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Is There a Difference Between Sexual Discrimination and Gender Discrimination?

Gender DiscriminationConcerns about gender discrimination and sexual discrimination are common in the modern workplace. Is there a difference between the two and what do you need to know if either affects you?

Some use the terms “gender discrimination” and “sexual harassment” interchangeably but they are not the same. Understanding the difference helps you navigate your complex legal situation should a violation of your rights occur in the workplace.

What is Sexual Harassment?

Sexual harassment is a blanket term that includes a variety of violations including:

  • Unwanted sexual remarks
  • Intrusive sexual inquiries
  • Display of sexual material
  • Non-consensual physical contact

Sexual harassment doesn’t just cover the actions and words of your co-workers and supervisors. It also applies to customers and vendors. You have a right to protection against sexual harassment in the workplace no matter who commits the act.

Laws also apply to harassment that occurs in the workplace during normal work hours, as well as professional or social gatherings related to work. Sexual harassment laws apply to an event that occurs at noon in the lunchroom just as much as they do an event that takes place at the office Christmas party at a nearby restaurant at 11 pm on a Friday.

If you believe you’ve been a victim of workplace sexual harassment, you report the problem to human resources and contact an attorney to discuss your situation. Sometimes HR’s involvement resolves these situations. However, it’s important to make sure an experienced professional protects your rights.

What is Gender Discrimination?

Gender discrimination might be related to sexual harassment, but it’s not the same thing. The term applies to any unfavorable treatment related to an employee or potential employee’s gender.

Employers cannot use your gender as a basis of discrimination of any kind in the workplace. This applies to decisions related to:

  • Hiring
  • Firing
  • Layoffs
  • Promotions
  • Salary
  • Benefits
  • Bonuses

Both sexual harassment and gender discrimination are illegal under federal law. Additionally, there are New York State and City laws that govern the handling of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

New York City’s Human Rights Law also addresses issues related to harassment and gender and LGBTQ discrimination. You can read more about the city’s protections here.

Additionally, Mayor Bill de Blasio signed the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act in 2018. The law included a comprehensive legislative package aimed at addressing and preventing sexual harassment in the workplace.

Sometimes there’s a link between gender discrimination and sexual harassment. For instance, if female employees are looked over for advancement in favor of male employees, except in cases where a female employee agrees to their supervisor’s sexual advances, it would be a case of both gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

What Should You Do If You’ve Been Sexually Harassed or Discriminated against Due to Your Gender in the Workplace?

Despite laws against gender discrimination and sexual harassment, these are both common issues that arise in the workplace. Both create stressful circumstances that can be embarrassing for employees to address. But you’re entitled to have your voice heard if your employer or anyone in the workplace violates your rights.

If you’ve been exposed to sexual harassment or gender discrimination in the workplace, Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. can help. Contact us to schedule a free consultation.


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