Verbal harassment at work is unpleasant and hurts employee productivity and morale. Additionally, if the harassment is because of an employee's race, religion, sex, age, disability or sexual orientation it may also violate the law. Employers have a responsibility to prevent and correct any harassment in the workplace and a failure to do so may entitle the victim to monetary damages. Furthermore, perpetrators of harassment may be prosecuted for criminal misconduct in the state of New York.
It is unlawful, under New York state law, for an employer to permit an employee to be subjected to discriminatory verbal harassment if it is severe enough to create a hostile work environment. A few derogatory comments may not be sufficient to establish a claim of verbal harassment. Rather, the law requires the employee demonstrate that the verbal harassment was so severe or pervasive that it fundamentally altered the terms and conditions of the employee's workplace.
Harassment in the First Degree
New York state criminal law makes it a class B misdemeanor for a person to repeatedly harass another person by engaging in conduct that makes her fearful of injury. Under the criminal law, an employee may be able to bring a criminal case against a coworker or supervisor if the verbal harassment is repeated and threatens violence. The harasser may be guilty if he directly threatens physical harm or makes other threats which reasonably lead the victim to believe physical harm is imminent.
Harassment in the Second Degree
A person commits harassment in the second degree if her statements are intended to harass or annoy the victim and the statements are wholly illegitimate. For example, if a coworker follows an employee around the office and repeatedly taunts the individual about his weight to the point that the employee is agitated and alarmed and concerned for his well-being, then the harasser may be guilty of harassment in the second degree. Harassment in the second degree is considered a violation for which a citation is issued; it is not a misdemeanor or a felony.
New York criminal law provides enhanced penalties for persons who engage in either first or second degree harassment if it is perpetrated through the use of a telephone or if it is motivated by the victim's race, sex, religion, national origin, age or sexual orientation. Aggravated harassment in the first degree is a class A misdemeanor and second degree aggravated harassment is a class E misdemeanor.
Kevin Owen has been a professional writer since 2005. He served as an editor for the American Bar Association's "Administrative Law Review." Owen is an employment litigator in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area and practices before various state and federal trial and appellate courts. He earned his Juris Doctor from American University.