Learn what rights you have if you are experiencing or witnessing harassment, and find out how to get support.
Harassment, bullying, and toxicity in the workplace often exist in a broader context of sexism, racism, and power imbalance, which means that combating harassment requires us to foster a culture of mutual support and solidarity. The Guild is committed to transforming the culture and power dynamics that currently exist in our industries and contribute to misconduct.
Workplace Misconduct: What Members Can Expect of Their WGAE Representatives
We understand that certain kinds of workplace misconduct exist in the broader context of sexism, racism, and power imbalance, and our union is committed to transforming the culture and power dynamics that currently exist in our industries. This requires collective action as well as individual representation.
We understand that addressing issues of harassment, bullying, and toxicity in the workplace requires us to foster a culture of mutual support with our members and with each other as union representatives.
Our responsibilities as union representatives when speaking with WGAE members about misconduct in the workplace include:
We will respond promptly to each member inquiry and communication.
We will be compassionate and respectful.
We will believe, and not second-guess or doubt, members who bring incidents or concerns about inappropriate conduct to our attention.
We will assist the member to the extent the member wants us to do so, including:
- Helping document what has happened
- Identifying the employer’s policies and processes in the workplace
- Assisting the member navigate those processes, if appropriate
- Determining the extent to which there might be remedies available under the relevant collective bargaining agreement
- Identifying additional resources, including
- Possible legal claims
- Counseling and other support services
We recognize that members who have been identified as perpetrators might also contact the union for assistance. We will ensure that the same union representative will not work with both the alleged perpetrator and the person who has been the object of the harassment or inappropriate conduct.
Defining Sexual Harassment
Sexual Harassment is a form of gender-based discrimination that is unlawful under federal, state, and (where applicable) local law. Sexual Harassment includes harassment on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, self-identified or perceived sex, gender expression, gender identity, and the status of being transgender. Sexual Harassment is not limited to sexual contact, touching, or expressions of a sexually suggestive nature. Sexual Harassment includes all forms of gender discrimination including gender role stereotyping and treating employees differently because of their gender.
Sexual Harassment is unlawful when it subjects an individual to inferior terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. Harassment does not need to be severe or pervasive to be illegal. It can be any harassing behavior that rises above petty slights or trivial inconveniences. Every instance of harassment is unique to those experiencing it, and there is no single boundary between petty slights and harassing behavior. However, the NYC Human Rights Law specifies that whether harassing conduct is considered petty or trivial is to be viewed from the standpoint of a reasonable victim of discrimination with the same protected characteristics.
There are two main types of Sexual Harassment:
- Hostile work environment. Behaviors that contribute to a hostile work environment include, but are not limited to, words, signs, jokes, pranks, intimidation, or physical violence which are of a sexual nature, or which are directed at an individual because of that individual’s sex, gender identity, or gender expression. Sexual Harassment also consists of any unwanted verbal or physical advances, sexually explicit derogatory, or discriminatory statements which an employee finds offensive or objectionable, causes an employee discomfort or humiliation, or interferes with the employee’s job performance.
- Quid pro quo harassment. Sexual Harassment also occurs when a person in authority tries to trade job benefits for sexual favors. This can include hiring, promotion, continued employment or any other terms, conditions, or privileges of employment. This is also called quid pro quo harassment.
Sexual Harassment can be criminal
If the harassment involves physical touching, coerced physical confinement, or coerced sex acts, the conduct may constitute a crime. If you believe you have been the victim of a crime, you should file a report at your local police department. However, the conduct need not be criminal in nature to constitute unlawful gender-based discrimination.
Sexual Harassment can occur anywhere
Unlawful Sexual Harassment is not limited to the physical workplace itself. It can occur while employees are traveling for business or at employer or industry sponsored events or parties. Calls, texts, emails, and social media usage by employees or covered individuals can constitute unlawful workplace harassment, even if they occur away from the workplace premises, on personal devices, or during non-work hours.
Sexual Harassment can occur when employees are working remotely from home as well. Any behaviors outlined above that leave an employee feeling uncomfortable, humiliated, or unable to meet their job requirements constitute harassment even if the employee or covered individual is at home when the harassment occurs. Harassment can happen on virtual meeting platforms, in messaging apps, and after working hours between personal cell phones.
Retaliation is unlawful
Retaliation is any action by an employer or supervisor that punishes an individual upon learning of a harassment claim, that seeks to discourage a worker or covered individual from making a formal complaint or supporting a sexual harassment or discrimination claim, or that punishes those who have come forward. These actions need not be job-related or occur in the workplace to constitute unlawful retaliation. For example, threats of physical violence outside of work hours or disparaging someone on social media would be covered as retaliation under this policy.
Examples of retaliation may include, but are not limited to:
- Demotion, termination, denying accommodations, reduced hours, or the assignment of less desirable shifts;
- Publicly releasing personnel files;
- Refusing to provide a reference or providing an unwarranted negative reference;
- Labeling an employee as “difficult” and excluding them from projects to avoid “drama”;
- Undermining an individual’s immigration status; or
- Reducing work responsibilities, passing over for a promotion, or moving an individual’s desk to a less desirable office location.
Such retaliation is unlawful under federal, state, and (where applicable) local law.
“Protected activity”: Exercising a right that is protected by law
The New York City Human Rights Law protects any individual who has engaged in “protected activity.” Protected activity occurs when a person has:
- Made a complaint of sexual harassment or discrimination, either internally or with any government agency;
- Testified or assisted in a proceeding involving sexual harassment or discrimination under the Human Rights Law or any other anti-discrimination law;
- Opposed sexual harassment or discrimination by making a verbal or informal complaint to management, or by simply informing a supervisor or manager of suspected harassment;
- Reported that another employee has been sexually harassed or discriminated against; or
- Encouraged a fellow employee to report harassment.
Even if the alleged harassment does not turn out to rise to the level of a violation of law, the individual is protected from retaliation if the person had a good faith belief that the practices were unlawful. However, the retaliation provision is not intended to protect persons making intentionally false charges of harassment.
Federal harassment laws
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy and related conditions, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. Most employers with at least 15 employees are covered by EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.
The EEOC has the authority to investigate charges of discrimination against employers who are covered by the law. Harassment is a form of discrimination under federal law. If the EEOC finds discrimination has occurred, they will try to settle the charge. Alternatively, they may file a lawsuit to protect the rights of the individuals and the interests of the public. The EEOC is headquartered in Washington, D.C. and maintains 53 field offices. Information regarding its New York office can be found here.
The EEOC has recently published its latest guidance proposal on harassment in the workplace. Among the various changes captured in the proposal, the EEOC has sought to clarify that under Title VII the meaning of “sex” extends to sexual orientation and gender identity and includes harassment claims. Examples of harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity may include “misgendering,” or the “intentional and repeated use of a name or pronoun” that doesn’t align with an individual’s identity.
The guidance also discusses how online communications can create a hostile work environment if sent using work systems or accounts. Actionable virtual conduct can take place over phones, computers, or social media accounts if it impacts the workplace.
To file a charge with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), please visit the EEOC’s website.
New York State and New York City harassment laws
New York State Model Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy
In April 2023, the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) finalized updates to its Sexual Harassment Model Policy that provides employers a template to aid their compliance with New York State laws prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace.
As of October 2018, New York State employers are required by law to either implement written Sexual Harassment prevention policies that meet or exceed the minimum standards set forth in Section 201-g of the New York Labor Law or adopt the model policy published by NYSDOL.
There have been several significant changes to the Model Policy, including:
- Sexual Harassment includes harassment on the basis of gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.
- Harassment does not have to be severe and pervasive to be unlawful. Now, a plaintiff need only show they were subjected to “inferior terms and conditions and privileges of employment” on the basis of membership in the protected class.
- The addition of sex stereotyping as an example of Sexual Harassment, such as making remarks about an employee’s gender expression.
- Harassment on the basis of any protected characteristic is unlawful.
- Expanded language on retaliation. Retaliation now includes conduct outside the workplace such as disparagement on social media.
- Supervisors must offer accommodations to victims of harassment.
- Investigations must be started and completed as soon as possible. Employees may submit complaints orally, in written form, or via the policy’s complaint form.
- The statute of limitations for filing a New York City Department of Human Rights complaint is now 3 years (it was formerly 1 year).
New York State Division of Human Rights Legal Resources
The New York State Human Rights Law (HRL), N.Y. Executive Law, art. 15, § 290 et seq., applies to all employers in New York State and protects employees and covered individuals, regardless of immigration status. A complaint alleging violation of the Human Rights Law may be filed either with the New York State Division of Human Rights (DHR) or in New York State Supreme Court.
Complaints of sexual harassment filed with DHR may be submitted any time within three years of the harassment. If an individual does not file a complaint with DHR, they can bring a lawsuit directly in state court under the Human Rights Law, within three years of the alleged sexual harassment. An individual may not file with DHR if they have already filed a HRL complaint in state court.
DHR will investigate your complaint and determine whether there is probable cause to believe that sexual harassment has occurred. Probable cause cases receive a public hearing before an administrative law judge. If sexual harassment is found at the hearing, DHR has the power to award relief. Relief varies but it may include requiring your employer to take action to stop the harassment, or repair the damage caused by the harassment, including paying of monetary damages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and civil fines.
DHR’s main office contact information is: NYS Division of Human Rights, One Fordham Plaza, Fourth Floor, Bronx, New York 10458.You may also call (718) 741-8400 or connect online.
To file a complaint with the New York State Division of Human Rights, please visit the Division’s website. You may also call the DHR Sexual Harassment Hotline at 1-800-HARASS3 for more information about filing a Sexual Harassment complaint. This hotline can also provide you with a referral to a volunteer attorney experienced in Sexual Harassment matters who can provide you with limited free assistance and counsel over the phone.
New York City Human Rights Law
The New York City Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in New York City in employment. A complaint must be filed with the Commission within one year of the last alleged act of discrimination, or three years for cases involving gender-based harassment. Protected classes under the Human Rights Law include but are not limited to color, disability, gender (including sexual harassment), gender identity, pregnancy, race, and sexual orientation.
It is against the law for your employer to retaliate against you because you:
- Opposed an unlawful discriminatory practice
- Made a charge or filed a complaint of discrimination with the NYC Commission on Human Rights, your employer, or any other agency
- Testified, assisted, or participated in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing relating to something prohibited by the NYC Human Rights Law
You are protected from retaliation as long as you have a reasonable good faith belief that the persons’ conduct is illegal, even if it turns out you were mistaken.
The NYC Human Rights Law prohibits discrimination in:
- Hiring, including in job postings and interviews
- Salary and benefits
- Performance evaluations
- Promotions and demotions
- Discipline and firing
- Any decisions that affect the terms and conditions of employment
In employment, a Reasonable Accommodation is a change made to the work schedule or duties of an employee to accommodate their specific needs and allow them to do their job. An employer must provide Reasonable Accommodations unless doing so would create an undue hardship for the employer, for the following protected classes:
- Pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical condition
- Religious observance
- Status as victim of domestic violence, sexual violence, or stalking
Sexual Harassment is unwelcome verbal or physical behavior based on a person’s gender and can include unwanted touching; offensive and suggestive gestures or comments; asking about a person’s sex life or making sexualized remarks about a person’s appearance; sexualizing the work environment with imagery or other items; or telling sexual jokes. Violators can be held accountable with civil penalties of up to $250,000 in the case of a willful violation.
The Commission can also assess emotional distress damages and other remedies to the victim, can require the violator to undergo training, and can mandate other remedies such as community service.
Under Local Law 95 of 2018, all employers in the City are required to conspicuously display Sexual Harassment prevention notices in both English and Spanish and distribute a factsheet to individual employees at the time of hire which may be included in an employee handbook.
If you are sexually harassed or discriminated against based on a protected category under the Law in New York City, please report this to the NYC Commission on Human Rights. Call 212-416-0197 or fill out an online inquiry form.
Resources and Support
The Guild is committed to ensuring that members work in an environment free from harassment of any kind. To that end, the Guild provides free advocacy from professional labor relation specialists.
WGAE representatives for each work sector:
- Film/TV/Streaming – Michelle Kuchinsky, Deputy Director of Contract Enforcement & Credits – email@example.com
- Online Media – Terri Nilliasca, Director of Online Media – firstname.lastname@example.org
- Broadcast/Cable/Streaming News – Michael Isaac, Director of Broadcast/Cable/Streaming News – Ext. 827, email@example.com
- Ann Burdick, General Counsel – Ext. 844, firstname.lastname@example.org
New York State-Based Resources
- Office of the NYS Attorney General Civil Rights Bureau (Website)
- U.S. EEOC – New York Field Office (Website)
- NYS Division of Human Rights (Website)
- NYC Commission on Human Rights (Website)
Other helplines and resources
- The Entertainment Community Fund (formerly the Actors Fund) – free and confidential counseling, support, and other resources, including legal options and mental health referrals. Connect online or review their Understanding Harassment and Discrimination presentation.
- NOW NYC & Woman’s Justice NOW Helpline – referrals for callers needing help with employment discrimination, divorce and custody, financial empowerment, intimate partner violence, and sexual assault: Call (212) 627-9895 or connect online
- Legal Momentum’s Equality Works Program – litigation against employers who have maintained or practiced discrimination: Call (212) 925-6635 or connect online
- Safe Horizon’s Crime Victims Hotline: Call 1-866-689-HELP (4357)
- Safe Horizon’s Rape & Sexual Assault Hotline: Call 1-212-227-3000
- A Better Balance‘s free, confidential legal helpline for information about your workplace rights: Call (212) 430-5982 or email email@example.com.
- New York State Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral and Information Service: Call (800) 342-3661 or connect online
- Law Help NY provides legal information for New Yorkers who cannot afford an attorney. Connect online.
- City Bar Justice Center’s free legal hotline: Call (212) 626-7383 or connect online.
- Lambda Legal Helpdesk – advocates for lived and legal equality for the LGBTQ+ community and everyone living with HIV: Connect online.