Harassment/Hostile Work Environment

Are you uncomfortable going to work because of the offensive behavior of people at work, whether that behavior is directed at you or others? Federal law prohibits harassment in the workplace based on race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), or disability. These laws apply to employers with more than 15 employees (more than 20 for harassment based on age).

Unlawful harassment is offensive conduct that you must put up with as a condition of working in a particular workplace. It also includes offensive conduct that is so intolerable or pervasive that reasonable people would conclude your workplace is intimidating, hostile or abusive.

The New York State and New York City human rights laws also prohibit harassment and expand the coverage of the federal laws to all employers with more than 4 employees, and in the case of age discrimination, to all employees over the age of 18, and include harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

How do I know if I am a victim of harassment or am in a hostile work environment in New York?

There is a broad range of conduct that might make an employee feel harassed or perceive a hostile work environment. A harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or even a non-employee:

  • Your supervisor makes it clear that if you have sex with him, you will get a promotion.
  • Your fellow employees send pornographic images or sexually explicit jokes to each other by email, and your employer knows about it, tolerates it and does nothing to stop it.
  • A fellow employee touches your body unnecessarily without invitation whenever you work together.
  • An important client tells jokes about various ethnic groups whenever he visits the office, and your employer says it’s just the price of having him as a client.
  • A supervisor makes negative or insulting remarks about the capabilities and physical appearance of older employees.
  • A co-worker hangs pictures and posters in her workspace that are sexually suggestive.
  • Your supervisor is sexually flirtatious with another employee in front of you and your co-workers.
  • A co-worker regularly uses racially negative language and stereotypes.

I think I am a victim of harassment and/or am in a hostile work environment in New York:

  • Act quickly—there is a limited amount of time for you to take legal action.
  • If you were fired and received severance, check the severance agreement to make sure you didn’t waive your rights to claim discrimination. (Even if you did, the waiver may not be valid).
  • Gather written reviews and other documents proving your performance quality, as well as your employee manual, if published.
  • Get in touch with an experienced employment lawyer

Changes may occur in this area of law. The information provided is brought to you as a public service with the help and assistance of volunteer legal editors, and is intended to help you better understand the law in general. It is not intended to be legal advice regarding your particular problem or to substitute for the advice of a lawyer.

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