Workplace harassment claims drop in New York State in 2013

Workplace discrimination and harassment in New York State has recently seen a dramatic drop in claims made by employees.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recently released its 2013 report of harassment and discrimination. It found that New York’s reported charges decreased to 3,550, a drop of 9 percent from 2012.

New York State accounts for just fewer than 4 percent of the United States’ total reported workplace discrimination and harassment claims.

An infographic of this New York state data was compiled by The Network, a firm that provides governance, risk and compliance solutions that can help organizations create better, more ethical workplaces.

Jimmy Lin, vice president of product management and corporate development at The Network said that the decrease in reported harassment and discrimination charges shows that businesses are putting more time and thought into their employee training programs. He said they are ensuring employees understand what harassment and discrimination is and what they should do if an incident occurs.

“Instilling strong ethics in employees from day one is crucial in establishing an ethical workplace that’s free of harassment and discrimination,” Lin said.

According to Lin, this most recent assessment has yielded the largest drop in charges since 2009, when harassment and discrimination charges decreased by 7 percent.

There are a variety of reasons to explain why the numbers may be reduced. Courts are placing more burdens on the complainant to prove he or she has experienced a violation of a policy.

— Karen Clinton Jones, SUNY Buffalo State's chief diversity officer

SUNY Buffalo State’s Chief Diversity Officer Karen Clinton Jones agreed that most businesses are not only requiring new employee training, but also manager and supervisor training relating to “creating a respectful workplace.” However she said caution should be exercised when looking at why the number of cases dropped so drastically, as the EEOC’s examination of reported cases should not be taken as proof that workplace harassment has decreased.

“There are a variety of reasons to explain why the numbers may be reduced,” Clinton Jones said. “Courts are placing more burdens on the complainant to prove he or she has experienced a violation of a policy.”

Clinton Jones said with a shift in employment opportunities, employees are now more likely to simply find another job when they experience harassment.

The office of New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman outlines several steps an employee should take if they feel they are a victim of harassment or discrimination.

First, the person should contact the person at their business who is designated to handle these charges- such as human resources. Second, the office advises contacting an attorney as responses can change on a case-by-case basis. Complaints can also be filed with the Attorney General’s Office, the New York State Division of Human Rights and the EEOC. Finally, an employee can file a lawsuit against their employer in state or federal court.

Clinton Jones said that while harassment and discrimination in the workplace will always be present to some degree, there are things employers can do to reduce these events.

“Employers as a whole have always executed policies relating to harassment and discrimination,” Clinton Jones said. “While I would like to believe you can eliminate discrimination and harassment, the reality is that it is nearly impossible to do. You can minimize the occurrence.”

Clinton Jones said that the best way organizations can limit harassment is to take immediate action when an issue arises and find a way to prevent it from happening again. This could include disciplining the offender, up to and including firing them.

Lin said that an additional problem is that managers don’t always know how to deal with harassment and discrimination reports.

“Incidents are often buried by middle managers who do not respond properly, or by the time issues escalate, are afraid to get additional help from above,” Lin said.

Lin said that educating employees on exactly what constitutes discrimination or harassment is also important. He said that all companies should have a solid code of conduct and anti-harassment policy, as well as step-by-step instructions on how to report a violation of those policies.

Lin also said that to prevent these issues from occurring, people need to stay informed about them.

“Training methods also need to be brought up-to-date,” Lin said. “A comprehensive workplace harassment training program needs to include periodic education as well as follow-up awareness learning and ongoing awareness communications – it can’t be viewed as a ‘once and done’ exercise.”

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