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A.G. Schneiderman Releases “Know Your Rights” Guidance On Sexual Harassment In The Workplace

NEW YORK - Today Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman released updated guidance – “Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Know Your Rights” – to inform New Yorkers about the laws that protect them from sexual harassment at work. The guidance provides victims of sexual harassment with information on the appropriate agencies to consult should they seek to file a complaint or take legal action, along with helplines for further support.

Sexual harassment is a form of gender-based discrimination that involves unwelcome conduct used as the basis for hiring or other employment decisions – such as promotions, raises, or job assignments – or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. The harasser can be a supervisor, co-worker, or someone who is not an employee, such as a client or customer. Harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment – or when it results in an adverse employment decision.

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, one in four women experience sexual harassment in the workplace.

“No New Yorker should be forced to walk into a workplace ruled by sexual harassment, intimidation, or fear,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “In recent months, we’ve begun a long-overdue reckoning with the systemic failure of many institutions to protect women and all victims of sexual harassment. This guidance will help New Yorkers understand their rights and their options when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace.”

The Attorney General’s guidance offers a variety of resources on the rights of victims and all available options to them, beyond reporting harassment to employers, including:

  • Sexual harassment is prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 federal Civil Rights Act, New York State Human Rights Law and, in some instances, local law (for example, the New York City Administrative Code). The NYS Human Rights Law also protects against harassment based on gender identity or transgender status.
  • The law protects both men and women, and also covers incidents in which the harasser and the victim are of the same sex, regardless of sexual orientation.
  • Harassment on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation is prohibited by the New York State Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act ("SONDA"). For more information on SONDA, visit the Attorney General’s website.
  • If harassment involves physical touching, coerced physical confinement, or coerced sex acts, the conduct may constitute a crime and should also be reported to the local police department.
  • Retaliation for making a complaint about sexual harassment is prohibited by law. If this occurs, you may have a separate claim of retaliation, in addition to any claim of sexual harassment. Retaliation occurs when the terms and conditions of one’s work are unfavorably changed as a result of one’s reporting sexual harassment or cooperating with the investigation of a sexual harassment complaint or lawsuit.

The Attorney General’s office represents the People of the State of New York, not individuals making complaints. The Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau must determine whether experiences are evidence of a broader pattern, practice, or policy of sexual harassment affecting a significant number of people before commencing an investigation and/or initiating legal action against an employer.

“The culture of workplaces must change to ensure fairness and equality. Speaking out and knowing your rights are important first steps in combating sexual harassment. But it's equally critical that bystanders, colleagues, and supervisors must be part of this change by also speaking out and ending the culture of complicity,” said Sonia Ossorio, President, National Organization for Women - New York.

“Everyone has the right to feel safe and secure in the workplace,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “The State has an obligation to protect workers from harassment and foster a culture that encourages victims to speak out. I am committed to strengthening workplace protections for all workers and ensuring these protections are enforced at every opportunity.”

“The past few months have provided an historic turning point in the way we talk about and address sexual harassment in the workplace. I want to thank NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman for moving so quickly to provide New York’s workers a new ‘Know Your Rights’ Guide on workplace sexual harassment to ensure those suffering silently have the resources and information they need to act,” said Assemblymember Shelley B. Mayer, Chair of the Assembly Task Force on Women’s Issues. “This new guide will ensure those experiencing sexual harassment know their rights and help them determine the best and safest options to protect themselves from further harm and stop the perpetrator from potentially harming others.”

"As we’ve seen in the past few weeks and months, sexual harassment is prevalent in every field," said Assemblymember Monica Wallace. "Victims often remain silent for fear of retaliation or ridicule. If we want to address this problem, we need to make sure that our laws protect victims and give them the tools they need to speak out and defend their rights. I will be sponsoring legislation in the Assembly that ensures a safe workplace for all women, and I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership on this important issue."

“I applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for his leadership in combating sexual harassment in the workplace and supporting workers’ rights,” said Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee. “Every employee no matter their salary or position, is entitled to a safe, healthy, equitable work environment. Eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace begins with zero tolerance, holding abusers accountable, and empowering victims to fight back without fear of reprisal by keeping workers informed of their rights, including specific steps they can take to file a complaint or initiate a legal action.”

“Every New Yorker deserves to work in a respectful and safe workplace free from sexual harassment and violence. As co-chair of the Women's Caucus of the New York City Council, I am urging all of us to take full advantage of this incredible historical moment and renew our commitment to building a society -- in the workplace and beyond -- that fully respects the humanity of all individuals, regardless of their gender or level of social power. Thank you to Attorney General Schneiderman for reiterating and clarifying our protections under the law,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal (Manhattan, District 6).

“Sexual harassment has no place in society, much less in the workplace. We are at a watershed moment in our country where actions that might have been ‘normal’ behavior in the past are no longer acceptable and cannot be tolerated,” said Assemblywoman Sandy Galef. “Despite the many who’ve already come forward, we have only seen the very beginning of allegations as more people find the courage to finally speak their truths. These victims and survivors will need the information provided in the “Know Your Rights Guide” to inform them of their options and to assist them through the process of reporting their abuse. I thank Attorney General Schneiderman for supporting and protecting New York workers by providing this valuable resource.”

“We need to change the sexist workplace culture that intimidates and isolates New York employees. When perpetrators use their positions to treat others sexually in a non-sexual context, they interfere with the right to work and learn without fear,” said New York State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin. “In no way can we allow this egregious behavior to continue. Workers need to know they have recourse ingrained into the law to protect themselves and safely report their abuses. With the national spotlight focused on rooting out and exposing workplace sexual misconduct, now is the time for victims and survivors to come forward to call out their harassers and hold them accountable.”