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What is sexual harassment?

Workplaces in New York must comply with state laws on the prevention of and responses to sexual harassment of employees by coworkers, managers and clients. However, employers and employees alike may find cause to question the point at which sexual innuendo or other activities end up constituting prohibited sexual harassment. Failure to understand this infringement of worker rights and promote an understanding with all workers can be damaging.

Sexual harassment has been defined in an executive order issued by the governor of the state of New York as a set of behaviors that include offensive sexual comments, requests or unwelcome sexual advances and even sexually explicit materials in the workplace. The context of these behaviors is also important. The order goes on to state that sexual harassment occurs when the behavior results in a hostile working environment. The requirement to grant sexual favors or put up with other behavior in order to maintain or achieve a position is also harassment.

Employers have an interest in efforts to prevent and rapidly respond to a sexual harassment claim. Employees can use the reporting system put in place by the employer. If the victim of harassment faces unlawful retaliation, worse work hours or a demotion for refusing to participate or reporting a claim, this could be used as evidence of harassment.

New York has a broad definition of sexual harassment in the workplace, but the justice system makes the determination about whether individual cases fit the definition or not. Despite suffering lost wages, worse work hours, emotional trauma and other damages, victims may not receive relief from the employer or courts. Along with documenting incident reports and damages, an employment law attorney could help build a more successful sexual harassment claim and increase the chances of a favorable resolution.

Source: New York state department of labor, "Policy statement on sexual harassment", October 01, 2014

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