NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — As Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces allegations of sexual harassment, a conversation about how it is defined in the workplace has been reignited.
Cuomo has been an outspoken ally of the MeToo movement, signing sweeping sexual harassment protections into law.
But now, facing mounting allegations of his own, the governor has been defending his behavior by calling it “being playful.” It has fueled further discussion on what is considered workplace harassment.
“It could be verbal, or it could be physical. The question is, was it unwanted, unwelcome? And this situation, it certainly was with all three of them coming out in the same way,” workplace attorney Jon Bell said.
New York State law currently requires employers to offer workplace harassment prevention training.
Charlene Obernauer, who conducts these classes, said it doesn’t matter what your intent is. It’s how it’s received.
“Not all sexual harassment that occurs is necessarily this malicious kind of sexual harassment where someone knows exactly what they’re doing. They have an intention behind it,” Obernauer said.
Obernauer, of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, also said harassment can also come in the form of stalking and bullying and affects all genders.
Comments can also be directed towards a group of people.
“If you make negative comments about women in general, if you make negative comments about the LGBT community in general, and this is consistently occurring on the job, this can be sexual harassment as well,” Obernauer said.
Attorneys say they hope the recent high-profile allegations serve a dual purpose. As an employer, keep harassment out of the workplace. As an employee, know that you have rights.
“So if someone’s undergoing sexual harassment, and they complain to a supervisor, manager, or HR, that person is basically untouchable,” Bell said.
Under the law, retaliation is prohibited.
CBS2’s Christina Fan contributed to this report