The State of New York has seen its share of news about sexual harassment in the last several weeks.
While these sorts of cases sometimes attract national attention, they frequently stay closer to home as well.
For example, a demoted police sergeant with the New York Police Department recently agreed to contribute $10,000 toward a $200,000 sexual harassment settlement that New York City recently entered with another former officer. It was not clear if this former officer was his direct subordinate.
The officer lost a higher rank and was transferred to a new position. He also had disciplinary proceedings against him, but the officer will keep his six-figure job on the force. In addition to this woman’s complaint, he has been accused of engaging in harassing behavior against other officers.
The news of late may have employers in the City’s neighborhoods wondering what they need to do to make sure their employees are protected and that they avoid legal liability as a result.
Training, prevention, and action are keys to avoiding claims
Employers in New York are not expected to stop every single act of workplace harassment, whether sexual or otherwise.
However, they do have an obligation to take reasonable steps to train employees so as to prevent it. An employer also has to be careful with hiring and firing employees, particularly supervisors.
They should also have a robust program, which is consistently enforced, for reporting and investigating harassment claims.
This is especially important for preventing so-called hostile environment claims. These are claims in which a victim says that an employer did not do enough to stop a culture of harassment at the workplace, even when management was not involved in the harassment.
Finally, when an employer receives a credible report of sexual harassment, the employer must take appropriate action, even if that means having to terminate an employee they would otherwise prefer to keep.