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What defines sexual harassment?

Workers in New York are protected by law from sexual harassment, and the state attorney general's office has released guidelines defining harassment and procedures for dealing with it. Sexual harassment is behavior that either creates a hostile work environment or ties an employee's advancement, raises or other conditions of employment to sexual conduct. It is prohibited by both federal and state law.

Harassment may include touching, groping or unwanted sex acts; sexually suggestive requests, jokes or remarks; unwanted sexual comments or gestures; and displaying pornographic images. Sexual harassment can come from co-workers, supervisors, customers or clients.

Individuals are encouraged to report harassment to their employer. They may also wish to consult an attorney. There are several agencies they may contact as well, including the Civil Rights Bureau of the New York State Office of the Attorney General, the New York State Division of Human Rights and the New York City Commission on Human Rights. At a federal level, if the company has more than 15 employees, the individual can also contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Individuals also have the option to file a complaint in either state or federal court. Retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment is illegal.

An individual may feel pressured at work to date their boss, and after refusing, they may be passed over for a promotion. That individual may feel that the incidents are related and complain to human resources. Shortly after, the individual might be fired. Because this appears to be illegal retaliation, the individual may wish to consult an attorney. It may be possible to file a lawsuit against the company. Individuals should keep in mind that every situation is different, and this blog post should not be considered legal advice.

Source: New York State Attorney General, "Sexual Harassment Defined", December 05, 2014

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