In the era of #MeToo, perpetrators are finally starting to be held accountable. Women are flipping the script and making it untenable for big companies to protect predators at the expense of countless victims. Still, more than one-third of all working women say they have experienced sexual harassment at work. If you are being harassed by a co-worker or supervisor in your workplace, it is important to know your rights.
What is Sexual Harassment?
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that violates the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and may also be in violation of other state and local laws. Sexual Harassment refers to behavior that is unwelcome, unwanted, and of a sexual nature. This behavior can be verbal, physical or pictorial and can include: offensive sexual email content; unwanted pressure for dates; touching; questions about your sexual or dating life; pornography in the workplace; and/or sexual gestures or comments. It may also include requests for sexual favors in exchange for privileges at work, which is also known as “quid pro quo.”
Know Your Civil Rights
- Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sex and it applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
- Since sexual harassment qualifies as discrimination based on sex, you have the right to report Title VII violations in your workplace.
- Employees who report harassment and/or participate in an employee discrimination investigation are also protected from retaliation under the act.
Steps You Can Take to Protect Yourself:
- Review Your Employer Procedures. Make sure you look at your employee manual and get a copy. Consider contacting the person or office who may have been designated by your employer to receive such complaints, such as Human Resources.
- Document What is Happening in Real Time. Write down dates and details of any instances of sexual harassment and your report of sexual harassment, note any witnesses, and save all of your own copies of any emails, texts, or any other evidence of misconduct in your personal files away from your worksite. During and after a report, it is also important to safeguard and document your productivity at work.
- Consult an Attorney. Beyond reporting harassment to your employer, there is not one right answer about how to proceed. It is wise to consult an attorney who can explain all of the available options. Note that there are deadlines for filing a complaint under federal, state, and city laws prohibiting sexual harassment.
- Take Care of Yourself. Experiencing sexual harassment can be traumatic and it is important to be gentle with yourself during this time. Consider reaching out to a friend or family member if you feel comfortable talking about your experience.
Know the law
New York City
- Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act on May 9th, 2018. This legislative package requires employers with 15 or more employees to conduct an annual anti-sexual harassment training for all employees under Local law 96. To see a comprehensive list of training requirements visit this site.
New York State
- Workers are protected by the New York State Human Rights Law (HRL) that offers similar protections to the federal coverage but goes further; it applies to employers with as few as four workers.
- Answers to key questions about New York’s sexual harassment laws can be found here. In 2019, new legislation was signed into law that expanded protections for victims and lowered the standard for claiming discriminatory or retaliatory harassment.
- Every employer must adopt a sexual harassment prevention policy that meets or exceeds minimum standards.