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Sexual Harassment in the Workplace FAQ

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions About Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

What is the definition of sexual harassment?

Sexual harassment includes unwelcome sexual comments, advances, requests for sexual favors, and verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, including text messages, emails and the displaying of sexual images in the workplace.  Sexual harassment generally falls into one of two categories:

  • Hostile work environment: When sexual comments, advances, or other conduct are so severe or pervasive that they interfere with your job performance, you may have a claim for sexual harassment based on a hostile work environment.  The harassment may be by a co-worker, a supervisor or manager, or even a customer or vendor who does not work for your company.
  • Quid pro quo: When a supervisor, manager, or other person with more power than you makes sexual advances that impact on employment decisions such as a raise, promotion, job offer, or termination, you may have a claim for quid pro quo sexual harassment. 

What types of sexual harassment are illegal?

Illegal sexual harassment includes a wide range of conduct from sexual comments, to lewd jokes, to unwanted physical contact.  Some examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Unwelcome sexual comments, invitations, and flirtation
  • Unwanted physical contact, such as hugging, rubbing, touching, patting, or pinching
  • Frequent leering, staring, or looking at someone with “elevator eyes” (that is, looking someone up and down)
  • Sexually degrading language, sexual jokes, innuendos, or gestures
  • Displaying sexually suggestive objects, pictures, videos, graffiti content
  • Displaying or transmitting sexually suggestive electronic content, including inappropriate e-mails
  • Sexually suggestive or insulting sounds, such as whistling and cat calls
  • Asking about a person’s sexual fantasies, sexual preferences, or sexual activities
  • Commenting on a person’s body, dress, appearance, gender, sexual relationships, or experience
  • Repeatedly asking someone for a date after the person has expressed disinterest
  • Conditioning a promotion, raise, or work assignment on sexual conduct
  • Threatening or suggesting that your employment, wages, promotional opportunities, or other conditions of employment may be adversely affected by not submitting to sexual advances

How should I respond to sexual harassment?

First, do not blame yourself.  Sexual harassment is never the victim’s fault.  Understand that you have rights and options.  Tell the harasser to stop, and report the conduct to your employer in writing.  Your employer must investigate and take remedial action.  Your employer is not allowed to fire, transfer, or otherwise retaliate against you for reporting sexual harassment.

Write down notes and make a record of what happened.  This can be as simple as going home, writing down what happened complete with names, places, dates and times, and telling a close family member or friend.  Continue to make notes if the conduct continues.  Keep those notes at home, not in your office or on your work computer.

You should also meet with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer to learn how to protect your rights.  Do this right away because there are strict deadlines if you want to file a claim.  You can schedule a free and confidential consultation by calling John Howley, Esq. at (212) 601-2728. 

How do I prove sexual harassment?

There are a number of ways to prove sexual harassment.  The evidence begins with what you saw and heard, and the testimony of any other witnesses.  Written records are also helpful, such as any notes you made at the time of the harassment, any written complaints to your employer, and emails or text messages from the harasser.

You may also use a smartphone to make audio or video recordings of the harassing conduct.  In New York and many other states, you are permitted to record your conversations with other people without telling them that they are being recorded.  But you are not permitted to leave a recording device in a room or attached to a phone and leave.  You must be a participant in the conversation in order to record it.  Consult with an experienced sexual harassment lawyer to get advice on how to gather evidence to support your case.

Where can I obtain more information about sexual harassment in the workplace?

Call John Howley, Esq. at (212) 601-2728 to schedule a free and confidential consultation.

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