Sexual harassment is a violation of a person’s right to a hostility-free workplace. It affects a victim’s ability to feel safe at work and their legal right to receive equal treatment there. Unreported sexual harassment normalizes the perpetrator’s behavior and encourages them to continue and sometimes be even bolder in their behavior. Until someone calls out a bully and refuses to accept the behavior, bullies often won’t stop.
Being singled out at work by a bully—whether due to your gender, appearance, race, or any other physical characteristic—puts you in a vulnerable situation, and it’s wrong. To make sure you are aware of your rights and clear on your responsibilities when reporting harassment, it’s a good idea to research your New York state and federal rights and your employer’s policies about sexual harassment.
Ground-Breaking Prohibition of Employment Discrimination
In 1945, New York became the first state to legally prohibit employment discrimination that is based on physical or innate characteristics. The Human Rights Law (Article 15) makes sexual discrimination illegal in workplaces. Since its inception, the law has evolved to protect against discrimination based on gender (“sex”), age, race, color of skin, gender identity or expression, creed, nationality, sexual orientation, military status, disability, or marital status. It requires employers across the state with one or more employees to provide anti-sexual harassment training.
Progressive Improvements for New York Workers
The state has worked to improve protections for workers by continually updating the Human Rights Law to reflect society. For example:
- Sexual harassment is recognized, even when it is not severe or pervasive.
- Employers, since 2018, must create a sexual harassment prevention policy and provide anti-harassment training to all employees. The city of New York passed local laws 95 and 96 to increase employer accountability for preventing sexual harassment. These civic laws require employers with at least 15 employees to post anti-sexual harassment information in conspicuous places in the workplace and to provide anti-sexual harassment training annually. Employers must keep a record of employees trained and of signed employee acknowledgments of the training.
- Most recently, in August 2020, the state extended the amount of time you have to file a sexual harassment complaint from one year to three years.
If You Have Been Sexually Harassed
If you have been an unfortunate victim of sexual harassment at work, you are entitled to be protected from it, and your employer is responsible for providing the protection. The first thing you should do is write down every detail you remember about the incident(s) of harassment, including the names of any witnesses to it and the date(s) it happened. The next thing you must do is report the harassment to your human resources department or to your manager (or another trusted leader at your workplace). Once you have done these things, your employer may stop the harassment and provide the support you need. If that is not the case, sexual harassment lawyers who specialize in employment law and sexual harassment can help.
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