- A contractor will pay $1.5 million to settle claims it ignored "severe" sexual harassment and retaliation, New York’s attorney general announced July 13. Eighteen former employees will share the settlement.
- A state investigation concluded that Trade Off LLC of Long Island subjected "primarily women of color" workers to the harassment and retaliation. The women said managers demanded sexual acts in return for pay and overtime opportunities, among other allegations. Company managers also "failed to take adequate action in response to complaints, and in fact, repeatedly protected harassers from punishment," the AG’s office said.
- Trade Off also agreed to employ an outside monitor for three years, and will create a more comprehensive sexual harassment policy subject for the AG's review. Likewise, it will report regularly to the AG regarding its implementation of policies and investigation of any future sexual harassment complaints.
Human resources departments at construction firms and other businesses should train managers to listen for harassment complaints, acknowledge them and escalate them through the proper channels, employment experts say. For example, managers can be taught to say, "Thank you for raising your concerns with me. I want you to know we take them seriously," and then inform workers about next steps, Jonathan Segal, a partner at Duane Morris LLP, told attendees at a 2018 conference.
If HR follows up with a good-faith investigation and action reasonably calculated to end any improper behavior, an employer will be in a good position to defend any later legal action, employment attorneys say.
But employers can go one step further, working to prevent such misconduct in the first place, according to Elizabeth Bille, senior vice president, workplace culture at EVERFI. Such efforts can include clear messaging and bystander intervention, but will require buy-in from leadership, she said during a 2019 conference. "You've got to have CEOs and chairs of the board, leadership [and] managers" addressing the issue meaningfully, Bille said, "not just once a year but all the time."
The best defense against discrimination or harassment is prevention, industry lawyers told Construction Dive. A contractor’s most effective tool is a robust employee policy, said attorney Erik Ortmann with Kaufman Dolowich Voluck in New York, which puts in place clear rules to foster a nonhostile work environment. Equally important, he said, is to make sure any workplace policy includes a complaint mechanism and a clear outline of the potential disciplinary actions violators could face.
“[Contractors] have to implement the policy and staff it with people who are going to be accountable," Ortmann said.