New York City Law Blog

Your Civil Rights Are Precious

Sexual harassment in the workplace: coworkers and customers alike

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  • Law posted:Uncategorized
  • Date:April 14, 2018

Sexual harassment is prevalent in society. The progression of the #MeToo movement and numerous high-profile allegations of misconduct have brought discussions about harassment to the surface. Even with the spotlight shining on inappropriate behavior in the workplace, much of the misconduct is still taking place in the background because workers feel insecure about their rights.

When a workplace doesn’t explicitly denounce behavior, it implicitly allows it. Every business, be it a restaurant, a movie studio, an accounting firm or a pro sports organization, needs to comply with the same laws respecting individual rights. The New York Times recently published a troubling look at professional cheerleaders under this light.

A recipe for harassment

Cheerleaders are a visual part of pro sports, including the NFL, NBA and NHL. Cheerleaders are brand ambassadors who perform dance routines at public events and games, but also mingle and interact with fans as part of their job. The fact that cheerleaders wear revealing uniforms doesn’t change the rules.

As the Times explains, cheerleaders often navigate through dense crowds, visit high spending clients in private suits and interact with intoxicated sports fans. It’s a recipe for sexual harassment. It’s an issue, the article alleges, the teams overlook.

A cultural problem

As New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman notes, sexual harassment doesn’t need to come from an employer—it can also come from customers and clients in the workplace. When this happens, the employer needs to defend its employees, not go with the flow to keep the customer happy.

Any employee is entitled to safety at work. That is a primary goal for any employer. By exposing young women to these situations, often without security present and with a “smile for the camera” attitude, it fosters a culture of harassment where cheerleaders feel unable to speak up for themselves. Some teams have even forced cheerleaders to sign non-disclosure agreements, which reflects a brand-first, employee-second atmosphere.

Defend your rights

Sexual harassment has both psychological and physical effects. Employees suffer from anxiety, depression, loss of sleep and other maladies when their workplace isn’t supportive of their rights. It’s important to speak up, but it also comes with a natural fear of retaliation.

While it’s often uncomfortable to speak up, it creates a record for further action that will help your case. Even if an employer has you sign a non-disclosure agreement or illegally says that employees can’t speak up when they feel harassed, you may have legal options.

Sexual harassment is a serious problem in New York and across the country. Fortunately, the law protects employees who feel violated. If your rights are work are being threatened, an experienced attorney can help you file a complaint and review your case to determine the necessary steps to help you feel safe in your chosen profession.

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