Sexual Harassment

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and state laws both prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace. Often, large municipalities like New York City will also have their own sexual harassment laws. These state and municipal laws can often include stronger prohibitions against sexual harassment than federal law does. For example, employers in New York State must adopt sexual harassment prevention policies, and New York City requires annual training.

New York City and State Sexual Harassment Requirements

In New York State, both federal and state sexual harassment statutes apply to the workplace. In addition, the City of New York has its own sexual harassment law, which must be complied with by employers in the City.

Federal Sexual Harassment Law

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal law regarding sexual harassment in the workplace. As noted above, the law applies to harassment of applicants or employees because of that person’s sex. Harassment includes verbal harassment (such as offensive humor), unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors in return for an advantage in the workplace, and any other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature. The law governs all aspects of employment. Teasing and flirting are not prohibited but can, if frequent or severe, resulting in a finding of a hostile work environment. Harassment can occur when both the victim and the perpetrator are of the same gender or sexual orientation.

New York State Sexual Harassment Requirements

Under New York State law, employers must undertake many steps to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. First, they must adopt a Sexual Harassment Policy which must, at a minimum:

  • Prohibit sexual harassment
  • Provide examples of prohibited conduct that would constitute sexual harassment
  • Information about federal and state laws concerning sexual harassment, available remedies for victims, and a statement that there may be applicable local laws
  • Include a complaint form
  • Include a procedure for timely and confidential investigations that ensures due process
  • Inform employees of their rights to redress and all available forums for adjudication
  • Clearly state that sexual harassment constitutes employee misconduct and sanction will be enforced against those engaging in the conduct and supervisors who knowingly allow it to continue
  • Clearly prohibit retaliation for complainants or witnesses

The state has issued a model policy that the state will deem adequate. Policies drafted by employers must meet or exceed the requirements of the model. The state also provides posters and kits for use by employers in preparing their sexual harassment prevention programs.

If you believe that you have been subject to sexual harassment, you should contact an experienced and knowledgeable attorney working in the area of sexual harassment. The attorney will be able, at no cost, to discuss your claim with you and advise you as to how you should proceed.

Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act

The Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act is a law for preventing sexual harassment in the workplace. It includes a three-year statute of limitations and applies to all employers, regardless of size. Employers will now have to implement and keep records of training that consists of the following:

  • A statement that sexual harassment is a form of unlawful discrimination
  • A statement that sexual harassment is also a form of discrimination under state and federal law
  • A description of what sexual harassment is that includes examples
  • An internal complaint process
  • The federal and state complaint processes, including contact information
  • A prohibition of retaliation, including examples
  • Information concerning bystander intervention, including any resources that explain how to engage in bystander intervention and
  • The responsibilities of supervisors and managers in preventing sexual harassment and retaliation and measures they can take to address sexual harassment complaints

Common Sexual Harassment Claims

Claims of sexual harassment are usually based on the following types of conduct:

  • Inappropriate or unwelcome touching
  • Sending offensive or pornographic material to another without consent
  • Making offensive or crude sexual remarks
  • Unwelcome sexual advances
  • Requests for sexual favors in return for workplace favors
  • Verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature

These may be part of a hostile work environment or a quid pro quo claim. A hostile environment claim arises when the harassing misconduct is so pervasive as to harm another’s performance and make that person feel uncomfortable. It can be committed by anyone in the office, such as coworkers, supervisors, subcontractors, vendors, and clients or customers. A quid pro quo claim is virtually always committed by an individual with power over the complaining employee who uses that power in an attempt to coerce sexual favors. The victim usually feels as though not complying will result in the loss of the victim’s job.

What You Should Do if You Suspect Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment law in New York is complicated. First, it is difficult because the law itself is complex, with many different requirements placed upon employers. Second, it is tricky because at least three separate statutes may apply to any given case, especially in New York City. For these reasons, if you think you may have been the victim of unlawful sexual harassment, you should take some vital steps, as well as contacting experienced New York employment discrimination counsel.

Document Your Case

The nature of your claim will tell you the kinds of documentation you need. For example, if you are claiming quid pro quo harassment by your immediate supervisor, you will need to produce your performance reviews and any other documentation you might have relating to the claim. If you are claiming hostile environment sexual harassment, you will need records relating to any complaints you have made and any records of employer actions or failures to act regarding your complaint. If you are claiming retaliation, you will want your employee file. Since most of these records will not be easy for you to access, you should consider working with a knowledgeable employment discrimination attorney to assist you.

Keep Communicating with Your Supervisors

No matter how badly things seem to be going, if you are still working at the firm, be sure to stay in communication with your employers. They may not be aware of the situation in its entirety or may be trying to resolve the problem quietly 

Talk to HR

It would help if you also stayed in touch with Human Resources. HR staff understands the sexual harassment rules. For this reason, they will probably at least listen to your story with some concern and may be able to explain to you why the company is taking the steps it is (or is not) taking regarding your claim. However, even if HR doesn’t give you either compassion or advice, as your employment discrimination attorney will tell you, if you make a formal claim, you must be able to show that you exhausted your in-house remedies. So, you should be sure to take any steps that your employee handbook says you should before making a formal claim.

What Remedies Are Available to Me

Sexual harassment cases have remedies ranging from financial to employment-related. You may, for example, no longer have to work with or for the individual harassing you. Or, in a more formal claim setting, you may recover back pay based on denial or a raise or promotion, or a termination.

You may have the right to be reinstated in your position. However, this may not be possible or practical. In this case, you will be entitled to front pay. Front pay is intended to compensate you for losses you may suffer from the date of the judgment.

Sometimes compensatory damages for emotional distress, damage to your professional reputation, and your out-of-pocket costs may be awarded. A court may also award punitive or exemplary damages if it feels your employer knew about the misconduct and did not take steps to stop it.

Retain an Attorney as Soon as You Can

If you believe that you have been a victim of sexual harassment, consult an experienced sexual harassment attorney as soon as possible. A knowledgeable attorney can help you understand whether you have a claim and the remedies that may be available. He or she can also help you continue working and with preparing and maintaining necessary records.

Call a New York Sexual Harassment Lawyer Today for a Free Consultation

To schedule a free case evaluation with an experienced lawyer, call A.Y.G., PLLC, today at 646-201-8625 or contact us online.