Firm News

Practices to Respond to Sexual Harassment Claims in Low Paid Jobs


According to a report by New America, incidents of sexual harassment are most common in low-wage, female-dominated industries. The same report shows that low-wage workers are particularly vulnerable to sexual harassment if they struggle with language fluency, access to technology, and immigration status. 

The restaurant industry, in particular, employs many low-wage women––half of whom have experienced some form of unwanted sexual behavior. In addition, the PubMed Central manuscript of a publication featured in the July 2021 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Occupational Health Science reports that sexual harassment is most common in low-wage industries with high numbers of Hispanic women. 

Companies dealing with sexual harassment claims filed by low-wage workers must take the necessary steps to address these incidents. Business owners and managers in New York can contact an employment law and sexual harassment attorney with Schwab & Gasparini today by calling (315) 422-1333 in Syracuse, (518) 591-4664 in Albany, or (914) 304-4353 in White Plains and the Hudson Valley. 

Sexual Harassment in Low-Paid Jobs May Be Handled Differently

The fact that sexual harassment is especially common in low-paid industries means that employers are likely to receive reports of these incidents from their employees. Sexual harassment among low-paid workers may also present distinct legal challenges:

Low-Paid Workers Often Work in Small Companies

Low-paid workers often work in small companies with only a handful of employees. Under New York’s Human Rights Law, all employers are required to provide a workplace free from sexual harassment––regardless of how many workers they have. 

That being said, federal sexual harassment laws typically applicable solely to companies employing 15 or greater staff members. This may be an issue if the company operates or is incorporated in another state. 

Examples of low-paid workers in small companies include:

  • Nannies
  • Babysitters
  • Dog walkers
  • Housekeepers
  • Home health aides
  • Childcare workers

Complaints From Non-Employee Workers

Companies should remember that New York law also protects non-employees, such as gig workers and independent contractors, against sexual harassment in many cases. Neglecting to address claims filed by low-wage workers is inadvisable, even if employers believe that sexual harassment laws do not apply to their workplaces. A sexual harassment attorney in New York can help employers determine the applicability of specific laws. 

Companies Should Have Clear Reporting Systems in Place

Responding to sexual harassment claims without an efficient reporting system in place can be very difficult. When employees report their alleged harassment in detail, employers receive the information they need to respond effectively. If an employer has already experienced harassment, it is often too late to improve the reporting system. 

This is why it is important to streamline the reporting system sooner rather than later. For the sake of convenience, businesses may wish to consider digital reporting systems accessible through smartphones or websites. 

On the other hand, paper forms should also be available for employees with limited access to technology. Companies seeking advice on how to create an effective reporting system should consider getting in touch with Schwab & Gasparini. 

Investigate the Alleged Incident Quickly and Effectively

An important first step is to take the alleged incident seriously, regardless of the accuser’s wage or status in the company. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) including state authorities treat all sexual harassment claims equally, whether the accuser is a low-paid hourly worker or a high-paid executive.

In fact, authorities are hyper-aware of the vulnerabilities of low-paid workers, and any legitimate instances of sexual harassment may lead to serious consequences. If a company fails to respond to these instances in an expedited manner, it may encounter legal and financial consequences. They may also suffer reputational repercussions. Even though a low-paid worker might not be a celebrity or a well-known business leader, the media may report on the incident. 

Encourage and Maintain Confidentiality

Although it may not prove possible to force involved parties to remain silent, companies should at least encourage confidentiality. When details of the alleged incident begin to spread, it can become challenging to conduct an effective investigation. Witnesses or relevant parties may hear inaccurate information due to rumors. 

This may lead to certain biases that affect the witnesses’ ability to provide accurate information, so maintaining confidentiality safeguards the integrity of the investigative process while also serving to limit the risks of reputational harm posed by over-broad reporting.

Keep the Accuser and the Accused Separate 

During the investigation, companies should take steps to separate the accuser and the accused. If it is impossible for both parties to carry out their normal work duties without coming into contact with each other, consider suspending one of them. 

Be careful not to suspend the accuser in a way that would constitute retaliation, however. In companies with enough staff, it can make sense to give both parties paid leave while the investigation takes place. Tensions will be high, and separating workers limits further incidents. 

Consult the Anti-Harassment Policy

Another good step is to consult the anti-harassment policy. Companies in New York typically have some anti-harassment policy, and the state requires all employers to conduct sexual harassment prevention training. 

This is true even for employers with a single employee. The State of New York also continuously adds to its model sexual harassment policy, which all employers must follow. These are minimum standards that companies must meet when it comes to sexual harassment policies. 

Upon receipt of a report concerning purported sexual harassment, the company should consult its existing anti-harassment policy to determine which specific violations are alleged to have occurred. 

This will help the company formulate an appropriate response without missing any key issues. Employers interested in taking proactive measures to be ready for future claims may wish to consider revising and updating their existing anti-harassment policies in consultation with qualified, experienced employment and sexual harassment attorneys in New York. 

Question Parties and Witnesses

Employers may designate a member of their staff not involved with the incident to conduct a prompt and thorough investigation, or they may seek unbiased help from outside counsel. In either case, it may be necessary to question all those involved in the alleged sexual harassment incident. This includes not only the accuser and the accused but also any witnesses. 

The EEOC provides a list of sample questions that those responsible for the investigation can consider asking the involved parties:

The who, what, when, where, and how

  • How did the harassment affect the accuser?
  • Who else has relevant information?
  • What documentation of the incident exists?
  • How does the accuser want the situation to be resolved?
  • What is the reaction of the accused to the allegations?
  • Why might the accuser lie?
  • What did any witnesses actually see or hear?
  • Did the accuser tell anyone else about the incident?

Companies Can Pursue Immediate Legal Assistance After Receiving Sexual Harassment Reports

Book a consultation with Schwab & Gasparini today to address sexual harassment claims in your workplace. Although internet research is a positive first step, consulting with employment law and a sexual harassment defense attorney in New York can provide further guidance based on the specific circumstances of the alleged harassment. Call (315) 422-1333 and get started with a response plan today. 

Fri Sep 8 2023, 12:00am