Harassment Laws in New York State

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In New York, harassment is defined as a set of specific acts done with the intent to harass, annoy or alarm another person. The list of acts stated in the New York Penal Law for the least serious level of harassment, harassment in the second degree, include:

  • Striking, shoving, kicking or otherwise subjecting another person to physical contact or attempting or threatening to do the same.
  • Following a person in or about a public place, such as Central Park in New York City.
  • Engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts which alarm or seriously annoy the other person, with the acts serving no legitimate purpose.

New York state law considers harassment a criminal offense. It classifies an act of harassment as a misdemeanor or a felony depending on the severity of the aggressor’s actions. The state, through a district attorney, can prove harassment occurred by showing the aggressor committed the acts as stated in the New York Penal Law.

Levels of Harassment Charges

The four levels of harassment are:

The maximum penalty for a violation is up to 15 days' jail time. The maximum penalty for a Class A misdemeanor is up to 364 days' incarceration and a fine up to $1,000, or twice the amount the aggressor gained from the offense.

The maximum sentence for a Class B misdemeanor is up to three months' incarceration or one year probation and a fine up to $500, or twice the amount the aggressor gained from the offense. The penalty for a Class E felony is up to four years' incarceration and a fine up to $5,000, or twice the amount the aggressor gained from the offense.

Harassment in the First Degree

Harassment in the first degree is defined as intentionally and repeatedly harassing another person by following that person in or about a public place. Alternatively, it can also consist of engaging in a course of conduct or by repeatedly committing acts to place the other person in reasonable fear of physical injury.

Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree

Aggravated harassment in the second degree is defined as acting with the intent to harass another person, including:

  • Communicating a threat to cause physical harm to the person, or unlawful harm to the property, of a person or member of that person’s family or household. The threat can be communicated by telephone, computer or electronic means or mail, or by transmitting or delivering any other form of communication. The aggressor must know or reasonably should know that the communication will cause the person to reasonably fear harm to the threatened person’s physical safety or property or the physical safety or property of a member of their family or household.
  • Causing a communication to be initiated anonymously or otherwise about a threat to cause physical harm or unlawful harm to the property of a person or their family or household. The aggressor must know or reasonably should know the communication will cause the person to reasonably fear harm to their physical safety or property, or the physical safety or property of a member of that person’s family or household.
  • Making a telephone call with no purpose of legitimate communication with the intent to harass or threaten another person.
  • Striking, shoving, kicking or otherwise subjecting another person to physical contact, or attempting or threatening to do the same, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm the victim. The reason for the attack or threat must be related to a belief or perception about the victim’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct.
  • Striking, shoving, kicking or otherwise subjecting another person to physical contact thereby causing physical injury to the person or a family or household member of the other person, with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm the victim.
  • Committing the crime of harassment in the first degree and having previously been convicted of this same offense within the preceding 10 years.

Aggravated Harassment in the First Degree

Aggravated harassment in the first degree is:

  • Acting with the intent to harass, annoy, threaten or alarm another person because of a belief or perception regarding the victim’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, religious practice, age, disability or sexual orientation, regardless of whether the belief or perception is correct.
  • Damaging premises primarily used for religious purposes, or acquired pursuant to section six of the religious corporation law and maintained for purposes of religious instruction, and the damage to the premises exceeds $50.
  • Committing aggravated harassment in the second degree and having previously been convicted of this offense for the commission of conduct proscribed by subdivision three of New York Penal Law Section 240.30 (acts such as those relating to a victim’s race and color) and having been previously convicted of committing aggravated harassment in the first degree within the preceding 10 years.
  • Etching, painting, drawing upon or otherwise placing a swastika on any building or other real property, public or private, owned by any person, firm or corporation or any public agency or instrumentality without express permission of the owner or operator of such building or real property.
  • Setting on fire a cross in public view.
  • Etching, painting, drawing upon or otherwise placing a displaying a noose on any building or other real property, public or private, owned by any person, firm or corporation or any public agency or instrumentality without express permission of the owner or operator of such building or real property.

Note that the statutes regarding harassment do not apply to activities regulated by the National Labor Relations Act, as amended; the Railway Labor Act, as amended; or the Federal Employment Labor Management Act, as amended.

Civil Suits for Harassment

A victim may file a civil suit for harassment against their aggressor whether or not the district attorney files, or chooses not to file, a criminal suit regarding the incident. The victim may request monetary damages for any injury they suffered, including:

  • Medical and/or mental health care.
  • Time missed from work, for lost past wages and lost future wages.
  • Property damage.
  • Punitive damages.

If the aggressor has been convicted in the criminal case, the plaintiff can show that conviction as evidence for the court to consider in the civil case. To prove harassment occurred, the plaintiff must show that the acts occurred by a preponderance of the evidence.

A preponderance of the evidence means more likely than not the defendant was at fault. This standard of proof is lower than beyond a reasonable doubt required in a criminal case.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

A district attorney can charge an offender for harassment if the offender commits sexual harassment in the workplace. The act the offender commits must fit the definition of a criminal act of harassment. The victim can also sue the offender and the employer that allowed the harassment in civil court.

The victim may need to subpoena documents and witnesses from their office that reveal what concerns arose and how the company treated the matter.