One of the most talked about – and misunderstood – aspects of employment law is sexual harassment. This article is intended to provide a brief overview of the law of sexual harassment. Federal Law (Title VII), State Law (New York State Human Rights Law), and City Law (New York City Human Rights Law), all prohibit sexual harassment. The law of sexual harassment is gender neutral – the harasser can be a woman or a man, and the harasser does not have to be of the opposite sex. The harasser may be your supervisor, co-worker or even a non-employee. And you do not have to be the person who was directly sexually harassed--anyone affected by the offensive conduct may bring a valid claim.
There are three components to sexual harassment:
- The conduct must be “unwelcome;”
- The conduct must be of a sexual nature; and
- The conduct must unreasonably interfere with an individual’s work (or create an awful working environment).
The first component is that the conduct must be unwelcome. This means that you cannot partake in boorish sexual behavior and joke around one day, and then allege sexual harassment based on that conduct the next. This is not to say that being OK with some conduct makes you OK with all conduct. The best course of action is that if something is unwelcome, you should say so.
Conduct of a Sexual Nature
The conduct must be sexual – it can be comments, physical action, innuendo, showing pornographic materials, or lewd displays in the workplace. If the harassing conduct is based on something else (like race, religion, disability, etc.), you may have a claim for hostile work environment, but for the claim to be sexual harassment, the conduct must be sexual in nature.
Conduct Must Unreasonably Interfere with Employment
The law does not impose a general civility code. For the (1) unwelcome (2) sexual conduct to be actionable sexual harassment – it has to unreasonably interfere with your employment. In other words, it has to be really bad. Some sexual conduct (especially comments), even R-rated conduct, is not actionable if it would not “unreasonably” interfere with an ordinary person’s ability to do his or her job. However, if you do feel offended, you should complain. Even if technically, you have not been sexually harassed, it is unlawful to retaliate against someone for making a good faith complaint of harassment.
If you think that you have been a victim of sexual harassment, you should speak to an NY sexual harassment lawyer. A good employment lawyer can help you determine whether you have a valid claim against your employer and can help you develop a plan to stop the harassment.
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