Recent high-profile sexual harassment stories have been dominating the headlines in the last few weeks. The likelihood is that such exposés will continue as more victims come forward to tell their stories. And while stories that include famous celebrities and high profile politicians will be more desirable fodder for major news outlets, it’s easy to believe that local business scandals may go unnoticed.
Sexual harassment under the law
Rather than just considering how your company should respond to a sexual harassment claim, you should also consider how such incidences in your company can be decreased. Limiting your company’s liability is a valid concern but focusing on creating a non-threatening work environment for your employees may help you to create a sexual harassment policy that will be successful.
Sexual harassment is a form of discrimination that falls under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Such discrimination can manifest as:
Requests for sexual favors
Unwelcome sexual advances (both physical and verbal)
Physical assaults / threats
Offensive objects or pictures
Interference with work performance
The EEOC investigates thousands of sexual harassment claims per year—and given the current climate, those claims are likely to increase.
What you can do
Small to medium business need to understand that it is not just large corporations and famous celebrities that get hit with sexual harassment claims. If you have as few as 15 employees you could find yourself facing such a suit, so taking an active role in preventing workplace sexual harassment and correcting any incidents should be a priority for you.
Written Policies and Procedures. Having written policies and procedures against sexual discrimination provides a major legal defense against liability. By having policy and procedures in place, it shows that you’ve made a good faith effort to prevent and correct harassment. Such policies and procedures should include:
Definition of sexual harassment
A procedure for filing complaints
Designated employees trained on receiving and documenting complaints
Encouragement in filing complaints
Assurances of confidentiality and non-retaliation for reporting
Providing training on sexual harassment to employees
Providing comprehensive training on what sexual harassment is, how to recognize it, how to report it, and the responsibilities for both workers and employers can save your company a lot of future headaches. Your training course should contain both theoretical and practical content—using drills, hypothetical situations, and other means to provide a personal understanding of sexual harassment. It is also wise to train managerial and supervisory staff separately from employees.
Prevent sexual harassment before it occurs—talk to an employment law attorney
Ultimately your best approach to harassment in your company is to create and adhere to a zero tolerance policy. By refusing to tolerate such behavior and protecting any employee subjected to it, you not only protect your company but also invest in your greatest resource – your employees. An experienced NY employment law attorney can work with you to develop the appropriate policies and steps to take to prevent and correct sexual harassment within your company. If you have questions about your company’s sexual harassment policies contact us online or call 718-275-6700 today to schedule a consultation.
Under New York law, a valid will must contain the signatures of two witnesses. There are no requirements regarding the capacity of the witnesses. The testator (person executing the will) must sign in the presence of the witnesses, but they need not sign in each other’s presence. There’s also nothing that prohibits you from having a family member as a witness to your will, but there can be consequences.
Under New York law, a witness who has also has an interest in the estate is known as an “interested witness.” The fact that the will was witnessed by an interested witness does not invalidate the will, but it will render any benefit to the interested witness in the will void. Accordingly, any conveyance of property to an interested witness under a will, even if it’s part of a residuary estate, will be ineffective and will be returned to the estate, to be divided among other beneficiaries.
The “interested witness” rule, however, can apply to more than just property received. Consider the facts in Matter of the Estate of Cynthia R. Wu. In that case, the deceased had a provision in her will that called for estate and inheritance taxes to be paid as debts of the estate, rather than by beneficiaries out of their pro rata share of the estate. The deceased’s brother, the named beneficiary of two life insurance policies owned by the decedent, had also been a witness to the decedent’s will. The court concluded that, because the brother was an interested witness, he was not entitled to the benefit of having the estate taxes paid out of the estate. Instead, the court ordered him to pay his pro rata share of the estate taxes out of the death benefit proceeds.
Contact the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston
At the Law Office of Bonnie Lawston, we focus our estate administration practice on estates subject to probate in Nassau County and Suffolk County on Long Island. Contact our office online or call us at 631-425-7299 or 24/7 at 855-479-4700) to set up a free initial consultation.
When accusations of discrimination or harassment emerge, employers should consult with an employment law defense lawyer as soon as possible. Aside from seeking counsel, what actions can you take right away and what mistakes can you avoid?
Failing to investigate immediately. Waiting for an employee to submit a formal statement about harassment or discrimination or waiting for witnesses to submit written statements is the most common mistake made by employers. Any investigation delay can make it appear like you’re ignoring the situation or not taking it seriously.
Inserting cross-examination into the process. Conducting an investigation without bias is important for avoiding claims of unfair investigation against your company, even when you suspect a complainant, witness or the accused individual is lying. A better approach is to ask in a respectful manner that the person explain contradictory statements or ask for evidence that refutes the statements.
Not maintaining confidentiality. You must keep the investigation confidential along with the information obtained during the investigation. If witnesses suffer backlash from the investigation because their identity is made known or for any other reason, as the employer, you may become subject to claims of retaliation.
Not interviewing all witnesses with knowledge of the alleged events. The investigator should interview all the witnesses because it will help determine whether information is consistent.
Failing to make known the company’s policy against retaliation. Retaliation is a common problem, according to the EEOC and comprises about one third of the cases the EEOC handles. It is important to reinforce the company policy by reminding all parties that retaliation will not be tolerated against complainants who make good faith claims. This focus also helps protect you as the employer.
Failing to conduct a thorough investigation. Overlooking records, such as telephone or cell phone records when they are crucial to an investigation is a common mistake.
Failing to end the investigation with a conclusive finding. When investigations end with disputed evidence by both sides and nothing is concluded, the investigation is tantamount to no investigation. Some conclusion must be reached based on a preponderance of the evidence. In other words, the investigator must reach a conclusion that it most likely that the harassment did or did not occur.
Put an Experienced Employment Defense Lawyer on Your Side
Employers dealing with harassment or discrimination issues should seek legal advice as soon as possible. Stephen Hans & Associates brings decades of experience to the table in every case we handle.
In New Jersey, if you’ve been injured on the job, you have a right to seek benefits to cover your disability, as well as medical expenses. But what if no one actually saw the accident? Can you still recover workers’ compensation benefits if there were no witnesses to your injury? The answer is yes.
There are typically two types of evidence in a legal matter—direct evidence and circumstantial evidence. Direct evidence includes anything a witness had access to directly, either through sight, sound, smell, taste or touch. Circumstantial evidence, on the other hand, involves facts that support a finding, but without any direct access to an event.
We were involved in a workers’ compensation claim where an employee died of a heart attack at his desk at work. No one had been present when the man died. However, through circumstantial evidence, we were able to show the man had been under significant stress on the job. We successfully argued to the workers’ compensation judge and the Workers’ Compensation Board that the reason the man died was related to his job.
At Pyrros & Serres LLP, we provide comprehensive counsel to people with workers’ compensation and Social Security disability claims in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and across the greater New York City metropolitan area. Because of our reputation for effective advocacy, many of our new clients come to us as referrals from clients and other lawyers.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the Tesla fatal car crash that occurred in May of 2016. The Tesla semi-automated car driven by Joshua Brown crashed into a tractor-trailer and hit it broadside as the trailer made a left turn. More than a year later after the crash, in September 2017, the NTSB stated that Tesla should have had more operation limitations on drivers of semi-automatic cars.
Facts About the Tesla Fata Car Crash
The New York Post reported that the accident occurred in Williston, Florida (southwest of Gainesville) at an intersection. Joshua Brown had set the cruise control for 74 mph two minutes before the crash occurred. The speed limit was 65 mph and neither the driver nor the autopilot sensors noticed the tractor-trailer and consequently neither applied the brakes. An under-ride accident occurred with the car passing under the trailer.
Tesla’s Response to the Accident
In June 2016, Tesla said that Autopilot “is not perfect and still requires the driver to remain alert.”
Brown’s family released a state in September that stated, “We heard numerous times that the car killed our son. That is simply not the case,” the family’s statement said. “There was a small window of time when neither Joshua nor the Tesla features noticed the truck making the left-hand turn in front of the car.”
The statement went on to say, “People die every day in car accidents. Change always comes with risks, and zero tolerance for deaths would totally stop innovation and improvements.”
The family’s lawyer and spokesperson for Tesla declined to answer whether Tesla and the family had reached a legal settlement.
NTSB Holds Tesla Accountable
Certainly the truck driver and car driver had responsibility in not noticing each other’s vehicles. However, the NTSB also holds Tesla accountable. The Board believes the car needs safeguards such as the following:
Ensuring drivers paid attention and preventing over reliance on the automatic driving.
Allowing drivers only to use the system on highways and limited-access roads as the owner’s manual recommends.
Restricting use on roadways with cross traffic since the autopilot system does not reliably detect cross traffic.
Including further limitations to prevent drivers from misusing the system.
Semi-automatic cars are the bridge between driver controlled cars and completely automated cars. Accidents can occur until the correct balance is achieved and automation changes can actually prevent human errors.
Sackstein Sackstein & Lee, LLP focuses its practice primarily on personal injury cases.