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I Was Sexually Harassed At Work. Can I Sue My Employer In New York?

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Yes, it’s possible but your probability for winning a case may differ depending on the city in which you were employed. Sexual harassment can be difficult to define, and the laws vary between cities. 

Recently, New York state passed a bill to combat sexual harassment and mistreatment in the workplace. These new measures lowered the requirements for behavior to be considered sexual harassment, extended the statute of limitations for claims, expanded the number of employers covered by the Human Rights Law, altered guidelines for NDA agreements to allow people to more easily file sexual harassment claims and offered other stipulations to allow people to more easily file sexual harassment claims. 

Ultimately, these laws have helped level the playing field throughout New York for employees suffering from sexual harassment. However, New York City laws are still more favorable for the employee than New York state laws and the penalties, burden of proof and other regulations differ between regions and cities. 

If you faced sexual harassment at work, speak with an employment law attorney with experience representing employees. They will be able to help you determine if you have a case and how to proceed in your city. 

What May Qualify As Sexual Harassment

In New York City, sexual harassment may be defined as behavior that makes you feel unsafe in the workplace, uncomfortable or prevent you from concentrating on your work. Some examples of this behavior may include: 

  • Comments or jokes of a sexual nature
  • Comments about a person’s appearance or clothing
  • Pornography in the workplace
  • Emails or images that are inappropriate
  • Unwanted physical touch
  • Quid pro quo harassment
  • Other unwanted sexual comments or behavior 

If you’re facing sexual harassment at work, one of the first steps to take is to report it to your employer. Even though it can be intimidating, don’t be afraid of retaliation by your employer, as there are laws against it. Next, file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. You will have a time period of 300 days after the last incident of sexual harassment to report it to the EEOC. 

Burden Of Proof And Defending Your Case

Many times, a sexual harassment case will become a he-said/she-said discussion. At this point, the burden of proof will often be determined by whether the incident rises to the level of actionable sexual harassment, whether it was an isolated incident and whether it created a hostile work environment. Because of the new state legislation, an employee no longer needs to demonstrate that the behavior was severe or pervasive to establish an actionable claim. Now, any harassing behavior targeting a protected characteristic can be considered illegal. 

In addition, the new laws determined that employees facing harassment don’t need to show that they were treated differently than their coworkers and the employer can no longer defend themselves by stating that the employee didn’t follow the company’s internal complaint process. These changes allow employees to file a sexual harassment or retaliation claim to support their case with a lower burden of proof. 

After experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace, it’s important to research the laws in your area to understand how best to take action in your situation. While many New York state laws now mirror New York City’s laws for sexual harassment claims, different regions and cities have their own regulations. If you’re trying to determine how to proceed, an attorney can inform you about your options and help you decide what’s right for you.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

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