Federal Laws Against Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

Woman sitting at computer with hand on her chin looking away.If you are being sexually harassed at your job, you may be wondering about the federal laws against sexual harassment in the workplace, and what protections these laws provide.

Workplace sexual harassment is considered a form of sex discrimination, so sexual harassment is illegal throughout the United States. Generally, these federal laws apply only to employers with 15 or more employees, but your state likely has better laws that cover smaller employers.

It’s important to note the following:

  • Sexual harassment is illegal.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) makes it illegal for employers to allow anyone to be sexually harassed at work by anyone else, regardless of the employee’s sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • Title VII applies to employers and is designed to make employers accountable for providing a work environment that is free from sexual harassment and other kinds of discrimination. The law does not make it illegal for one person to harass another person. Instead, the law makes it illegal for employers to permit sexual harassment to occur or to fail to stop it once the company knows that it’s happening. So, this workplace civil rights law does not give you a right to sue an individual, unless that individual is your employer.
  • Sexual harassment is not limited to circumstances in which a woman is being harassed by a man.  Sexual harassment can happen to anyone. It is about power, not sexual desire. For example, men who identify as straight can sexually harass other men, by teasing or bullying those men for being too effeminate or for “acting gay.”  A woman can sexually harass a man.
  • Under federal law, retaliation is also illegal.  It’s illegal for someone at work to retaliate against you (punish you or subject you to backlash) for reporting or speaking out against sexual harassment, or for participating in an investigation related to sexual harassment. Examples of retaliation in the workplace include:
    • being fired or demoted,
    • receiving a pay cut or a reduction in your hours,
    • being assigned to a different shift, worse location, or lesser position, or
    • being asked to take time off without pay.

Retaliation can also be subtle or get worse over time. Examples can include being isolated by coworkers, no longer being invited to meetings, or being cut off from email communications you were formerly on.

  • If and when you report sexual harassment at work, your employer cannot ignore you or retaliate against you. If a boss or someone in Human Resources (HR) knows about the harassment, or should know that you are being sexually harassed, the company must take prompt action to try to stop the behavior, investigate the complaint of harassment, and make sure it does not happen again. The action also must be appropriate and effective “corrective action,” meaning that they must actually make the harassment stop, without harming you or allowing you to become a target of retaliatory backlash.

If you complained to your boss, HR, or another manager about the sexual harassment and if they failed to do anything for you to correct the situation (or, if they made it worse), you could consider taking legal action for the sex discrimination and retaliation, such as calling our office for a free consultation with a sexual harassment attorney to learn about your options for seeking to end the illegal conduct.

You Don’t Have to Take It – We Can Help!

Sexual harassment that was once permitted in the workplace – such as stares, crude jokes, and inappropriate touching (like unwelcome hugs) – is not longer tolerated.

If you are being sexually harassed at work, we can help.

As an experienced New York sexual harassment law firm, we invite you to contact us for a Free Consult and Case Evaluation to learn about your options for stopping harassment and seeking justice.

To speak with a sexual harassment attorney at Tuckner, Sipser, Weinstock & Sipser, please fill out the form below, or call, email or text us to the numbers and addresses found on our contact us page.

In the interim, we invite you to see our page on What Should I Do if I’m Being Sexually Harassed at Work?