sexual harassment at work

What is Sexual Harassment and What Can You Do About it?

By Douglas Lipsky

Sexual harassment has proven to be a persistent problem in New York workplaces, a trend that will likely continue in the coming year. Let’s take a look at what constitutes sexual harassment and how employees can fight back against it. 

Anti-Harassment Laws

Sexual harassment is considered an unlawful form of sex-based discrimination under federal and state laws, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL). 

Workplace harassment is commonly thought of in terms of a boss making unwanted sexual advances toward an employee. This type of conduct is referred to as “quid pro quo” (this for that) harassment, which can occur at any time during the employment relationship, including during the hiring process. 

At the same time, harassment can be committed by anyone in the workplace. When an employee is subjected to unwelcome comments, conduct, or displays by a supervisor, coworker, or third party (e.g. vendor, client, customer), she or he may have grounds for a sexual harassment claim based on a hostile work environment. This might sound simple enough, but identifying harassment can be difficult. However, common examples include:

  • Unwelcome comments about an employee’s appearance
  • Offensive jokes of a sexual nature
  • Comments about an employee’s sex life (e.g. “she was only promoted after she slept with the boss”)
  • Unlawful touching
  • Offensive text messages, emails
  • Displays of offensive images on a computer/smartphone

To have a valid claim under federal law, it is necessary to prove that the offensive conduct was severe and pervasive. Under the NYSHRL and New York City law, however, it is only necessary for the victim to demonstrate that he or she was treated less well than others because of his or her gender. In any event, sexual harassment can impact anyone, regardless of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity.

Fighting Back Against Sexual Harassment

If you are being harassed at work, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. First, inform the perpetrator that his or her conduct or comments are unwelcome, offensive, and need to stop. It may also be helpful to document any incidents of harassment, which can help to establish a pattern if you decide to pursue a claim.

It is also very important to follow your employer’s guidelines for reporting sexual harassment. All employers in New York are required by law to have a reporting procedure for workplace harassment. You should know that you cannot be retaliated against in any way by your employer (e.g. firing, demotion,) for complaining about sexual harassment.

Ultimately, standing up to sexual harassment is the best way to protect yourself, as well as to prevent others from being harassed. By working with an experienced employment lawyer, you can put a stop to the harassment and obtain just compensation for any harm you have endured.

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.