There are several types of harassment that one may encounter in the workplace. Among the most pernicious is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as unfavorable treatment in the workplace based on the person's sex or gender. This type of behavior is prohibited by federal law, New York State Human Rights Law, and the New York City Human Rights Law.
You may wonder whether the situation you are experiencing rises to the level of a sexual harassment claim. The answer to this question requires consideration of many factors, including the following:
Does the behavior constitute a type of sexual harassment?
In general, two types of harassing behavior allow you to file a sexual harassment claim:
· Quid pro quo: This type of harassment occurs when an employment benefit (e.g. a promotion, a raise, or other favorable treatment) is demanded in exchange for sexual favors. It may also occur if you are punished or disciplined for refusing to perform a sexual favor. This type of harassment occurs most often if your harasser is your boss or someone else in power.
· Hostile work environment: This type of harassment occurs when there are frequent, pervasive and unwanted sexual advances, requests, comments or other similar conduct to the point where a reasonable person would find the work environment abusive. Unlike quid pro quo harassment, a hostile work environment does not require that you receive an employment benefit.
Does the behavior constitute sexual harassment?
Many types of offensive behaviors can potentially comprise sexual harassment including:
· Unwelcome touching or sexual advances
· Requests or demands for sexual favors
· Lewd comments or sexually suggestive jokes
· Displaying sexually graphic content (e.g. in emails or on computer screens)
· Threats or bribes for sexual acts
· Sexual innuendos
· Sexual assault
Is the behavior offensive enough to constitute sexual harassment?
Under New York State law and federal law, the offensive behavior must be either severe or pervasive in order to violate the law.
· Severe: In some instances, one instance of offensive behavior can be severe enough to violate the law and constitute sexual harassment. This is especially true in cases where there is physical touching.
· Pervasive: However, if the offensive conduct is less serious, there must be evidence of a pattern of offensive conduct before you can file a sexual harassment claim successfully.
Additionally, if you work in New York City, you may choose to file a sexual harassment lawsuit under the New York City Human Rights Law instead. Under this law, in order to constitute sexual harassment the offensive behavior must cause an individual to be treated "less well" for refusing sexual advances. This is a much lower standard than federal or New York State law.
Fight back against harassment
If you think you are being sexually harassed, it is advisable to contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Serrins Fisher LLP for a free and confidential consultation. Our attorneys will listen to your situation, explain your legal rights to you and advise you on what you should do next.