Is Workplace Harassment Illegal? - June 2019

There is no question that workplace harassment is illegal, and you should not be subjected to harassment while you are trying to work. However, how do you define harassment? Is a co-worker telling an off-color joke harassment? What about when an over-excited boss starts giving out hugs? If you feel like you are experiencing harassment, you should reach out to your human resources department and consult an attorney. However, we hope here to give you an idea of what may constitute illegal behavior in the workplace.

First, it's important to know that, according to the Civil Rights Act, harassment becomes unlawful when it becomes a prerequisite to continued employment or the harassing conduct is severe or pervasive enough that a reasonable person would consider the workplace hostile or intimidating. Further, if the conduct is from a superior, and it results in an obvious change in the employee's status or salary, the employer or company may not be able to disclaim liability for the supervisor's actions.

The State of New York also has laws in place that prevent workplace harassment, which largely mirror the federal Civil Rights Act. The NYC human rights law is even more protective than the federal and state laws. In NYC, the harassment only has to rise above the level of what a reasonable person would consider a "petty slight or trivial inconvenience" to be actionable.

  • Disparate Treatment: This type of harassment generally involves treating an employee differently because of his or her membership in a protected class such an employee's religion, gender, age, nationality, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, and sexual harassment. It can involve different treatment in hiring, firing, promotions, bonuses, suspensions, etc.
  • Hostile Work Environment Discrimination: This type of harassment can include jokes, personal humiliation, degrading comments, insults, criticism, and intimidation based on the employee's protected class or classes. For example, racial discrimination can include racial slurs, or jokes, stereotyping certain racial behavior, and racist symbols such as a noose or swastika.
  • Physical: If someone is directly threatening harm, acting in a threatening manner, physically attacking you, or destroying your property because of your protected class, this is also considered unlawful harassment, as well as violating other laws as well.
  • Sexual: With the rise of the #metoo movement, sexual harassment in the workplace has gained attention. This generally includes activities such as unwanted sexual advances, sharing of sexual material in the workplace, inappropriate touching or gestures, and invading someone else's personal space in a sexual way. There's also quid pro quo sexual harassment where something of value (raise, promotion, etc.) is offered to the employee in return for a sexual favor. This type of harassment can also be a form of blackmail.

A single event rarely rises to the level of creating a hostile work environment unless the incident is severe. So a single joke generally will not be enough to maintain a claim for a hostile work environment. However, if the problems or jokes persist, then they can add up to create a cumulative effect which would make it a pervasive problem which can be considered a hostile work environment. As the discriminatory behavior diminishes your ability to perform your job or creates an environment where you feel threatened, you may surely find yourself facing unlawful workplace harassment.

If you think you are dealing with harassment in the workplace, reach out to our attorneys and discuss your specific situation. One advantage of hiring Phillips & Associates is that we are a big firm that defends employees so that you won't be outgunned by the big firm your old employer hires to defend themselves. For a free consultation, call the experienced New York discrimination and wrongful termination attorneys at Phillips & Associates today at (866) 229-9441.

At Phillips & Associates- We Level the Playing Field

Employees were, and for the most part still are, at a big disadvantage in the workplace. There is a dramatic power imbalance between employees and the companies for which they work. This power balance can intensify after experiencing sexual harassment or discrimination. The company/employer often hires a large law firm to represent it, while the employee may have just lost their job, have very little money and no one to help them understand their rights. At Phillips & Associates, we have the experience, staffing, and financial backing to keep the playing field level. People need to take a close look at the lawyer or law firm they want to hire and determine if that lawyer or firm has the funds, experience and the resources to properly litigate their case.

Phillips & Associates, one of the largest plaintiffs' only employment law firms in New York. The firm handles cases involving sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace including pregnancy, race, disability, religion, gender, and sexual orientation and other protected traits. Phillips & Associates also handles other areas of harassment at work such as retaliation and wrongful termination. Most recently Phillips & Associates was selected as one of the "10 Best Employment & Labor Law Firms in New York" by the American Institute of Legal Counsel.

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