Sexual Harassment in New York: What It Really Means Under the Law

August 3, 2021

By Jill K. Sanders, Esq.

Sexual harassment has been a hot topic in the news for the past several years, particularly as a result of the #metoo movement. Regardless, instances of this conduct in the workplace have always occurred. More recently, over the past years and decades, laws have been put in place to protect workers from such conduct.


What Is Sexual Harassment?

In the workplace, “sexually harassing conduct” can include:

  • Unwanted verbal or physical sexual advances;
  • Sexually explicit statements, and/or
  • Discriminatory remarks.

Such conduct becomes unlawful when:

  • Submission to it is made a term or condition of employment. This can be done explicitly or implicitly.
  • Submission to the conduct (or rejection of it) is used as a basis for employment decisions.
  • The conduct has the purpose (or effect) of interfering with a person’s work performance.
  • The conduct has the purpose (or effect) of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.

New York law about such harassment in the workplace can be found in the New York State Human Rights Law. In New York City, local laws are found in Title 8 of the city’s administrative code. And federal law governing sexually harassing conduct is found under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


Sexual Harassment or Sexual Assault?

There are times when sexually harassing conduct becomes criminal. More specifically, this generally involves some sort of physical touching or act In New York, most sexual offenses are criminalized under Penal Law Article 130. For such crimes, this includes many things which could also constitute sexual harassment in certain circumstances. Examples include:

  • Forcible touching. When a person intentionally and forcibly touches the sexual or intimate parts of another. Such touching is done to degrade or abuse such person, or for gratifying the actor’s sexual desire. Notably, forcible touching includes squeezing, grabbing or pinching.
  • Sexual abuse. When someone subjects someone to any type of sexual contact without consent. There are varying degrees of severity of sexual abuse.
  • Criminal sexual act. Oral or anal sexual conduct committed without consent. There are varying degrees of severity of criminal sexual act.
  • Rape. Sexual intercourse committed without consent. There are varying degrees of severity of rape.


If You’ve Been Victimized

First and foremost, if you’ve been the victim of a sexual offense – or any other crime for that matter – please contact your local police department. And, if you feel you’re in danger, call 911.

Otherwise, if you think you’ve been the victim of sexually harassing conduct, there are many resources out there which can provide you with more information about filing a complaint or making a claim. Here, we’ve listed below a few of the New York, New York City, and federal offices that can help with a sexual harassment complaint.