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Navigating the NYC Complaint Process: What to Expect After Reporting Sexual Harassment

By Douglas Lipsky

Sexual harassment in the workplace is an unsettling and unfortunately common issue. In New York City, employees facing such misconduct have a structured complaint process to seek justice and protection. Understanding this process is crucial for any individual who finds themselves in this difficult situation. This blog aims to guide you through the complaint process, helping you understand what to expect after reporting sexual harassment.

Understanding Sexual Harassment

In New York, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment, interferes with work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. This can include:

  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors
  • Verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. 

Notably, the harasser can be a supervisor, a co-worker, or even a third party, like a client or a customer. Sexual harassment can occur in various forms, ranging from blatant propositions to subtle, but unwelcome, comments or physical contact.

Initial Steps of Reporting

If you’ve experienced sexual harassment at work, the first step is to document every incident. Write down dates, times, places, and the names of any witnesses. This documentation will be crucial for your complaint. If you feel safe doing so, directly inform the harasser that their behavior is unwelcome and must stop. However, your safety and comfort are paramount, and if confrontation feels unsafe, it’s perfectly acceptable to skip this step.

Next, reach out for support. This could be a trusted colleague, a supervisor, or your company’s human resources department. Employers in New York City must have procedures for handling such complaints internally. Remember, the law protects you from retaliation for reporting sexual harassment, so don’t hesitate to seek support within your workplace.

Filing a Formal Complaint

If internal processes don’t resolve the issue, or if you prefer not to use them, you can file a formal complaint. This can be done with state agencies like the New York City Division of Human Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) at the federal level. You should know there are time limits for filing these complaints, generally within 300 days of the harassment incident.

The complaint should detail the incidents of harassment, including all the information you’ve documented. Once filed, the agency will review your complaint and determine whether to proceed with an investigation. It’s advisable to consult with an employment attorney to ensure your complaint is properly filed and to understand the full scope of your legal rights and options.

Investigation Process

After a formal complaint is filed, an investigation typically follows. This process can vary in length and complexity, depending on the specifics of the case. During the investigation, the agency or your employer will gather information related to your complaint. This often involves interviewing witnesses, reviewing documentation, and possibly conducting meetings with both parties involved. It’s important to cooperate fully during this process and provide any additional information or documentation that can support your case.

The outcomes of an investigation can vary. In some cases, it may lead to mediation or a settlement between the parties. In more severe cases, it could result in disciplinary action against the harasser, up to and including termination. If the investigation concludes that no harassment occurred, the case may be closed without action. However, if you disagree with the outcome, you may have options to appeal or pursue legal action.

Legal Rights and Protections

Throughout the complaint process, the New York City Human Rights Law provides strong protections against retaliation. This means your employer cannot legally punish you, demote you, reduce your hours, or take any other adverse action because you reported sexual harassment. Additionally, you have the right to file a lawsuit if the agency process doesn’t lead to a satisfactory resolution. 

Know Your Rights

Navigating the New York City complaint process after reporting sexual harassment can be challenging, but understanding your rights and the steps involved is crucial for seeking justice and maintaining a safe workplace. Remember, you are not alone, and there are legal avenues available to help you through this process. If you find yourself in this situation, consult a knowledgeable employment law attorney who can guide you every step of the way.

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.