The issue of sexual harassment in the workplace and elsewhere has received significant attention in recent years, but much progress remains to be made. As New York City sexual harassment attorneys, we continue to hear from workers in many different industries about their experiences. Sexual harassment is not limited to the workplace. Last summer, we wrote about how sexual harassment in the video game industry affects both employees of the companies that produce games and the gamers that play them. Online gaming, live-streaming, and other features of the video game industry have long had serious problems with harassment. The law offers some tools that employees can use to fight back. Gamers and others who participate in gaming communities do not have the same legal protection, but they are not helpless. At the end of 2020, one of the biggest companies that provides live-streaming services for gamers announced a new policy that cracks down on harassment on its platform.
Laws like the New York State Human Rights Law (NYSHRL) and the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, viewing it as a form of sex discrimination. Employers violate these laws when someone in a supervisory or managerial role requests sexual activity of some sort as a condition of employment. They also commit an unlawful employment practice when they allow employees, customers, or others in the workplace to perpetrate a hostile work environment.
Many employment laws only protect employees against unlawful activity by their own employer. The NYSHRL expands its protections against sexual harassment beyond employees. Independent contractors, vendors, unpaid interns, and others who are in a workplace for business reasons are also protected against all forms of unlawful discrimination. Domestic workers are protected against sexual harassment in their workplaces. It is not clear, however, if the NYSHRL or similar statutes protect individuals who participate in online gaming, but are not directly employed by any of the businesses involved.
The NYSHRL does not define “workplace,” but the term is generally understood to cover more than just physical locations. In the context of online harassment, it includes online spaces maintained by a business, such as a live-streaming platform where gamers play and discuss games. The list of non-employees who may assert claims for sexual harassment under the NYSHRL does not include customers. Even if employment laws do not apply to live-streamers and other gamers, the new harassment policy mentioned earlier offers useful guidance about behavior that employers should not allow in spaces they control.
In December 2020, the live-streaming company released its new Hateful Conduct & Harassment Policy, and announced that it would take effect on January 22, 2021. The company provides a platform for gamers to stream themselves playing video games live on the internet. Other users can watch and comment. This is where much of the harassment occurs.
The company defines harassment as “targeted attacks…designed to disrupt, harm and or hijack a community or stream.” It notes that sexual harassment can include remarks that might appear to some as “positive or complimentary,” such as “repeatedly commenting on someone’s perceived attractiveness” when “there is indication that it’s unwelcome.”
The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates represent New York City employees, former employees, and job applicants. We help our clients assert their rights in claims for sexual harassment and other violations of city, state, and federal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can help you with your case, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.