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What to do about sexual harassment at work

New York law protects employees from sexual harassment in the workplace as does federal law. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is the federal law, but it only applies to workplaces with at least 15 employees. New York City law is similar in coverage.

There are two types of workplace sexual harassment. Quid pro quo sexual harassment is said to have occurred when an individual, such as a supervisor, asks an employee for a sexual favor in exchange for something else, such as a promotion or keeping the job. Hostile environment is a type of sexual harassment that involves unwanted conduct based on the person's sex. In general, it must be severe or pervasive enough that a hostile work environment is created for the employee. Some of the factors a court might look at to determine whether workplace conduct rises to the hostile environment level is the frequency of the conduct, the nature of the conduct and who the harasser was.

People who are dealing with sexual harassment at work have a few options. This can include asking the harasser to stop and reviewing the employee handbook for information on how to report the harassment. It may be a good idea to seek legal counsel first. Eventually, it may be necessary to involve the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

An example of how this might play out is an employee whose supervisor repeatedly asks for a kiss or a date despite the employee asking the supervisor to stop. The employee might then go through workplace channels to report the harassment. At this point, a few things could happen. The employer could fail to act or could find that harassment happened and try to protect the supervisor instead of the employer. The employee may then want to file a claim with the EEOC.

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