In 2015, New York State’s Human Rights Law was amended to include all employers regardless of the number of employees. Previously, the law only applied to employers with four or more employees. Now, all employees are protected against sexual harassment. Additionally, plaintiffs that win their sexual harassment case are eligible to have their legal fees reimbursed.
Sexual harassment is defined as the harassment of a person based on sex, or requests for sexual favors, verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, and unwelcome sexual advances. Offhand comments, isolated incidents, and simple teasing are not included within the scope of the law. A hostile environment based upon one’s gender occurs regularly throughout the state. Employers are liable for sexual harassment of an employee by a manager or owner and potentially liable for sexual harassment perpetuated by a co-worker. Employers are also responsible if they know that sexual harassment is occurring in the workplace, and fail to take prompt and effective steps to remediate the harassment. Furthermore, retaliation or actions against an employee by an employer for reporting sexual harassment is illegal. Under New York State Human Rights Law and other federal statutes, filing a formal complaint of sexual harassment, testifying in a proceeding involving sexual harassment, opposing sexual harassment, complaining of sexual harassment by another employee, and encouraging a complaint of sexual harassment are protected activities. Both victims of sexual harassment and individuals that have engaged in protected activities are protected from retaliation under the law.
With the change to the law, all workers are entitled to a safe, not hostile, work environment free from sexual harassment. Please contact our office if you are seeking additional information to make sure your business is in compliance or need additional information.