Legal Basics: Sexual Harassment Laws in New York

An overview of federal and New York state laws governing sexual harassment and assault.

Employers and employees are becoming more and more of the instances of sexual harassment in the workplace and other areas. It is covered by Federal, State, and City laws in New York as a form of discrimination under human rights laws. Sexual harassment can also rise to the criminal law level if certain elements are present.

Federal Law

The federal law governing sexual harassment is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the anti-discrimination act governing workplaces and other public areas. This type of harassment falls under gender discrimination. A claim for sexual harassment in the workplace can be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if the activity occurs in a place with more than 15 employees.

The EEOC and the New York Human Rights law have categories for two-forms of sexual harassment, quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

Quid Pro Quo

The easiest to understand perhaps is the quid pro quo form of harassment. This means that something is given for something in return. A person can be told, for instance, that they would be more likely to be promoted if they granted their immediate superior sexual favors. Conversely, if an employee rejects sexual advances from a boss or superior and suddenly loses their job or is demoted they have possibly suffered from sexual harassment.

Hostile Workplace

The other form of harassment is a "hostile workplace". In a hostile workplace occurs when unwelcome verbal or physical sexual conduct unreasonably interferes with the victim's ability to do his/her job or creates an offensive or intimidating environment on the job.

New York State Law

The state of New York and also the City of New York have their own regulations which can apply to companies that have as few as two employees. The state law is embodied in the New York State Human Rights Law (HRL).

The New York City Human Rights law on sexual harassment is located in Title 8 of the city's administrative code.

§ 8-602 Civil Action to enjoin discriminatory harassment; equitable remedies.

§ 8-603 Discriminatory harassment; civil penalties.

§ 8-604 Disposition of civil penalties.

Criminal Law

Sexual harassment can fall under the New York Penal Code if it involves the following elements:

Forcible touching which occurs which a person intentionally, and for no legitimate purpose, forcibly touches the sexual or other intimate parts of another person for the purpose of degrading

Criminal Sexual Act when a person engages in oral or anal sexual conduct with another person without that person's consent. This can be charged in the First Degree when there is force used, a Class B felony. It would be charged in the Third Degree when the person has inability to consent, a Class E felony.

Sexual Abuse occurs when a person subjects another to sexual contact without consent. This can be charged in the First Degree when it is done by force, a class D felony. It would be charged in the Third Degree when it is done without consent, a class B misdemeanor.

Persistent Sexual Abuse is charged when a person has committed sexual abuse, Third degree or forcible touching and had been previously (within the last 10 years) convicted two or more times and sentence imposed, a class E felony.

The NY Penal Code §130.00 through §130.90 set out the criminal sexual offenses in New York.

What to do when harassed?

When an employee or other person suffers sexual harassment the first step they should take is to follow their employer's guidelines for reporting it. There is a law against any retaliation to an employee who has reported incidents of sexual harassment. A complaint needs to filed with the EEOC before 300 days have elapsed after the last incident. The next step is to speak with an employment attorney about filing federal, state and city complaints.

These are the New York and Federal offices that can help with a sexual harassment issue:

Office of the NYS Attorney General

Civil Rights Bureau

120 Broadway, New York, NY 10271 (212) 416-8250 [email protected]

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

1-800-669-4000 1-800-669-6820 (TTY) [email protected]

NYS Division of Human Rights 1-888-392-3644

NYC Commission on Human Rights


311 or 212-306-7450

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