Bryan Arce Interviewed in Downtown Magazine
Downtown Magazine recently interviewed New York City employment attorney Bryan Arce, a member of Phillips & Associates, about sexual harassment. Although the #MeToo social media movement has given many people who have faced sexual harassment a platform to voice their experiences, many other still fear coming forward. Being vocal about workplace sexual harassment can result in a lost job, a derailed career, or immigration complications.
In his interview, Mr. Arce explained that sexual harassment can take different forms, but essentially it involves unwelcome actions or comments of a sexual nature that happen in the workplace. When the actions or comments are offensive enough, they may generate a hostile work environment. A trivial or one-off compliment about your appearance is probably not sexual harassment. However, if these comments persist, they can become sexual harassment over time, particularly if you let the speaker know that the comments are unwelcome.
Mr. Arce explained that if you are a victim of sexual harassment, the first step that you must take is to talk to an attorney to gain an understanding of your potential claims and rights. An experienced attorney can discuss what your next steps should be. If you complain about sexual harassment, and your employer terminates you in retaliation, you should also contact an attorney right away. Often, employees who are fired or laid off for retaliatory reasons are given a severance agreement and very little time to review and sign it. The severance agreement may include a provision in which the employee waives all rights to sue for sexual harassment and retaliation. It is important to consult an attorney, since quite often the retaliation claim is easier to prove than the underlying sexual harassment is.
Mr. Arce also shared his thoughts on the #MeToo movement, explaining that the movement has empowered victims of sexual harassment and removed the associated shame and embarrassment. He noted that more people understand that if they come forward, they will not be alone and may inspire others to also come forward.
Mr. Arce delved into the particular challenges of being an immigrant worker with a claim of sexual harassment. He explained that many employers believe that immigrants will not complain about sexual harassment due to their immigration status and for fear of being subjected to retaliation by losing their job, having their visa revoked, or being reported to immigration authorities. He encouraged immigrants with these concerns to contact him so that he can guide them through the process and take the next steps to get protection.
Mr. Arce also offered employers advice on creating a comfortable, safe workplace. He explained that they should cultivate an atmosphere of mutual respect among all employees, irrespective of their seniority or job titles, and regardless of their gender. He recommended that employers institute clear policies against sexual harassment and put in place procedures to report harassment. He also explained that policies must be enforced equally, and all employees should be educated in the policies.
Mr. Arce recommended that when you are looking for the right attorney to represent you, you should seek out someone with whom you feel comfortable. Lawyers provide not only legal services but also emotional support. Often, employment cases are very emotional because people may spend more time with their coworkers than they do with their own families. Not all lawyers understand this, and those who do not may not provide adequate emotional support during the potentially stressful experience of confronting an employer in court.
It is also important for people seeking representation to beware of firms that charge an up-front retainer fee or an initial consultation fee. This may indicate that the attorney does not believe in the case enough to work on the case on a standard contingency fee basis. Contingency fee arrangements incentivize lawyers to maximize the value of the settlement or verdict for a case. Moreover, it is important to choose a firm that is able to fund the costs associated with litigation.
Bryan Arce is an experienced employment litigator at Phillips & Associates. If you are concerned about sexual harassment or other employment matters in a New York City workplace, you should consult us. Contact Phillips & Associates at (212) 248-7431 or through our online form. We handle litigation in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and Manhattan, as well as in Nassau, Suffolk, and Westchester Counties and in New Jersey.
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