The problem of sexual harassment in the workplace has been the subject of many of our blog posts, including this one regarding a potential class-action lawsuit against the U.S. Agriculture Department's Forest Service. Illegal harassment in the workplace is not always sexual, however.
Hostile work environments are prohibited by federal, state and New York City laws, and nonsexual harassment can certainly result in a work environment that a reasonable person would regard as hostile, intimidating or abusive. Sometimes victims of workplace harassment are unsure of whether the behavior in question is actually illegal, so let's discuss some of the kinds of nonsexual harassment that are prohibited by law.
Illegal workplace harassment can be physical or verbal. Assaults, insults, mockery, threats, inappropriate jokes, intimidation -- these can all constitute workplace harassment.
Your employer, supervisor and co-workers are not allowed to make mocking or otherwise derogatory comments with regard to your race, religion, age, disability, national origin, sex or gender. Sometimes this kind of harassment takes the form of posted offensive objects or images in the workplace.
While federal and state laws offer protections against nonsexual harassment, New York City law goes further. Under federal and state law, proving that a work environment is hostile requires showing that the harassment was pervasive or severe enough that it altered the offended employee's conditions of employment. However, under city law, a hostile work environment can be proven by showing that the employee was treated "less well."
Our New York employment law overview has more on the legal options available to victims of workplace harassment.