Over the centuries of our country’s existence, there has been a general progression towards increased civil rights for all people. Though we still have a long way to go, in recent decades, civil rights, in addition to focusing on the need to eliminate religious, racial, and ethnic discrimination, has come to target sexual discrimination as well. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) is the primary law under which federal discrimination lawsuits are filed in the United States. Title VII not only prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion and national origin but sexual discrimination in the form of harassment. This protection is now being applied in cases defending the rights who are individuals who are male, female, gay, straight, and transgender.
What constitutes sexual harassment?
Sexual harassment covers a fairly broad range of behaviors, including unwelcome sexual advances, requests or demands for sexual favors, and verbal or physical behaviors that are sexual in nature. It should be noted that the person accused of sexual harassment in the workplace may be male or female (regardless of the gender of the employee being harassed), a person interviewing a job applicant, a supervisor, a top executive, or a co-worker. An employee can also be sexually harassed by a customer or client who is visiting the workplace.
Sexual harassment needn’t be directed at a particular person to be offensive but may involve general comments about women, men, gays, or transgender individuals. It is also possible to be sexually harassed away from the workplace if the connection to the harasser is the place of employment. “Quid pro quo” harassment occurs when a person who has power over your work situation (hiring, promotion, bonuses, raises, or continued employment) tries to coerce you into sexual activity or simply to tolerate harassment in exchange for work-related favors.
Common Forms of Sexual Harassment on Long Island
Sexual harassment can take many forms, some blatant and some more subtle. As long as such actions generate an atmosphere of discomfort, embarrassment, humiliation or fear for one or more employees, they are considered to be creating a hostile workplace environment. Forms of sexual harassment may include:
- Sexual touching
- Sexual assault
- Derogatory statements about nonconformity with gender stereotypes
- Use of sexual language
- Sexual propositions
- Sexting or posting sexual messages on social media
- Phone calls or emails with sexual content
- Displays of sexually offensive words or pictures (e.g. pornographic cartoons)
- Perpetual sexual jokes or insults
- Comments about an individual’s body or sex life
- Sexual gestures, leering, or sounds (like whistling)
- Giving of suggestive gifts
- Commenting on sexual attributes, whether positively or negatively
It is important to remember that sexual harassment need not occur at the workplace itself to be considered work-related. If an employer offers to drive an employee home, for example, and makes an unwanted sexual advance, then demotes or fires the employee for not being compliant, this is a clear case of sexual harassment.
Where is the line drawn?
Not every sexual reference is a form of harassment. Incidental comments, occasional jokes or teasing are acceptable in the workplace unless they rise to the level of creating a hostile workplace environment or unless the individual complaining to a superior is ignored, or worse, retaliated against.
How to Substantiate a Sexual Harassment Claim in Nassau County
There are laws in place to protect you from victimization at the workplace, but you have some work to do to substantiate your claims so that our legal team can assist you effectively. First of all, you should keep written records of every incident that occurs. Second, you should report each episode of harassment to your supervisor, or to the Human Relations department of your company. Third, you should make specific notes on any retaliation taken against you. If you have workplace colleagues who will validate your claims, so much the better.
Retaliation in the Face of Sexual Harassment Claims
Employers often do not want to face the music concerning complaints of sexual harassment in their companies. Sometimes they have created the corrosive atmosphere themselves, or are active participants in the harassment activities. Such individuals may (and often do) punish those who make complaints in an attempt to avoid making any changes in the workplace or in order to get the “troublemaker” out of the way and to keep other individuals from complaining.
- Giving the employee more demeaning tasks
- Moving the employee to a less pleasant location
- Denying the employee a deserved evaluation, raise, bonus or promotion
- Cutting the employee’s pay
- Demoting the employee
- Causing harm to the employee’s property
- Harassing the employee at home or online
- Firing or laying off the employee
What are legal remedies for victims of sexual harassment?
In addition to Title VII, you have further legal protection from sexual harassment if you work in New York State. This is because New York offers you protection from sexual harassment no matter what the size of your company, while U.S. law only covers you if you work in a company with more than 15 employees.
How Can Employers Protect Themselves from Claims of Sexual Harassment?
Knowing sexual harassment laws comprehensively, from the inside out, and keeping current with every new regulation or law that comes along, our attorneys are fully capable of advising you on how to keep your business on track.