Harassment FAQ

Anti-discrimination laws can be complex, and sometime it is difficult to know what one’s rights are. We offer some guidance on frequently asked questions, below. However, keep in mind that this guidance is not exhaustive, and it is best to have an attorney help you understand the specifics of your situation. Beranbaum Menken has a long track record of protecting people’s rights to be free from unlawful harassment. If you believe you have been the victim of unlawful harassment, contact us to schedule a consultation.

What is workplace harassment?

Workplace harassment, also known as a hostile work environment, exists where an employee is subject to repeated or severe slurs, insults, jokes, intimidation or demeaning conduct. A physical or sexual assault can also create a hostile work environment.

Is all workplace harassment illegal?

Unfortunately, no. Workplace harassment and hostile work environments are only unlawful if the harassment is directed at someone because of their membership in a protected class – for example, because of the employee’s gender, race, age, disability, or religion. Therefore, a worker over 40 who is consistently humiliated or relegated to demeaning work because of his age is the victim of age-based harassment, just as someone who is continually insulted because of his race is the victim of racial harassment. Similarly, women who are subjected to a hostile work environment are the victims of sexual harassment. For more information about protected classes, visit our Frequently Asked Questions about Discrimination.

 Is conduct only considered “sexual harassment” if it’s sexually charged?

No. While sexual harassment has received a lot of media attention, people often get the impression that “sexual harassment” only exists if someone is, say, being hit on by their boss at work or required to date their boss in order to keep their job. The law defines “sexual harassment” more broadly – it constitutes harassment suffered by an employee because of her sex. Therefore, any severe or repeated conduct directed at female employees because they are female are harassing, including belittling, humiliating or demeaning conduct that, say, indicates a belief that women are weak or frivolous. Consistently refusing to give a woman important work, relegating her to traditionally “female” tasks not assigned to male employees in the same position, like making her answer the phone, can also constitute sexual harassment if the employer is penalizing the woman because she is a woman.

If I am the victim of unlawful harassment, do I need to complain about it internally?

This is a complicated legal question, but the short answer is, yes. The law generally requires people to make internal complaints about harassment (say, to the supervisor or the human resources department) to give the employer a chance to stop the harassment. There are certain exceptions to this, but many cases are thrown out of court because a victim of harassment failed to make an internal complaint.

But what if the person that I am supposed to complain to is the person who is harassing me?

Employer ought to inform their employees of an internal procedure for reporting harassment, and that procedure should include mechanisms for making complaints to someone other than the harasser. If in doubt, you should complain to the Human Resources Department, or in a smaller workplace, to the owner. If your employer has no mechanisms in place to process harassment complaints or it is the owner of the business himself who is harassing you, you should consider contacting an attorney to assess the best course of action.

Can the employer or the supervisor get back at me for making a complaint of harassment?

The law forbids an employer from retaliating against an employee for making a complaint or reporting unlawful harassment. This is not to say that employers and supervisors do not retaliate. But they do so at their peril, and can be sued for retaliating against a person who complains of unlawful harassment or discrimination.

What should I do if I am the victim of unlawful harassment?

You can contact an attorney experienced in discrimination law, like the attorneys at Beranbaum Menken LLP. You can also take action on your own, without an attorney, by making an appointment with one of the following governmental agencies responsible for enforcing equal employment opportunity laws:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 800-669-4000 (federal law) 

N.Y. State Division of Human Rights, 212-961-8650. New York state law, unlike federal law, protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, marital status or status as a victim of domestic violence.

N.Y. City Commission on Human Rights, 212-306-7500. The NYC Human Rights Law, unlike federal and New York State law, protects employees from discrimination because of perceived age, partnership status, citizenship status, and unemployment status.

How much time do I have to file a claim with a governmental agency or a court?

If the discrimination or retaliation occurred within the State of New York, you have 300 days from the most recent incident of unlawful harassment to file a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.You have one year (360 days) from the most recent incident of unlawful harassment to file a complaint with either the New York State Division of Human Rights of the New York City Commission on Human Rights.If you have not filed a complaint with either the NYS Division of Human Rights or the New York City Commission on Human Rights, you still have three years from the time you learn of the discrimination or retaliation to file a lawsuit alleging violations of state or city (but not federal) law with the New York Supreme Court (New York’s trial court).

What if I don’t file within these deadlines?

If you don’t file your complaint or lawsuit by the deadlines listed below, your legal action will be dismissed and you will have no further legal recourse. That is why it is so important to act promptly if you believe you have been discriminated or retaliated against. Anti-discrimination laws are complicated, and it can be very difficult to know your rights. While we hope the information above is useful, it is not exhaustive. That is why it’s important to consult a knowledgeable lawyer to determine what your rights are and how best to protect them. Beranbaum Menken has a long history and track record of advocating for victims of discrimination. If you believe you may have been the victim of discrimination, contact us to schedule a consultation.