Jesse L. Burnette, Director of EEO
The Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) investigates harassment complaints and monitors equal employment and affirmative action policy and procedures. It also audits county contracts to maintain participation goals for Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) and Women owned Business Enterprises (WBE), and monitors the county's personnel and hiring procedures to assure compliance with the County's affirmative action plan.
Erie County Harassment Policy
- I. Statement of Philosophy
The County of Erie is committed to maintaining a work environment free of unlawful discrimination and harassment, and will not tolerate harassment of its employees by any supervisor, coworker, patient, vendor, client, or any other person.
In accordance with applicable law, the County of Erie prohibits all forms of harassment which includes any unwelcome conduct, whether verbal, physical, or visual, that is based upon a person's gender, race, color, national origin, religion, creed, physical or mental disability, marital status, age, sexual orientation, genetic predisposition, military status, domestic violence victim status or any other basis protected by federal, state or local law. Such conduct is unlawful and prohibited whenever it affects tangible job benefits, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
- II. Forms of Harassment
Sexual harassment consists of unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, visual, and physical conduct of a sexual nature whenever:
- Submission to the conduct is made either an explicit or implicit condition of employment;
- Submission to or rejection of the conduct is used as the basis for an employment decision affecting the harassed employee; or
- The harassing conduct unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
Sexual harassment can involve an almost infinite variety of conduct and can occur between individuals of the same sex. Some examples include:
- Unwelcome physical contact with sexual overtones, such as touching, patting, pinching, repeatedly "brushing" against someone, or impeding the movement of another person
- Sexually offensive comments such as slurs, jokes, epithets, and innuendos
- Sexually oriented "kidding" or "teasing," or sexually oriented "practical jokes"
- Suggestive or obscene written comments in notes, letters, invitations, or e-mail
- Inappropriate, repeated, or unwelcome sexual flirtations, advances, or propositions
- Offensive visual contact such as staring, leering, gestures, or displaying obscene objects, pictures, or cartoons
- Inappropriate or suggestive comments about another person's physical appearance or dress
- Exchanging or offering to exchange any kind of employment benefit for a sexual concession, e.g., promising a promotion or raise in exchange for sexual favors
- Withdrawing or threatening the withdrawal of any kind of employment benefit for refusing to grant a sexual favor, e.g., suggesting that an individual will receive a poor performance review or be denied a raise unless she [he] goes out on a date with a supervisor
- Any action taken because of individual's gender that alters the terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
Some other examples of prohibited harassment include:
- Offensive comments such as racial or ethnic slurs, jokes, epithets, and innuendos.
- Conduct oriented "kidding" or "teasing," or "practical jokes" based on a person’s race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed, physical or mental disability, marital status, age, sexual orientation, genetic predisposition, military status, domestic violence victim status or any other basis protected by federal, state or local law.
- Harassing conduct based on gender, race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed, physical or mental disability, marital status, age, sexual orientation, genetic predisposition, or military status, domestic violence victim status or any other basis protected by federal, state or local law that unreasonably interferes with an employee's work performance or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.
- Any action taken because of individual's gender, race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed, physical or mental disability, marital status, age, sexual orientation, genetic predisposition, or any other basis protected by federal, state or local law that alters the terms, conditions or privileges of employment.
- III. Applicability of Policy
The prohibition against harassment applies to everyone -- managers, supervisors, salaried and hourly workers, temporary employees, contractors, customers, patients, suppliers, visitors, guests, elected officials and appointed administrative officials. The County of Erie will not tolerate harassment of any kind by anyone.
- IV. Reporting Illegal Harassment
While the County encourages individuals who believe they are being harassed to firmly and promptly notify the offender that his or her behavior is unwelcome, the County also recognizes that such a confrontation may be uncomfortable or even impossible. In the event that such informal, direct communication between individuals cannot be accomplished for any reason, or is ineffective or inappropriate given the circumstances or severity of the situation, the following steps should be taken to file a formal harassment complaint:
- 1. Notify Appropriate Staff
Individuals who believe they have been sexually harassed or subject to harassment because of race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed, physical or mental disability, marital status, age, sexual orientation, genetic predisposition, military status, domestic violence victim status, or any other basis protected by federal, state or local law, should immediately report the incident to his or her direct supervisor. If the supervisor is the alleged harasser or the employee is uncomfortable reporting the alleged harassment to his or her supervisor, the incident should be reported directly to his or her Department Head. In the event that the circumstances of the situation make it inappropriate to report the incident should the individual's supervisor or to his or her Department Head, the incident should be reported to another Department Head, or to the County's Equal Employment Opportunity Director at 858-7542. Employees may also file a complaint on line at www.erie.gov/depts/eeo. Employees, supervisors, and managers must report any incident of sexual harassment or harassment because of race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed, physical or mental disability, marital status, age, sexual orientation, genetic predisposition, military status, domestic violence victim status, or any other basis protected by federal, state or local law they may observe or become aware of, even if they are not the target or victim of such harassment.
- 2. Prepare Written Report of Misconduct
An accurate record of objectionable behavior or misconduct is needed to resolve a formal complaint of harassment. Even reports of harassment must be submitted to the Equal Employment Opportunity Officer for investigation. Individuals who believe they have been or currently are being harassed should maintain a record of objectionable conduct in order to prepare effectively and to substantiate their allegations.
- 3. Promptly Report the Complaint
The County of Erie encourages a prompt reporting of complaints so that a rapid response and appropriate action may be taken. A prompt report not only aids the complainant, but also helps to maintain an environment free from discrimination for all employees. Such reports will be handled according to the policy for reporting such incidents as directed by the County Executive.
V. Investigating the Complaint
Any allegation of harassment will be promptly investigated. Confidentiality will be maintained throughout the investigatory process to the extent practical and appropriate under the circumstances.
- 2. Investigation Process
The County of Erie will thoroughly and quickly investigate any incident of sexual harassment or harassment because of race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, creed, physical or mental disability, marital status, age, sexual orientation, genetic predisposition, military status, domestic violence victim status, or any other basis protected by federal, state or local law and will try to take the wishes of the complainant under consideration, keeping the complainant informed as to the status of the investigation.
VI. Discipline for Engaging in Harassment
Depending on the nature and seriousness of the offense, the County will impose all appropriate discipline, up to and including termination, against any manager, supervisor, or employee found to have engaged in sexual harassment or other forms of harassment.
When a customer, guest, patient or other person not employed by the County is found to have engaged in harassment against a County of Erie employee, the County will advise the person and his or her employer if applicable of the County's policy against such harassment, and will take such other action as is appropriate under the circumstances.
VII. Protection Against Retaliation
The County of Erie will not in any way retaliate against an individual who makes a complaint of harassment or against any participant in the investigation, nor will it permit any supervisor/manager or employee to do so. Retaliation is defined as treating any employee or applicant differently because he or she opposed an unlawful employment practice or made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing. Retaliation is a serious violation of this harassment policy and should be reported immediately. Any person found to have retaliated against another individual for reporting any harassment will be subject to the same disciplinary action described above (see §VI).
Examples of retaliation are:
Treating someone who has reported an incident of harassment or participated in an investigation differently than other employees (i.e. "cold shoulder") and/or differently than you treated the individual in the past.
Disciplining an individual without justification, making negative comments, reducing individual's responsibility, denying a transfer, requiring a transfer, giving unfavorable evaluations or work schedules, scrutinizing an individual's work, etc. (without justification) after that person reported an incident of harassment or participated in an investigation.
- Encouraging or ordering other staff to retaliate on your behalf against an individual who has reported an incident of harassment or participated in an investigation.
- Subjecting an individual to any adverse employment action for reporting an incident of harassment or participating in an investigation.
- Failing to respond to a co-worker’s call for help or assistance.
- Starting to discipline a complainant or witness for conduct that was not previously subject to discipline.
- Engaging in other behavior that can reasonably be construed to be retaliatory.
VIII. Legal Remedies for Harassment
Employees or job applicants who believe they have been harassed or retaliated against in violation of this policy should first file an internal complaint with their supervisor, department head and/or the Director of the Equal Employment Opportunity office at 858-7542. If an employee or job applicant is dissatisfied with the response he or she may file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission at (716)551-4441 and/or the New York State Division of Human Rights (716)847-7632, which are authorized to investigate the allegations in the complaint. Employees or applicants may also contact a private attorney or union representative should they believe they have been subjected to any form of harassment or retaliation.
Rev: 05/17, 06/09 (as per policy12/06)
Erie County Division of Equal Employment Opportunity
Director: Jesse L. Burnette
Contact Us: Phone: (716) 858-7542
Erie County Rath Building
95 Franklin Street, Room 625
Buffalo, NY 14202
The Erie County Office of Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) is, in part, charged with developing and administering Equal Employment and Affirmative Action programs pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Equal Employment Opportunity Act of 1972, and in accordance with the laws of New York State and the County of Erie. Services and programs are provided for the benefit of all County residents without regard to race, sex, religion, age disability, national origin, marital status, color or status as a Vietnam-era veteran. The EEO Office is responsible for investigation of harassment complaints and monitoring of equal employment and affirmative action policy and procedures for all units of the County government. Mandated reports to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other regulatory authorities are compiled and filed by this office.
The EEO Office audits county contracts for goods, services, and construction to maintain participation goals for Minority Business Enterprises (MBE) and Women owned Business Enterprises (MBE). Services are provided to facilitate MBE and WBE access to County contracts. County departments, agencies and administrative units are monitored for compliance with the utilization plan for MBE’s on County contracts for professional, technical and consulting services.
Finally, the EEO Office monitors the County’s personnel and hiring procedures to assure compliance with the County’s affirmative action plan. A job bank is also available to assist county departments and local businesses in recruiting county residents for employment.
The mission of the EEO Office is to help build an inclusive workforce in an environment that fosters dignity and respect for the individual through best customer practices and focus on the taxpayer, and cultivates business and economic development opportunities for minority and women owned businesses.
There are two major EEO services: (1) complaint investigation; and (2) affirmative action administration. Diversity and harassment training is coordinated county-wide through the Department of Personnel.
Training is provided by the Department of Personnel to County employees and supervisors regarding harassment, discrimination, and retaliation policies and practices and managing work place diversity programs. For information on training schedules, please contact Patricia Brammer, Training Coordinator at 858-7675.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if I am contacted by the Division of EEO?
You should respond to any contact by the Division of EEO promptly. EEO investigations are subject to strict time limitations. Any delay in responding on your part may result in a delay of the investigation. It is in the best interest of all County employees that a prompt investigation occurs.
What if I am named as the alleged harasser/respondent?
If you are named as the alleged harasser/respondent, you have a significant interest in participating in the EEO process. Your participation provides you with the opportunity to refute the allegations and/or give your side of the story, and reduces the potential of a hostile work environment. If you do not participate in the process, the Division of EEO still has a legal obligation to continue the investigation and make a determination. Thus, it is in your best interest to participate.
If you are named as the alleged harasser/respondent you should try not to take it personally. Above all else, you should not engage in any adverse employment action against the complainant or other participants in the EEO process that could be construed as retaliation for the filing of the complaint or participation in the EEO process.
What if I am contacted by EEO because I was identified as a potential witness to the alleged harassment, but I don’t know anything about it?
If you are identified as a potential witness to the harassment, your participation is just as important as that of the complainant or respondent. Even if you think you don’t know anything about the harassment, you should still contact the EEO Office and schedule a time to meet with the Investigator.
Can I bring someone with me when I go to talk to the EEO investigator?
If you belong to a union you are allowed to have union representation if you so choose.
Can I be retaliated against for participating in the EEO process?
No, under state and federal law, and Erie County’s Harassment Policy, everyone who participates in an EEO investigation is protected from retaliation by their supervisors or coworkers. Retaliation for participation in the EEO process is itself a prohibited form of harassment.
Is my participation in the EEO process confidential?
The Division of EEO cannot guarantee that the fact of your participation in an EEO investigation will remain confidential; however, EEO strives at all times to keep the substance of employee communications confidential. Information about investigations is given out on a strictly need to know basis.
Illegal Harassment is a form of employment discrimination that violates the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Age Discrimination in the Employment Act of 1967, the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, (ADA) and the New York Executive Law.
Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, military status, marital status, creed, familial status, arrest or conviction record, and/or age and/or any other category protected by New York State and/or Federal Law. Harassment becomes unlawful where 1) enduring the offensive conduct becomes a condition of continued employment, or 2) the conduct is severe or pervasive enough to create a work environment that a reasonable person would consider intimidating, hostile, or abusive. Anti-discrimination laws also prohibit harassment against individuals in retaliation for filing a discrimination charge, testifying, or participating in any way in an investigation, proceeding, or lawsuit under these laws; or opposing employment practices that they reasonably believe discriminate against individuals, in violation of these laws.
Petty slights, annoyances, and isolated incidents (unless extremely serious) will not rise to the level of illegality. To be unlawful, the conduct must create a work environment that would be intimidating, hostile, or offensive to reasonable people. However, Erie County strives to maintain an environment that is free of discriminatory behavior and attempts to be more conservative than the law allows. Accordingly, even minor incidents should be addressed by supervisors by either a verbal counsel or other documented means. Supervisors are encouraged to consult with Erie County Equal Employment Opportunity Office at 858-7542, Erie County Labor Relations at 858-8476, or the Erie County Attorney’s Office at 858-2200, for advice if they have any questions regarding the appropriate handling of the situations.
Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats (these also should separately be referred and addressed in accordance with the Erie County Workplace Violence Prevention Policy), intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance. Harassment can occur in a variety of circumstances, including, but not limited to the following:
The harasser can be the victim’s supervisor, a supervisor in another area, an agent of the employer, a co-worker, or a non-employee.
The victim does not have to be the person harassed, but can be anyone affected by the offensive conduct.
Unlawful harassment may occur without economic injury to, or discharge of, the victim.
Prevention is the best tool to eliminate harassment in the workplace. Employers are encouraged to take appropriate steps to prevent and correct unlawful harassment. They should clearly communicate to employees that unwelcome harassing conduct will not be tolerated. They can do this by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process, providing anti-harassment training to their managers and employees, and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains. Employers should strive to create an environment in which employees feel free to raise concerns and are confident that those concerns will be addressed.