New York Human Rights Law
The right to work in an environment free from sexual harassment is protected by New York Human Rights Law (NYHRL). New York was the first state to pass laws of this kind against discrimination in the workplace in 1945, and continues to update state laws to protect all employees.
This set of laws prohibits discrimination of any kind in the workplace against a person who is a member of one of the protected classes. Since gender and sexual orientation are both protected classes, sexual discrimination is specifically prohibited. Sexual harassment in the workplace is a kind of sexual discrimination, so legal sexual harassment cases are tried under these laws.
Initially, the federal government mandated that sexual harassment, along with all kinds of discrimination, was illegal for employees who worked in a company of 15 employees or more. New York State wrote their laws to protect those working in businesses of 4 employees or more. However, in 2015, New York updated their law books to protect all employees against sexual harassment, regardless of the size of the company. This stipulation opens sexual harassment protection to all New York workers, ensuring a safer workplace for anyone who wants to work.
New York City Human Rights Law
Just as the federal government sets broad mandates for protection against harassment, and New York State set narrower parameters, so has New York City created its own amended set of Human Rights Laws.
The New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) additionally ensures fair treatment and non-discriminatory behavior toward former convicts, parolees, and non-US citizens who may be legal or illegal aliens.
The NYCHRL specifically mandates fair, non-discriminatory treatment for all employees in every manner of employment. By extending the categories of protection to more classes of individuals, the NYCHRL make for a safer working environment for every employee. With these such protections in place, more eyes are open to claims of sexual harassment and discrimination.
The laws that provide protection against sexual harassment in the workplace fall under the heading of discriminatory harassment. These laws state that no one may be harassed based on their membership in any of the protected classes. Because gender, sexual orientation, marital status or partnership status are all protected classes, any kind of harassment based upon these categories qualifies as sexual harassment.
Types of Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment can take many forms in the workplace. Employees of either gender should not have to endure unwanted sexual advances, aggressive behavior, or exchanges of employment advances or perks for performing sexual acts.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
The law describes sexual harassment as verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, requests for sexual favors, or any unwelcome sexual advances. Gestures of this kind are illegal when an employer creates a condition where an employee must submit to his or her sexual demands in order to keep or obtain his or her job. These types of conditions are considered Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment cases.
Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment
Likewise, if repeated or relentless sexual conduct impeded job performance or productivity by making workers feel intimidated or offended, those working conditions are considered Hostile Work Environment Sexual Harassment.
What Does Sexual Harassment Look Like?
Our New York sexual harassment attorneys often see cases where employees may have endured sexual harassment for months or even years before realizing that they were being sexually harassed. That is because harassment is not always overt. It can sometimes be subtle and difficult to recognize until a repetitive pattern appears. Once employees begin to notice the behavior, they tend to see that it has existed for a while in a variety of forms, including physical, verbal or visual acts.
- Leering or staring. One person starting an employee is not sexual harassment. However, a history of repetitive staring, leering, ogling, following and gazing may be considered harassment if it persists over a period of time and makes the employee feel intimidated or nervous about attending work.
- Unnecessary physical contact. Repetitive brushes against a body, touches to shoulders or back, or insistence of hugging or kissing under the guise of congratulations or farewell could be the basis for a sexual harassment claim.
- Pressure for dates. Repetitive and pervasive attempts to cajole an employee into dates or social outings could be considered sexual harassment. An employee must make it clear that he or she is not interested, but if the pressure continues after that happens, it crosses the line into harassment.
- Sexual teasing or jokes. When unwelcome teasing or joking of a sexual nature is relentless and repetitive, it creates a hostile work environment of a sexually charged nature.
- Commentary about sexual prowess. Verbal exchanges in the workplace should not contain explicit sexual claims, boasting or other commentary about sex acts, body parts or personal sexual preferences. These statements are considered sexual harassment when they are repeated or habitual.
- Inquiries about sex life. Turning work or other social conversations toward sexual topics is considered sexual harassment. Employees should not feel pressured to disclose their level of sexual activity in the workplace.
- Distributing obscene memos, emails or notes. Sexual harassment can come in the form of written correspondence that includes explicit or obscene language or images.
- Displaying pornographic or sexually degrading images. Employees should not be made to feel objectified for their gender or body due to someone’s displays in the workplace. Even if it is a personal workspace like a cubicle wall, no images of a pornographic or degrading nature should be displayed within public viewing.
- Demands for sexual favors. Whether these are over demands with a threat of job penalty for non-compliance, a promise to exchange job perks for sexual acts, or simply a subtle subtext that implies either a threat or promise for sexual favors, all are considered sexual harassment and are illegal.
Report Sexual Harassment in the Workplace
If you have been sexually harassed at work, you have the right to report the behavior to ensure a safe working environment. The sexual harassment lawyers at Castronovo & McKinney have represented New York victims of sexual harassment for years and can help you regain your job confidence.
Contact us today for a free consultation of your sexual harassment case.