legal definition of harassmentOver the past few years, the term “harassment” has been prominent, especially when it comes to workplace behavior. In New York, employers must implement a sexual harassment prevention training program and have all staff trained by October 9, 2019. But one of the trickiest parts of identifying and discussing harassment is that the word means different things in different settings and to different people. People will often say they’re being harassed when they’re being pestered or bothered, and in everyday conversations, that’s fine. At work, however, harassment has a specific legal meaning. We recommend that those in HR and management reserve the word harassment for conduct that meets the legal definition of harassment, which is:

Unwelcome conduct + Based on a protected class = Harassment

If conduct isn’t both unwelcome and based on a protected class, then the offending employee isn’t harassing. And (plot twist!) even if they are harassing, the conduct isn’t necessarily unlawful. Harassment only becomes unlawful when tolerating it is a condition of continued employment, or it is so severe or pervasive that a reasonable person would find it hostile, intimidating, or abusive.

Harassment + (a) Condition of employment or (b) Severe or pervasive = Unlawful Harassment

Relatedly, hostile work environment and hostile workplace are actually legal terms of art that describe unlawful harassment of the second variety (severe or pervasive). And as with harassment, avoiding these phrases – and perhaps even the word hostile – when describing bad but not unlawful employment conditions will likely benefit everyone. If the equation is not complete, you may have an unpleasant workplace, an office fraught with tension, a boss who micromanages to death, or even an unmitigated circus, but you don’t have a hostile work environment.

Want an easy way to stay compliant with this New York’s sexual harassment regulations? Become a GTM client! We are offering our clients professionally produced, interactive online harassment prevention training videos that are both New York State and New York City compliant. The training has videos for both employees and managers/supervisors, as required by the law. Both training videos are available in Spanish language versions. Request a free quote today.


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