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Harassment Policy


EEO Complaint Process

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, 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. 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:

  1. Submission to the conduct is made either an explicit or implicit condition of employment;
  2. Submission to or rejection of the conduct is used as the basis for an employment decision affecting the harassed employee; or
  3. 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:

  1. Unwelcome physical contact with sexual overtones, such as touching, patting, pinching, repeatedly "brushing" against someone, or impeding the movement of another person
  2. Sexually offensive comments such as slurs, jokes, epithets, and innuendos
  3. Sexually oriented "kidding" or "teasing," or sexually oriented "practical jokes"
  4. Suggestive or obscene written comments in notes, letters, invitations, or e-mail
  5. Inappropriate, repeated, or unwelcome sexual flirtations, advances, or propositions
  6. Offensive visual contact such as staring, leering, gestures, or displaying obscene objects, pictures, or cartoons
  7. Inappropriate or suggestive comments about another person's physical appearance or dress
  8. 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
  9. 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
  10. Any action taken because of individual's gender that alters the terms, conditions or privileges of employment.

Some other examples of prohibited harassment include:

  1. Offensive comments such as racial or ethnic slurs, jokes, epithets, and innuendos.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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

1. Confidentiality

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.

  1. 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.
  2. Subjecting an individual to any adverse employment action for reporting an incident of harassment or participating in an investigation.
  3. Failing to respond to a co-worker’s call for help or assistance.
  4. Starting to discipline a complainant or witness for conduct that was not previously subject to discipline.
  5. 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.