New York State Harassment Laws; Penalties

New York State Harassment Laws; Penalties

The Facts

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New York state harassment laws prohibit a wide array of activities intended to harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm people. These divide harassment into first and second-degree crimes, standard harassment, and aggravated harassment. In addition to these four forms of harassment, there is an aggravated harassment law that penalizes harassment of prison employees, probation officers, police officers, and other employees by causing them to come into contact with blood, semen, urine, feces, or toilet water.

What Actions Count as Harassment in New York? 

Harassment is committing actions with the intent to harass, threaten, seriously annoy or alarm another person. Depending on the severity of the alleged act, it can be a violation-level offense, a misdemeanor, or even a felony. Law enforcement examines the steps of the accused and the other party to know the seriousness of a potential charge. It is crucial 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.

  • First Degree Harassment

First-degree harassment occurs when a person intentionally and repeatedly harasses another person by following in public or engaging in conduct that places the person in reasonable fear of injury. First-degree harassment is a class B misdemeanor.

  • Second Degree Harassment

Second-degree harassment occurs when a person strikes another person or attempts or threatens to do so, follows a person in public places, or acts in a way that causes alarm or seriously annoys another person and serves no legitimate purpose. Second-degree harassment is a violation. Violations are offenses that result in a fine but no jail time.

  • Aggravated Harassment In The First Degree

Aggravated harassment in the first degree occurs with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm another person because of their perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, age, disability, or sexual orientation. It takes place when the person depicts or otherwise puts a swastika on any building, public or private, depicts or otherwise places a noose anywhere, public or private, without the express permission of the owner of the property, or sets a cross on fire in public view.

It may also happen when someone damages premises primarily used for religious purposes and the damage exceeds fifty dollars or has a previous conviction for the same offense. Aggravated harassment in the first degree is a class E felony.

  • Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree

Aggravated harassment in the second degree occurs with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten, or alarm another person. Usually, it happens when they communicate with a person, anonymously or not, by telephone, mail, or other written communication in a manner likely to cause annoyance or alarm. 

They may also make a telephone call with no purpose of legitimate communication, or strike, or attempt or threaten to strike, a person on their perceived race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, religion, age, disability, or sexual orientation. They may even strike someone causing an injury to them and are repeat harassment offenders. Aggravated harassment in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.

What is New York Doing About Sexual Harassment?

New York passed a bill in April 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.

There must be an interactive component like a question-answer session with the employees to ensure they know what harassment constitutes in New York. 

The New York City Act requires employers to 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 allow 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 components that sexual harassment needs to include- 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. 

  • The training needs to include the definition of sexual harassment and scenarios and examples of when sexual harassment may occur in the workplace.
  • It must also include information on bystander intervention. Bystander intervention is if a bystander witnesses a fellow employee, they are encouraged to reach out and report it to a supervisor. According to NYC Human Rights, bystander education and training can help employees recognize, speak out, and report sexual harassment. Bystanders should learn that it 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 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.

Under the Human Rights Act of New York, employers need to post an anti-sexual harassment poster in places where employees gather, such as break rooms or common areas. This poster should be in English and Spanish, and if 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 New York City Commission on Human Rights will create the sheet on sexual harassment.

Harassment Charges and Penalties in New York

Since the harassment charges in New York state depend on harassing actions, they differ in severity. Charges for harassment under the New York Penal Law can include jail time, fines, or both. Here is an overview of the penalties applicable in different cases: 

First-degree Harassment

  • Up to three months in prison
  • One-year probation
  • A fine of up to $500

Second-degree Harassment

  • 15 days in prison

Aggravated Harassment in the First Degree

  • Up to four years in prison
  • A fine of up to $5,000

Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree

  • Up to one year in jail
  • Three-year probation
  • A fine of up to $1,000

New York harassment laws recognize third-degree stalking as a separate category when the perpetrator harasses someone and shows behavior that makes the victim fear injuries, sexual assault, death, or kidnapping. Stalking may target the victim or their family member. As a class A misdemeanor, third-degree stalking is punishable by a year in prison and three-year probation. 

Bottom Line

New York State is leading the nation with new laws to combat sexual harassment in the workplace. On August 12, 2019, the signed legislation strengthened protections against discrimination and harassment under the New York State Human Rights Law. These protections supplement the laws that the Governor signed in April 2019 as part of the 2019 Women's Agenda.

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