How Should You Conduct Sexual Harassment Investigations?
It is vital to conduct an investigation as soon as possible when an employer receives a complaint of sexual harassment (or any other type of discrimination harassment). Delays in investigating can be viewed as neglect and as a failure to take effective measures to prevent harassment in the workplace, which makes employers vulnerable to sexual harassment claims.
What Comprises an Effective Investigation?
The EEOC recommends that employers incorporate the following into their investigations to ensure prompt and effective investigations:
Ensure the investigation is conducted immediately, thoroughly and with impartiality. Individuals who are alleged harassers should have no control, whether direct or indirect, over the investigation.
- Those who should be interviewed during the investigation include:
- The employee complaining about harassment
- The alleged harasser(s)
Anyone with relevant information or who would be expected to have reasonable information about the harassment.
Ask the Complainant, Alleged Harassers and Witnesses Specific Questions
The following are some examples of specific questions that the EEOC suggests employers ask during a harassment investigation:
Questions for Complainant
- Who, what, when, where, and how: Who committed the alleged harassment? What exactly occurred or was said? When did it occur and is it still ongoing? Where did it occur? How often did it occur? How did it affect you?
- How did you react? What response did you make when the incident(s) occurred or afterwards?
- How did the harassment affect you? Has your job been affected in any way?
- Are there any persons who have relevant information? Was anyone present when the alleged harassment occurred? Did you tell anyone about it? Did anyone see you immediately after episodes of alleged harassment?
- Did the person who harassed you harass anyone else? Do you know whether anyone complained about harassment by that person?
- Are there any notes, physical evidence, or other documentation regarding the incident(s)?
- How would you like to see the situation resolved?
- Do you know of any other relevant information?
Questions for the Alleged Harasser
- What is your response to the allegations?
- If the harasser claims that the allegations are false, ask why the complainant might lie.
- Are there any persons who have relevant information?
- Are there any notes, physical evidence, or other documentation regarding the incident(s)?
- Do you know of any other relevant information?
Questions for Witnesses
- What did you see or hear? When did this occur? Describe the alleged harasser’s behavior toward the complainant and toward others in the workplace.
- What did the complainant tell you? When did s/he tell you this?
- Do you know of any other relevant information?
- Are there other persons who have relevant information?
Stephen Hans & Associates has decades of experience assisting business owners with employment related issues.
HOW TO PROTECT YOUR SMALL BUSINESS AGAINST SEXUAL HARASSMENT
Q&A that Applies to Sexual Harassment in Small Business Environments
If you are a small business owner, you may wonder how to protect your small business from sexual harassment and resulting claims that put your business at risk.
Here are some questions and answers (Q&A) that are a good place to start when dealing with sexual harassment.
This Q&A relates to harassment by supervisors:
Who is considered a supervisor?
Any individual who has the authority to recommend tangible employment decisions affecting the employee is a supervisor. Tangible employment decisions include significant employment actions that change an employee’s status, such as:
- Work assignment
- Undesirable reassignment
- Significant benefits changes
- Compensation decisions
When are employers liable for a supervisor’s sexual harassment?
Whenever a supervisor engages in harassment that results in a tangible employment action, the employers are always liable. When no tangible employment action occurs, employers are still liable unless they can show the following:
- They took reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct sexual harassment.
- The employee reasonably failed to complain to management or failed to otherwise avoid harm.
What steps should employers take to prevent and correct sexual harassment?
Employers need to establish policy that prohibits harassment, put it in writing and pass it out to all employers.
Employers should create procedures for making complaints and notify employees.
When a business is sufficiently small that the owner is regularly in contact with all employees, the employer does not have to put policies in writing. Employers can tell employees at staff meetings that harassment is not allowed, that employees should report harassment immediately and they can even report incidents of harassment directly to the owner.
The business should conduct a prompt investigation when harassment is reported.
When sexual harassment is discovered, the discipline for the offending employee should be comparable to the extent and type of harassment.
As much as possible, the employer should keep the harassed employee’s identity confidential. Otherwise, if the offender retaliates against the reporting employee, the company could be held liable for the retaliation.
(This Q&A applies to all types of harassment, not just sexual harassment and more information is available in the EEOC article, Questions and Answers for Small Employers on Employer Liability for Harassment by Supervisors ).
Are You Dealing with Sexual Harassment Issues in Your Business?
Stephen Hans & Associates can offer valuable legal assistance to help you protect your business. Our attorneys have more than 20 years of experience defending employers.
Thanksgiving marked the beginning of the holiday season, which ends after New Years Day. This festive time irations with lots of parties, gift giving, dining out and drinking alcoholic beverages.
However, despite the good cheer, statistics show that binge drinking spikes during the holidays, so much so that it makes the rest of the year pale by comparison. More drunk drivers are on the roads than any other time, which ucreases the risk for accidents.
Drunk Drivers Statistics from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day
Alcohol Monitoring Systems (AMS) , runs a campaign called “Sober Days for the Holidays.” According to AMS, DUI rates and deaths increase during the holiday season.
AMS monitored more than 360,000 drunk drivers who were at high risk for alcohol consumption and discovered that the five-week period between Thanksgiving and New Years had 33% more violations than any other time of the year. The monitoring was for drivers who knew they were subjected to tests every 30 minutes, understood they would be arrested for DUI and could be sure they would face legal consequences, such as jail time. Despite all these deterrents, they could not stop themselves from drinking.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that between Thanksgiving and Christmas 728 people will die or suffer injury, a statistic that is double or triple the rest of the year.
As a way to avoid drunk driving during the holiday season, be sure to designate drivers and put transportation plans in place before drinking alcohol. If you see a car weaving in a lane or other evidence of drunken driving, keep your distance.
Consult with Experienced Personal Injury Lawyers
The attorneys at Sackstein Sackstein & Lee, LLP have decades of experienceand success representing clients in vehicle accident cases. When another party appears to be at fault, by investigating the accident, we can often establish liability and help you recover compensation. Contact our firm at (888) 519-6400 to determine whether you have a viable case.
Author: Pyrros & Serres
When you have been hurt on the job and have filed a workers’ compensation claim, it’s pretty common for your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance provider to require that you submit to a medical examination by a doctor chosen by the insurer. It’s important that you understand that you have a number of rights with respect to that examination and it’s important that you know what your rights are.
When you receive the medical exam letter, it can be intimidating and confusing. The letter, which will make reference to an “independent medical exam,” will typically ask you to appear for the examination and to bring a variety of documents or records. Contrary to what the letter suggests, though, the examination will be conducted by a doctor chosen and paid by the insurer, who has a vested interest in making conclusions and diagnoses that are favorable to the insurance company.
Your Rights at the Medical Examination
The letter you receive will indicate whether the doctor plans to videotape the examination. However, regardless of whether the doctor chooses to do so, you always have the right to videotape the exam—you can also audiotape the doctor’s appointment. In addition, there is no rule that requires you to notify the doctor in advance that you will be taping the proceedings. If the letter says you must, ignore it. If you appear for the examination and the doctor says you cannot videotape the exam, you should politely decline to go through the examination.
Why would you want to videotape a medical examination? Because, as we were able to do in a case we handled recently, you may be able to successfully have the insurance company doctor’s report ruled inadmissible, if it has no bearing on your injury or your claim.
Author: Stephen D. Hans
Matt Lauer: One Sexual Harassment Complaint Led to More
As more women are coming forward to claim sexual harassment, other women are also gaining the courage to come forward. This is the current trend in a variety of sexual harassment cases that are hitting the media. Such appears to be the case in the recent reports about Matt Lauer, long time anchor and host of the “Today” show.
Details About the Matt Lauer Sexual Harassment and His Job Termination
According to Fox News , NBC met with Lauer, an alleged victim and her lawyer to confront Lauer about his inappropriate sexual behavior. Since the news broke, it became apparent there was more than one isolated incident. NBC quickly fired Matt Lauer and stated it was the first time they had heard about the sexual harassment allegations.
People magazine reports that eight women have now come forward regarding inappropriate sexual behavior on Matt Lauer’s part.
Lauer has issued a public apology for his actions and for the people he has harmed, and said that although not all aspects of the allegations were true and some he felt were mischaracterized, there was enough truth in them for him to apologize and feel regret and shame. He said his full time job is now to do what he can to repair the damage he has done.
Actions that Make Lauer’s Instance Stand Apart from Other Recent Claims
NBC News acted quickly on the allegations after discovering them. Matt Lauer did not deny that he engaged in sexual misconduct, but instead expressed his regret and indicated he would take action to repair the damage.
As a business, what is the best approach to take when allegations of sexual harassment arise? If you face sexual harassment issues, seek legal counsel as soon as possible and discuss your concerns so you can weigh your options.
Experienced Legal Counsel When Your Business Faces Sexual Harassment Allegations
At Stephen D. Hans & Associates, P.C., we have decades of experiences assisting business owners with sexual harassment and other employment related issues. Call our Long Island City office at (718) 275-6700 to arrange a confidential consultation.
Author: Pyrros & Serres
Workers’ Compensation Hearings – What Happens and Why Are They Scheduled?
When you’ve been injured on the job, one of the first things you’ll do is notify your employer and file a claim for workers’ compensation. In some situations, your claim will be approved without the need for a hearing and your benefits will start within a couple weeks. In most situations, though, you’ll receive a notice that a hearing has been scheduled.
Why You Will Have to Appear at a Hearing After Filing a Workers’ Comp Claim
There are a number of reasons why you’ll have to appear at a hearing after you’ve filed a claim for workers’ compensation:
- Your employer or the workers’ compensation insurance provider may be challenging your claim, arguing that you weren’t hurt on the job
- The insurance company doctor may have concluded that your injuries don’t prevent you from doing your job
- There may be a dispute about your wages or the amount to which you are entitle
At the workers’ compensation hearing, the parties will produce evidence regarding all the issues being contested. You can provide the judge with documentation regarding your pre-accident wages, so that you are awarded the appropriate amount of disability income under the law.
It’s important to understand that your employer and the workers’ compensation insurer will both likely have legal representation at the hearing. In addition, you can’t expect that the judge will take the time to walk you through the process and ensure that your rights are protected. That’s why it’s important to have an experienced workers’ compensation attorney at your side.
Contact an Experienced Workers’ Comp Attorney
At Pyrros & Serres LLP, our attorneys handle all matters related to workers’ compensation claims for people in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and across the greater New York City metropolitan area. Call our office at (718) 626-7730 to schedule a consultation to find out how we can help with your workers’ comp claim.
Winter Weather Driving Tips
Driving in winter weather can be a challenge. Treacherous winter driving conditions range from freezing rain, sleet, snow or simply a drop in temperature causing wet surfaces to turn icy. Understanding some basic ideas about how to drive on ice or in snow can help you prevent accidents.
Recommendations for Driving in Snowy Weather
The American Automobile Association (AAA) recommends the following tips for driving in snowy, winter weather.
- Press down on the gas pedal or brake slowly. Fast acceleration can make you skid or spin. Allow enough time to stop slowly.
- Drive slowly. Driving slowly helps you have enough time to maneuver for gradual acceleration and stopping.
- Increase your driving distance between cars. Understand that you should increase the distance for stopping within three to four seconds to eight to ten seconds.
- Apply smooth brake pressure. Rest the heel of your foot on the floor and press the brake pedal with the ball of your foot for gradual braking.
- Avoid stopping. If at all possible, avoid stopping in snowy weather and keep rolling. For example, roll up to a traffic light so slowly that you can keep rolling until the light changes.
- Do not accelerate driving up hills. You can easily go into a spin when accelerating too much as you climb a hill.
- Do not stop when going up a hill. If the hill is icy, it is difficult to keep the car from spinning as you press the gas pedal to start the car moving again.
- Stay home whenever possible. The best way to avoid snowy weather accidents is to avoid driving in snow. Stay at home if at all possible.
Legal Help If You Have You Been Injured Through the Fault of Another Driver
If you have suffered serious injury in a winter driving accident, you may be able to recover compensation for damages. At Sackstein Sackstein & Lee, LLP, we offer a free initial consultation to discuss your accident and the prospects of pursuing a case. Call (718) 539-3100 to arrange an appointment.
Author: Stephen D. Hans & Associates
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)
- Offensive jokes
- Name calling
- 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.
Author: Bonnie Lawston
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?
The American Bar Association suggests avoiding the following mistakes.
- 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.