Laws are in place that are designed to protect workers from sexual harassment at work. Unfortunately, despite such protections, these practices are occurring – and more frequently at several government offices throughout New York.
Women working for legislators and judges have alleged various sexual harassment practices and many in recent months have filed formal complaints. Some claim they were mandated to wear revealing clothing at work. Others indicated that they were referred to as “the boss’s girlfriend” at work. Woman also alleged that they received invitations to strip clubs.
Public awareness about these complaints reveals that New York has a long way to go in combatting sexual harassment on the job.
Women in the workplace should know that they have rights and should assert them if they feel uncomfortable in their environment.
Federal laws pertaining to workplace sexual harassment
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 governs conduct in the workplace. Federal law categorizes sexual harassment two ways: hostile workplace and quid pro quo. A hostile workplace is an environment where employees feel uncomfortable when completing their jobs due to unwelcome verbal or physical conduct. Quid pro quo, a Latin phrase to denote an exchange of goods or services, occurs when a person is asked to do a sexual favor in exchange for a promotion or raise.
Employees who have faced sexual harassment at work and are employed with an entity that has 15 or more employees can file a sexual harassment claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
New York law
Under the New York Penal Code, the following elements constitute illegal sexual harassment in the workplace:
- Forcibly touching someone’s intimate parts or in a sexually suggestive manner
- Engaging in any form of sexual contact with another person without consent
- Overt flirtatiousness that makes the recipient uncomfortable
What workers can do
The first step to stopping harassment is recognizing it and telling the person who makes you uncomfortable to stop what they are doing in a clear, concise manner.
Second, you should document the details of the harassment, including where and what time it occurred, the frequency of incidents and potential witnesses to the misconduct. You can also ask any possible witnesses to write down their account.
Then, report that behavior to your supervisor and your human resources department. Make sure the report is in writing and includes all of the evidence you gathered. If your supervisor or HR fails to respond accordingly, report to senior management who will hopefully follow through on the issue.
The chain of command will look different for federal, state and city complaints. However, it’s important to speak up against harassment. You have rights under the law and should never be afraid to assert them. Seeking the counsel of an employment law attorney to advocate for you can also help.