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Laws In New York City: What Constitutes Harassment In NY?

First, let’s begin by asking the question: what constitutes harassment in New York State? 

In the simplest of terms, harassment is committing actions with the intent to harass, threaten, seriously annoy or alarm another person.

Depending on the severity of the alleged action, it can be a violation-level offense, a misdemeanor, or even a felony. To know the seriousness of a potential charge, law enforcement examines the actions of the accused and the party against whom these actions were taken.

It’s important to take any harassment seriously. For a violation-level offense, the alleged victims may push for protective orders preventing contact with the defendant or force the defendant out of a shared home.

if you need assistance with getting your team compliant with NY laws, try EasyLlama's sexual harassment training for New York. We offer easy videos, real-life scenarios and quizzes to get your employees certified under NY regulations. 

What Actions Count as Harassment in the second degree? 

As provided in New York Penal Law §240.26, the crime of harassment in the second degree may involve:

  • Any physical injury or course of conduct intended to annoy another person
  • Any following of a person in a public place is likely to cause harassment
  • Any actions were taken by a person ro alarm another person without serving a legitimate purpose 
Second-degree harassment is classified as a violation, which means the maximum penalty a court can impose following a conviction is 15 days in jail. 

Harassment in the First Degree

Harassment in the first degree is a class B misdemeanor, meaning the maximum jail time sentence is increased to three months. 

Actions that constitute harassment in the first degree under NY Penal Code §240.25 involve intentionally and repeatedly following another person in a public place or acting in a way that another person in reasonable fear of physical injury as a result.

Factors in New York City For Aggravated Harassment Cases

Aggravated harassment is a much more serious criminal charge. These crime factors can include when someone harasses another person with:

  • Committing acts of harassment through the use of an electronic means (telephone, computer), or written communication to send threatening messages (this counts even if he or she makes a telephone call, whether or not there is an intention for legitimate communication) with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm.
  • Physical contact against a person because of their race, sex, gender, or religion
  • Physical contacts against a person to attempts or threatens intimidate a family member
  • The use of any form of written communication, force or intimidation against another person designed to denigrate another’s religion, race, or sex, including the use of swastikas, nooses, or burning crosses
Most harassment in the first-degree aggravated harassment crime is a class A misdemeanor under NY Penal Law §240.30, which means that a conviction could result in up to one year in jail. However, allegations used for religious purposes or racial intimidation may be upgraded to a Class E felony under NY Penal Law §240.31. A Class E Felony may result in a prison term of up to four or ten years aggravated harassment charges. A NY City harassment lawyer from law offices could attempt to mitigate the penalties that a person may face.

Harassment can involve anything from doing anything to touch, annoy or alarm to religious or racial intimidation, with potential penalties ranging from mundane fines to significant prison sentences. Even a misdemeanor-level conviction could result in a criminal record that may affect employment opportunities and housing options.

Sexual harassment is a hot topic within the workplace and most workplaces require all employees to receive some type of training on what it is and how to prevent it. With that being said, what is sexual harassment? Sexual harassment can be described as a tactic where a person receives unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, according to the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission. Put simply, if they have the intent to harass, alarm or seriously annoy.  This can include tit-for-tat situations where someone in a higher position may harass or threaten an employee offers a promotion or advancement in return for sexual favors (or Quid Pro Quo sexual harassment)

It should be noted that a person falsely reporting a harassment incident is a third-degree crime in harassment laws.

What is New York Doing about Sexual Harassment?

New York passed a bill in April of 2019 that requires all non-governmental employees with fifteen or more employees to have an annual interactive sexual harassment training for all employees, including those in supervisory or management positions. The training must meet interactivity sexual requirement requirements set by New York State. This means with web-based training there must be an interactive component such as asking questions at the end of a section or having employees answer questions after completing a section to make sure they know what constitutes harassment in NY (harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm).

The New York City Act requires that employers that fall under the law keep records of and submit proof of the training. New York City law also requires a signature from each employee confirming that they have completed the training. Employers are required to keep these signatures for three years. 

In-person interactivity has a presenter ask questions and allowing the employees to ask questions throughout the presentation. One way to ensure that sexual harassment training is interactive is to have employees fill out a feedback survey.

What Does Training Need to Include?

There are several key components that sexual harassment needs to include such as what is legally defined as what constitutes sexual harassment under the NYC Human Rights Law, and a statement on how sexual harassment is considered unlawful discrimination under state and federal law. Training not only needs to include the definition of sexual harassment but scenarios and examples of when sexual harassment may occur in the workplace.

The training must also include information on bystander intervention. Bystander intervention is if a bystander witness a fellow employee he or she is encouraged to reach out and report it to a supervisor. According to NYC Human Rights, bystander education and training can help employees to recognize, speak out, and report sexual harassment. Bystanders should be taught that is against the law for someone to seek retaliation (such as termination of employment) for speaking out about sexual harassment.

Termination of employment is not the only form of retaliation, but also demotions, a heavier workload, or being transferred. Employees are not allowed to do this under the law and employees should report any suspicion, belief or perception of such actions to upper management. 

Training also needs to include information on how employees can report potential sexual harassment. In New York City, an individual can call 718-722-3131 or fill out an online form, NYC Human Rights. If an employee desires quicker results, the best course of action would be to speak with a manager or supervisor and inform them of suspected sexual harassment.

New Poster Requirement

Under the Human Rights Act of New York, an anti-sexual harassment poster and responsibilities poster must be posted in places where employees gather such as break rooms or common areas. This poster should be posted in English and Spanish, and if at all possible, in multiple languages. The Human Rights Act also mandates that new employees be provided with an information sheet or booklet on sexual harassment at the time of hire. The sheet on sexual harassment will be created by the New York City Commission on Human Rights.

How to Find Out More about the Sexual Harassment Act

There are several ways that a person can go about finding specific instances, rules, and regulations about New York City's laws pertaining to sexual harassment. One is to take an online course from EasyLlama, www.easyllama.com. EasyLlama provides sexual harassment training courses for several states including New York and is works also for mobile workforces.