New York State has some of the strongest workplace harassment laws in the country. These laws protect employees from a wide range of harassment and discrimination based on characteristics such as race, gender, age, and sexual orientation. Workplace harassment can have a profound impact on employees, affecting their mental health, their relationships with coworkers, and their ability to perform their jobs effectively. Employers who fail to address harassment in the workplace can face serious legal and financial consequences. In this article, Eastcoastlaws.com will explore the workplace harassment laws in New York, including what constitutes harassment, how to report it, and what remedies are available to victims. We will also discuss the responsibilities of employers under these laws and the steps they can take to create a safe and inclusive workplace for all employees. Read the New York Harassment laws for my previous post.
A bill that reinforced the New York State Human Rights Law’s safeguards against discrimination and harassment, including sexual harassment, was signed into law on August 12, 2019. By removing the requirement that harassment be “severe or pervasive” in order to be legally actionable, mandating that all non-disclosure agreements allow employees to file a complaint of harassment or discrimination, and extending the statute of limitations for employment sexual harassment claims filed from one year to three, the legislation strengthened New York’s anti-discrimination laws to ensure that employees can seek justice and perpetrators will be held accountable.
What Behaviors Are Considered Criteria For A Hostile Work Environment In New York?
Some of the behaviors that meet the criteria for creating a hostile work environment include:
- Offensive jokes
- Offensive objects or pictures
- Physical assaults
- Ridicule or mockery
The behavior must be serious, extensive, and persistent enough to interfere with your work, though, so keep that in mind. One racist joke doesn’t necessarily make an unlawfully hostile work environment (although it’s inexcusable and will make any reasonable person feel uncomfortable). The combination of a racist joke and discriminatory treatment, however, might result in an environment at work that is unlawfully hostile.
Although some actions are impolite and can make you feel self-conscious, not all forms of harassment are impermissibly hostile to the workplace or strictly illegal. This means that you won’t likely succeed in court if someone teases you because you’re short, have blond hair, or wear glasses. It’s absolutely not good to be made fun of for a personal attribute, and your workplace may actually be highly unfriendly, but in order to win a lawsuit in court, the harassment must be tied to a protected class (such as age, disability, race, or religion).
How Do I Prove A Hostile Work Environment In NY?
Proving a hostile work environment in New York involves several steps that must be carefully documented and reported to the appropriate authorities. A hostile work environment occurs when an employee is subjected to unwelcome conduct or behavior that is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that is intimidating, hostile, or offensive.
Here are the steps you should take to prove a hostile work environment in NY:
- Keep a record of the incidents: If you have experienced behavior that you believe constitutes a hostile work environment, it is important to document it. Write down the date, time, and details of each incident, including what was said and who was present. If there were any witnesses to the behavior, ask them to provide written statements.
- Report the behavior to your employer: You should report the behavior to your employer or the human resources department. Make sure to provide them with your documented evidence and give them a chance to take corrective action. If your employer fails to take appropriate action, this can be used as evidence of their negligence in creating or allowing the hostile work environment to continue.
- File a complaint with the EEOC or NYSDHR: If your employer fails to address the situation or if the behavior continues, you may need to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the New York State Division of Human Rights (NYSDHR). These agencies can investigate your complaint and may also provide legal representation.
- Seek legal advice: If you are considering filing a lawsuit, it is important to seek legal advice from an experienced employment lawyer. They can advise you on the best course of action and help you gather evidence to support your case.
- Prove the behavior was severe or pervasive: In order to prove a hostile work environment, you must show that the behavior was severe or pervasive enough to create an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. This can be difficult to prove, but evidence such as witnesses, emails, and other documentation can help establish a pattern of behavior.
Overall, proving a hostile work environment in NY requires careful documentation, reporting, and legal assistance. If you believe you are experiencing a hostile work environment, it is important to take action to protect your rights and ensure that your workplace is safe and respectful for all employees.
How Do I Know If I Am A Victim Of A Hostile Work Environment In New York?
There is a wide range of behavior that could make an employee feel harassed or think their workplace is hostile. A harasser could be the victim’s manager, a manager in a different department, an agent of the employer, a coworker, or even a person who is not an 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.
Can I Sue My Employer For Creating A Hostile Work Environment?
Yes, you must demonstrate that the victim’s race, color, national origin, gender, pregnancy, religion, handicap, age, or genetic information was the basis for the harassment in order to comply with federal law. Other characteristics like gender identity, sexual orientation, alienage or citizenship status, marriage status/partnership status, caregiver status, or status as a victim of domestic abuse, stalking, or sex offenses are also protected by New York State law from discriminatory harassment. It is advisable to obtain the advice of a knowledgeable workplace attorney if you are considering filing a case against your company for creating a hostile work environment.
Employer’s Obligation To Prevent Harassment In New York
In New York, employers have a legal obligation to prevent harassment in the workplace. Harassment is defined as unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic, such as race, sex, national origin, age, disability, religion, or sexual orientation, that is severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile work environment.
Under New York law, employers have the following obligations:
- Develop and distribute an anti-harassment policy: Employers are required to develop and distribute a written anti-harassment policy to all employees. The policy should define harassment, provide examples of prohibited conduct, explain how to report harassment, and state that retaliation against employees who report harassment is prohibited.
- Provide anti-harassment training: Employers are required to provide anti-harassment training to all employees, including managers and supervisors. The training should cover the employer’s anti-harassment policy, how to recognize and report harassment, and the consequences for engaging in harassment.
- Respond promptly and effectively to harassment complaints: Employers must investigate and respond promptly and effectively to harassment complaints. The investigation should be impartial and thorough, and the employer should take appropriate remedial action if harassment is found to have occurred.
- Protect employees from retaliation: Employers must protect employees who report harassment from retaliation. Retaliation can take many forms, such as termination, demotion, or harassment, and is illegal under New York law.
- Keep records of anti-harassment training and complaints: Employers must keep records of anti-harassment training and complaints for at least three years. These records should include the date of the training or complaint, the names of the participants, and a summary of the content or allegations.
Failure to comply with these obligations can result in legal liability for the employer. Employees who experience harassment in the workplace may be entitled to damages, such as lost wages, emotional distress, and punitive damages. Therefore, it is important for employers to take proactive steps to prevent harassment in the workplace and respond effectively if harassment occurs.
Steps In The Process Of Filing A Workplace Harassment Lawsuit
There are important procedures that victims should adhere to when thinking about bringing a case for workplace harassment. These actions could assist in stopping the harassment before legal action becomes necessary. When legal action is necessary, taking these measures might also help you make your case stronger.
Filing a workplace harassment lawsuit can be a complex and lengthy process. The specific steps involved may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the circumstances of the case, but the general process is as follows:
- Document the harassment: Keep a detailed record of all incidents of harassment, including dates, times, and what was said or done. Keep any relevant documents, emails, or other evidence that supports your case.
- Report the harassment: Report the harassment to your employer or HR department. If your supervisor is the one harassing you, report it to a higher-level manager. Follow your company’s policies and procedures for reporting harassment.
- File a charge with the EEOC: If your employer does not take action or if the harassment continues, you may file a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). You must file a charge with the EEOC before filing a lawsuit.
- Receive a “right to sue” letter: After receiving your charge, the EEOC will investigate the allegations and may attempt to resolve the matter. If they are unable to resolve the matter or determine that discrimination occurred, they will issue a “right to sue” letter.
- Hire an attorney: If you have not already done so, hire an attorney who specializes in workplace harassment lawsuits. They can guide you through the legal process and help you build a strong case.
- File the lawsuit: Your attorney will file the lawsuit in the appropriate court. They will also serve the defendant(s) with a copy of the lawsuit and a summons, which requires them to respond to the lawsuit.
- Discovery: During the discovery phase, both sides exchange information and evidence relevant to the case. This may include depositions, requests for documents, and interrogatories (written questions that must be answered under oath).
- Mediation or settlement negotiations: Before going to trial, the parties may attempt to settle the case through mediation or negotiations.
- Trial: If the case goes to trial, both sides will present their evidence and arguments to a judge or jury. The judge or jury will then decide whether harassment occurred and what damages if any, should be awarded.
- Appeal: If you disagree with the outcome of the trial, you may appeal the decision to a higher court.
Resources For Workplace Harassment In New York
Here are some resources for workplace harassment in New York:
- The New York State Division of Human Rights: The Division of Human Rights investigates complaints of workplace harassment and discrimination in New York. You can file a complaint with them online or by phone. They also offer educational resources and training programs for employers and employees.
- New York City Commission on Human Rights: The Commission on Human Rights enforces the New York City Human Rights Law, which prohibits workplace harassment and discrimination based on protected categories such as race, gender, and sexual orientation. They offer information on how to file a complaint and resources for employers and employees.
- New York State Bar Association: The New York State Bar Association offers a Lawyer Referral and Information Service, which can connect you with an attorney who specializes in workplace harassment cases. They also offer resources and educational programs for attorneys.
- New York State Workers’ Compensation Board: If you have experienced workplace harassment that has resulted in a physical or mental injury, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. The Workers’ Compensation Board provides information on how to file a claim and what benefits are available.
- Safe Horizon: Safe Horizon is a nonprofit organization that provides services to victims of crime and abuse, including workplace harassment. They offer counseling, legal assistance, and other support services.