Is Workplace Harassment Illegal in New York?

Workplace harassment is almost always a nuisance. It is not necessarily always illegal under laws like the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL). Harassment only violates the law when it is based on a protected category like race or sex, and when it directly impacts a person’s employment or the quality of the work environment. When assessing whether harassment crosses the line between a nuisance and an unlawful employment practice, New York City discrimination attorneys must carefully examine the circumstances of each case.

What Is Harassment?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces federal antidiscrimination laws like Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, defines harassment as “unwelcome conduct that is based on” a protected category. It states that harassment based on one or more of these categories becomes unlawful in two situations:

  1. Quid pro quo harassment: The complainant must “endur[e] the offensive conduct” as “a condition of continued employment”; o
  2. Hostile work environment: The allegedly harassing conduct is so “severe or pervasive” that it “create[s] a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive.”

If the alleged harasser is a supervisor with authority over the complainant’s employment, the employer may be held liable even if management did not know about the conduct. See Vance v. Ball State University, 570 U.S. 421 (2013). If the alleged harasser is a co-worker, customer, or other individual, the complainant must demonstrate that the employer knew about the harassment and failed to remedy it.

Protected Categories Under Federal, State, and City Law

Employees in New York City are protected by antidiscrimination statutes at the federal, state, and local levels. Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of five factors: sex (including pregnancy and childbirth), religion, race, color, and national origin. 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e(k)2000e-2(a)(1). Other federal statutes prohibit discrimination based on disability, age, and genetic information. The New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) adds categories like sexual orientation and marital status. N.Y. Exec. L. § 296(1)(a). The NYCHRL offers the greatest extent of protection, covering most of the same areas as federal and state law and adding gender identity, gender expression, and others. N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-107(1)(a).

Unlawful Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment is perhaps the most well-known form of unlawful workplace harassment, in part thanks to a significant amount of recent media coverage of the #MeToo movement. Examples of quid pro quo sexual harassment include a manager who will only offer a position to a job applicant in exchange for sex, or a supervisor who demands sexual activity for the best shift assignments. Hostile work environment claims include ongoing sexual jokes or overtures that interfere with a person’s ability to work.

Unlawful Harassment Based on Other Factors

Harassment based on other protected factors could also violate laws like Title VII or the NYCHRL. Examples might include:

  • Harassment based on race, through use of racial slurs or offensive symbols or imagery;
  • Mockery of an employee in a job traditionally or stereotypically associated with another gender, such as a male nurse or female coal miner; or
  • Degradation of an employee’s religious beliefs or practices that differ from others in the workplace.

If you have experienced unlawful workplace harassment like sexual harassment in New York City, please contact the employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates today, online or at (866) 229-9441, to schedule a free and confidential consultation with a member of our experienced and skilled team.

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