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Employers note: Sexual harassment is never accidental

If you were to do a person-on-the-street survey today asking what are the top five most prominent issues on peoples' minds, chances are good that sexual harassment would be on the list of the respondents. Workplace harassment against women is common in New York. So is harassment of men, though it's not talked about nearly as often.

While the subject bubbles to the surface every once in a while, it’s come into real prominence this year as comedian Bill Cosby appeared in court on assault charges and numerous women stepped forward in recent weeks claiming harassment at the hands of movie producer Harvey Weinstein. Since then, the floodgates of discussion about the issue have opened up.

Harassment is rooted in deliberate action and inaction

Despite the increased attention, those with experience fighting for harassment victims appreciate that it doesn't take much for such media bubbles to burst. One legal observer says she's already starting to see it happen – noting how many outlets are starting to put out stories on "how to talk to women at work."

As she puts it, the suggestion of such items is that somehow sexual harassment just happens – that it is accidental and shows its ugly head only when conditions are just right. However, this attorney says that's a myth.

As she states, "Harassment is objectionable conduct, and actionable harassment … is pervasive and excessive." Further, she makes the case that "no one excessively harasses accidentally."

As we have said in previous posts, sexual harassment takes two forms. One subjects victims to unwanted sexual contact and makes it a condition of employment. The other involves allowing unwanted sexual comments and behaviors to go unchecked to a point that it creates a hostile work environment. In either scenario, experienced attorneys know that the behavior occurs because the employer allows it, and so it is incumbent on employers to end it.

Too often, that doesn't happen and it rests with employee victims to take legal action to protect themselves. Fortunately, they don't have to do it alone.

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