Sexual harassment is a type of gender discrimination. It includes unwelcome verbal, written, or physical conduct that is sexual or which you think you have to put up with to keep your job. For there to be a lawsuit under state or federal law, the sexual harassment must include conduct that is severe or pervasive, unreasonably interferes with your work, and creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Under the New York City Human Rights Law, for sexual harassment, you would need only to show that you were treated differently from other people of your gender.
There are many different ways that an employee can be sexually harassed on the job. The harasser can be a man or a woman, and can be a supervisor, co-worker or even a non-employee. The harassment can be verbal, physical, or pictorial and can include: sexual comments; sexual jokes; sexual suggestions; pressure for dates; sexual touching; sexual gestures and/or sexual graffiti.
You have the right to complain about sexual harassment whether you are the victim or just someone who is affected by it or witnessed it. You also have a right not to be retaliated against by your employer if you do complain about sexual harassment of you or another person.
Here are some examples of sexual harassment:
- Your boss makes it clear that if you have sex with him or her, you will get a promotion.
- Your co-workers send pornographic images or sexually explicit jokes to each other by email. Your employer knows about it, puts up with it, and does nothing to stop it.
- A co-worker touches your body for no reason and without invitation.
- An important client tells jokes that are insulting to women whenever he visits the office, and your employer says it’s just the price of having him as a client.
- A supervisor makes insulting remarks about the abilities and physical appearance of older female employees.
- A co-worker hangs pictures and posters in her work-space that are sexually suggestive.
- Your supervisor is sexually flirtatious with another employee in front of you and your co-workers.
Legal Editor: Steven T. Sledzik, January 2015 (updated February 2016)
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.