I Was Sexually Harassed at my Office Holiday Party. What are my rights?

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Contact William Phillips

New York, NY

Practice Areas: Overtime Pay, Sexual Harassment

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As the end of the year approaches, companies will oftentimes throw office holiday parties.   However, it is during these otherwise joyous occasions that sexual harassment may take place and it is important for employees to be able to identify sexual harassment and to know their rights.  If you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment, contact New York employment discrimination attorneys Phillips & Associates to schedule a free consultation.

What Kind of Conduct Constitutes Sexual Harassment?

One popular myth is that conduct that occurs outside of the office or after work hours is not covered under the law.  Generally speaking, this is untrue and holiday parties are typically viewed as extensions of the workplace.  There are many different kinds of behavior which may constitute sexual harassment and which often occur at holiday parties.  Some common examples are:

  1. Unwanted and unwelcome touching (greetings that include uncomfortable and excessive hugging and kissing, dancing that gets “too physical,” forcible kisses under the mistletoe, etc.);
  2. Giving inappropriate gifts of the sexual nature;
  3. Making uncomfortable sexual remarks or propositions for sex acts;
  4. Making employees play uncomfortable party games such as “Twister” or “Truth or Dare”;
  5. Inappropriate or sexual remarks about an employee’s appearance.

Supervisors and employees tend to be less careful during holiday parties when alcohol is served.  Moreover, there is a tendency that individuals overindulge and behave inappropriately.  Although a single outrageous incident at a holiday party may by itself constitute sexual harassment, what is more common is that the action is part of a pattern of misconduct that has occurred over time and this pattern of misconduct may demonstrate that a hostile work environment exists.

Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment may also take the form of comments made by supervisors promising an employee a good performance review, better shifts, a raise, or a promotion in exchange for sexual favors.  This type of “quid pro quo” (this for that) behavior is also prohibited under the law and may constitute sexual harassment in the workplace.

Know Your Rights

There are various federal, state, and city laws which protect your rights.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the primary federal law which protects employees from sexual harassment.  In order to pursue a lawsuit under this statute, you will need to file a formal discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is a government agency.  This is not a lawsuit, but a necessary first step in the event you do want to file a lawsuit.

Also, New York State and New York City have passed laws which protect employees from sexual harassment.  In fact, some of these laws provide greater protection than federal laws.  If you are unsure as to which laws apply to you, consult Phillips & Associates at (212) 248-7431.

I Believe My Rights Have Been Violated, What Should I Do?

If you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment, talk to a lawyer who is experienced in employment discrimination law.  Meeting with an attorney does not necessarily mean that you are going to sue your employer, but at least an attorney can advise you about what kind of behavior constitutes sexual harassment and you can learn about your legal options.  The New York lawyers at Phillips & Associates are knowledgeable about the laws that protect employees from sexual harassment and have experience in representing them.  Nobody should be made to feel uncomfortable at work.

Other Steps

If you believe you have been the victim of sexual harassment at a holiday party, create a written record of what happened while it is still fresh in your head.  Speak to your co-workers to see if they know about the situation or had the same kind of experience.  Next, go to your supervisor or the Human Resources Department and explain to them what happened and why you believe you are a victim of sexual harassment.  For more information, please see another related article [hyperlink].

Retaliation

If you have complained to your supervisor or your Human Resources Department about sexual harassment and have suffered an adverse action as a result, you may be protected under the law.  Unlawful adverse actions for reporting sexual harassment can be as severe as being fired, or as subtle as a decrease in shift hours.  Nevertheless, federal and local law prevent employers from retaliating against employees who in good faith report sexual harassment regardless if the behavior complained of actually ends up being sexual harassment.  If you believe you have been retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment, call Phillips & Associates.

The New York employment discrimination law firm of Phillips & Associates is here to help employees protect their rights.  If you have any questions or you want to learn more about your legal options, fill out our online contact form or call our office at: (212) 248-7431.  Phillips & Associates provides a free, confidential legal consultation.  Also, there are no up-front costs and Phillips & Associates will receive attorneys’ fees only if you recover.



[1] The information in this article is not legal advice. The content of this article is intended for general information purposes only, and is not legal advice.  Legal advice depends on the specific facts and circumstances of each individual’s situation.  Those seeking specific legal advice or assistance should contact Phillips & Associates at (212) 248-7431 or by filling out the form on this website.

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