Unpaid Wages<br/>Unpaid Overtime<br/>Tip Violations

Unpaid Wages
Unpaid Overtime
Tip Violations

Wrongful Termination<br/>Discrimination<br/>Retaliation

Wrongful Termination

Sexual Harassment<br/>Hostile Work Environment

Sexual Harassment
Hostile Work Environment

Displacement by H1B Workers<br/>Whistleblower Status

Displacement by H1B Workers
Whistleblower Status



Sexual Harassment, Hostile Work Environment

Sexual Harassment • Hostile Work Environment

Sexual Harassment

Federal, state and local laws protect employees from being harassed because of that person’s sex. Sexual harassment can take on many forms and depends on the context: it may be a demand for a sexual favor by one’s superior in exchange for a promotion or preferential treatment (known as a quid pro quo), or it may be an atmosphere or an environment created by one’s superiors or coworkers, in which one feels very uncomfortable because of one’s sex (known as a hostile work environment). Sexual harassment may take the form of one isolated but extreme incident (such as exposing oneself to others or groping someone’s genital areas at an office party), or it may be a series of incidents, acts or comments of a sexual nature or comments about the opposite sex. Men as well as women may be victims of sexual harassment, and the victim and the harasser may be of the same sex. 

Examples of sexual harassment include:

  • Indecent exposure to a coworker
  • Unwanted physical contact, including unnecessary touching, hugging, or back and neck messages
  • Hovering or intentionally brushing up against someone
  • Suggestive facial expressions, whistles, catcalls, or howling
  • Asking questions about one’s sex life or other intimate issues
  • Making explicit statements, comments, or innuendos about a person
  • Spreading lies or rumors about a person’s sex life
  • Watching porn on the computer or one’s smartphone in the presence of others
  • Sending unwanted sexual communications by phone, letter, text message, or email
  • Unwelcome invitations to date or have sex
  • Referring to an adult as a sweetie, girl, hunk, toots, doll or babe

It is very important to speak up upon witnessing or experiencing offensive conduct to make it clear that such comments or behavior are unacceptable and unwelcome. In larger organizations, one must follow the procedures for reporting such incidents established by the management or laid out in the company Employee Handbook. 

It is also unlawful for an employer to terminate an employee or treat him or her less favorably for lodging a complaint about sexual harassment or for terminating a consensual relationship.

Hostile Work Environment 

Employers have a responsibility to prevent unlawful harassment in the workplace.Hostile work environment is very often a form of sexual harassment discussed above. However, such hostile conduct may be a form of discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, ancestry, national origin, color, religion, pregnancy, age, or disability. If unwelcome offensive behavior by superiors or coworkers is affecting a person’s ability to perform work or expectations of a comfortable work environment, that person may have a claim against the employer for fostering a hostile work environment and, in certain circumstances, directly against those who create or allow such an environment to exist.  

Examples of a hostile work environment include:

  • Sexual harassment, discussed above 
  • Unwanted derogatory comments about a coworker’s religion, ethnic background, race or skin color
  • Threats of physical harm directed at a coworker based on his or her race, ethnicity, skin color or religion
  • Mocking a coworker’s accent, manner of expression or ethnic customs
  • Repeatedly asking a coworker with a speech disability to repeat difficult words or pretending not to understand him or her
  • Making facial expressions or other mocking gestures 
  • Taking an unusual and unwanted interest in a coworker’s disability or provenance
  • Making explicit derogatory statements or comments about one’s race, ethnicity, religion or age
  • Spreading lies or rumors about a person’s sex life
  • Repeatedly asking an older worker when he or she will retire 
  • Isolating or ignoring a worker or group of workers because of their religion or ethnicity
  • Making ethnic jokes or jokes about one’s sexual orientation
  • Referring to an 

Under federal and state law, the hostile conduct must be pervasive (recurring or of long duration) or severe (even if a singular event) to create a hostile work environment. However, under certain state and local laws, such as the New York City law, being treated less favorably than others in a way that constitutes more than petty slights or trivial inconveniences qualifies as a hostile work environment. A victim need not be the target of the unacceptable behavior. For example, a man can have a claim for hostile work environment if he witnesses offensive behavior or comments directed at women. And the hostile environment need not be created necessarily by a superior, it may be created by coworkers or company’s vendors or clients. 

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