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NYC Employment Lawyer > Blog > Employment Discrimination > What exactly constitutes harassment in the workplace?

What exactly constitutes harassment in the workplace?


While the majority of harassment cases reported in the media tend to be sexual in nature, workplace harassment is endemic, and can take many different forms. New York law prohibits all kinds of harassment, and provides you options if you have experienced this type of behavior on the job. An experienced attorney can be helpful in answering any questions you have about where to go from here.

“Unwelcome Conduct”

One thing it is important to remember is that there is a difference, under the law, between mere teasing and harassment. Jokes and teasing are not harassment, legally speaking; harassment has to meet certain criteria. It must be (1) “unwelcome conduct” – though what ‘unwelcome’ means tends to be situationally different – and (2) based on a protected category, such as race, sex/gender, national origin, or disability. The protected characteristic does not actually have to be true; the mere appearance of it can be enough to allege harassment.

There are two ways in which teasing and jokes can rise to the level of harassment. The first is the historically common ‘quid pro quo,’ where the harassment becomes a condition of continued employment – the most often seen example of this is sexual in nature, but it can be non-sexual as well. The second type is when it rises to the level of a hostile work environment, where the conduct is so serious that it affects the victim’s ability to do their job.

What Is A Protected Characteristic?

If you believe that you have been harassed based on one or more protected characteristics, one of the first issues you should research is which law to cite in seeking redress. Federal antidiscrimination law protects against harassment on any of the protected grounds it covers (including disability, age, and all the characteristics added after the passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964).

That said, New York State’s Human Rights Law protects more classes of people, as well as explicitly characterizing more employer behavior as harassment. For example, the EEOC does not always recognize inferior conditions or privileges of employment (such as being paid less than comparably situated coworkers) as tools of harassment. Also, the NYSHRL holds that the harassment does not need to be ‘severe or pervasive,’ unlike in a claim brought under federal law.

Call A New York Employment Discrimination Attorney

If you are being harassed at work, you deserve to have the chance to hold your harasser accountable. The New York City employment discrimination attorneys at Mansell Law, LLC has experience in dealing with these types of cases, and are ready and willing to try and help you with yours. Use our website, or call our offices today at 646-921-8900 for a free consultation.



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