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A closer look at what the law has to say about sexual harassment

While most people start their workday thinking about what they need to get done, the meetings they must attend and the people with whom they must speak, there are others who start their workday thinking about nothing more than whether they will be left alone for the next eight hours.

Indeed, the unfortunate reality for many employees throughout New York is that they are subjected to sexual harassment, making their workplace both uncomfortable and impossible to work in peacefully.

What kind of legal protection is available to those subjected to sexual harassment?  

Sexual harassment is not only prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the landmark federal legislation, but also the New York Human Rights Law and sometimes even local ordinances.

What type of conduct do these laws typically prohibit?

While a complete listing of the types of verbal, visual and physical conduct that may be considered sexual harassment is perhaps beyond the scope of a single blog post, some more common examples, include:

  • Offensive remarks, comments and jokes
  • Unwelcome physical contact
  • Requests for sexual favors in exchange for work-related benefits
  • Vulgar gestures of a sexually suggestive nature

Can legal action only be taken if the sexual harassment is committed by superiors?

No. The aforementioned sexual harassment laws apply regardless of whether the offender is a superior, co-worker or even a non-employee, such as a customer or client. Furthermore, the law provides equal protection to both women and men, and applies regardless of whether the victim and harasser are the same sex.

Is it enough if I was harassed once?

In general, the sexual harassment is considered illegal when it's either so severe or so frequent that it results in the creation of a hostile work environment or an adverse employment decision.

We'll continue to explore this topic in future posts. In the meantime, please do not hesitate to speak with an experienced legal professional if you have been victimized by sexual harassment in any form.  

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