fight back against nonsexual harassment.

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.