How New York Schools Can Help Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

“Boys will be boys” is a phrase we have heard many times over the past year, as this country reckons with systems that have allowed sexual harassment to go unremedied at best, and to flourish at worst. New York City sexual harassment lawyers and their clients are far too familiar with the sort of mindset embodied by phrases like “boys will be boys.” For example, conduct that creates a hostile working environment, and which therefore violates laws like the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL), is written off as “just a joke.” While our job is to deal with sexual harassment through the court system under local, state, and federal law, in reality it is only one part of a much larger problem. Addressing the underlying attitudes that routinely lead to sexual harassment may be possible through sex education programs in schools. Advocates in New York and around the country, both young and old, are advocating to add issues like consent to these programs.

Workplace sexual harassment constitutes sex discrimination, which violates the NYCHRL, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and other laws. The concept of “consent” is often mentioned in the context of criminal sexual misconduct, but it also plays a role in employment law. One common form of sexual harassment is the “hostile work environment,” which occurs when unwanted sexual remarks, jokes, or other conduct renders the workplace hostile and interferes with an individual’s ability to do their job. Another involves demands for sexual conduct as a condition of employment. A key element of both is that the underlying conduct or demand is “unwelcome.” See e.g. 29 C.F.R. § 1604.11.

The topic of sex education in schools is highly controversial, and different states and local jurisdictions have enacted widely varying laws regarding what children should be taught and when. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, twenty-four states and the District of Columbia require some form of sex education as part of school curricula. Twenty states have laws that specifically require that the information provided to students be medically accurate. In thirty-five states and D.C., parents may choose to withhold their children from sex education classes. New York is not currently among the states that mandate sex education. New York City has its own law, albeit a poorly-enforced one.

Of the twenty-four states that require sex education in schools, only eight of those states require that the curricula include information on consent and “healthy relationships.” This information comes from the Center for American Progress, a nonpartisan organization that advocates on a variety of issues. The organization’s report does not specifically mention sexual harassment, but does state that such programs would “arm young people with quality information that would help them make safe, healthy choices.” This sounds far better than “boys will be boys.”

Advocates for these types of programs often focus on prevention of sexual assault and other forms of violence, but sexual harassment has also received attention in this context. One advocate notes that sexual harassment does not begin once people enter the workforce. The behaviors that become workplace sexual harassment, unfortunately, often begin in childhood, both for the harassers and the harassed.

At Phillips & Associates, our team of experienced and knowledgeable employment attorneys advocate for the rights of New York City employees and job seeker in claims for unlawful workplace practices like sexual harassment and sex discrimination. Please contact us online or at (212) 248-7431 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you.

More Blog Posts:

Report Highlights Sexual Harassment in Medical Schools, New York Employment Attorney Blog, October 10, 2016

Former New York City Schoolteacher Settles Sexual Harassment Lawsuit for $115,000, New York Employment Attorney Blog, December 30, 2014

Brooklyn Public School Teacher Settles Sexual Harassment Claim with New York City for $450,000, New York Employment Attorney Blog, November 9, 2012

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