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New York Sexual Harassment FAQ: Hostile Work Environment

Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for above-the-bar-logo-no12.jpgMy boss keeps talking about his sexual activities, calls me “babe” and “honey” everyday, and keeps commenting on my body but he has never touched my body. Could this be considered sexual harassment and what can I do?

Yes. The situation you describe could be considered a hostile work environment which is a form of sexual harassment. If you think you are being sexually harassed, the first thing you can do is tell your boss that the conduct is unwelcome and must stop. This will prevent any misunderstandings and prevent your boss from later claiming that he didn’t know he was “sexually harassing” you or that the conduct was somehow welcome. If that doesn’t work or you are concerned about retaliation and afraid to complain to your supervisor, you should follow your company’s policies or procedures for reporting or complaining about sexual harassment. Most companies have a complaint mechanism and are prohibited from retaliating against you if you report a complaint of sexual harassment in good faith. Our Sexual Harassment Lawyers have helped protect the rights of many victims of sexual harassment and can help you.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides two legal grounds for sexual harassment. The above question refers to a sexual harassment claim which is based upon a hostile work environment. This is the more common form of sexual harassment. A hostile work environment results when your supervisor, co-worker, customer, vendor, or anyone with whom you come in contact with on the job engages in unwelcome and inappropriate sexually based behavior making the workplace intimidating, hostile or offensive. Courts look at the some of the following factors in determining a workplace is hostile:

  • Verbal or physical conduct;
  • Frequency of the unwelcome discriminatory conduct;
  • Discussions concerning a sexual nature;
  • Comments about your physical attributes;
  • Use of demeaning or inappropriate terms; and
  • Use of profane and offensive language.


Additionally, the hostile work environment must be severe or pervasive enough to
“alter the conditions of employment and create an abusive working environment.” In order to determine whether the abuse is severe or pervasive, Courts have looked at the following:

  • The severity of the conduct;
  • Was the conduct physically threatening or just an offensive utterance;
  • Did the conduct unreasonably interfere with work performance;
  • The effect on the employee’s emotional well-being; and
  • Was the harasser a co-worker or someone in a higher position.

The concern with this type of sexual harassment is that what might be an abusive working environment to you may not be to someone else. There is a fine line between sexual harassment and what might be just flirtatious behavior or teasing. Thus, not only must the unwelcome conduct be subjectively abusive to you, but a reasonable person must also find it objectively severe or pervasive enough to create a hostile environment. Fortunately for victims, the courts today are much more likely to grant relief for sexual harassment claims than they did years ago.

The second type of sexual harassment is called “quid pro quo” and occurs where
a person in a supervisory position engages in sexual harassment which results in a tangible employment action. For example, your boss or supervisor, might fire, demote, or deny you a raise or promotion because you don’t go on date or engage in a sexual relationship with him or her.

The victims of sexual harassment often suffer from a hostile workplace environment and end up choosing to leave their jobs. Until 1991, the legal system only helped victims recover back pay, lost wages and reinstatement to their jobs if they had quit. In 1991, Congress amended the Civil Rights Act to so that sexual harassment victims can now recover compensatory damages beyond back pay, including future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other non-monetary losses. If you are a victim of sexual harassment, you may be able to collect punitive damages if you can show that your employer acted with malice or with reckless or callous indifference.

Sexual harassment at the workplace not only affects the victim but also has a huge financial impact on businesses. Studies have shown that sexual harassment causes absenteeism, decreased productivity, increased health care costs, poor morale, and higher employee turnover. This does not include the cost of litigation and any damages awarded or the negative publicity which can affect a company’s revenues.

If you are still being harassed, our experienced New York Sexual Harassment Attorneys can help you protect rights in the workplace, determine the strength of your claim and help you take the next step. E-mail or call us now at (800) 893-9645 for a free initial telephone consultation.

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Thank you for visiting our Blog. This blog provides general information and thoughts about various employment law issues primarily in the New York Tri-State area and occasionally in other areas. You are welcome to read the posts. However, do not construe any content on this blog as legal advice or the creation of an attorney-client relationship. Again, we provide the content only for informational purposes. You should not make decisions based information on our blog since the application of the law depends on the facts and each situation may be different. In addition, the law in most jurisdictions is different and changes constantly and we make no representations that any information on our blog has been updated. The Blog should not be used as a substitute.