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Audit finds N.Y. FD skipped harassment training

A review of state-mandated sexual harassment prevention training found the chief of the Niagara Fire Department cancelled the training


By Ben Tsujimoto
The Buffalo News

AMHERST, N.Y. — About 75% of Town of Amherst employees did not complete state-mandated sexual harassment prevention training in 2021, according to a report released last week by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Town Supervisor Brian J. Kulpa on Friday acknowledged the state report but stressed the town’s emphasis on safely providing services during the pandemic that persisted that year.

“We were just happy to keep everyone working,” Kulpa said.

The comptroller’s audit examined 100 people — split into 91 employees and nine elected officials — among 1,006 town employees to determine how many completed the annual training required by state labor law.

Sixty-seven employees had not completed the training, the report found, and eight of nine elected officials also did not. Labor law does not require, but encourages, elected officials to take the training online or in-person.

Kulpa said the training “slipped through the cracks” when town government responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. He said the responsibility to avoid in-person contact to lower the risk of spreading the airborne disease was a factor.

The Highway Department and Town Board, for example, did not have access to their regular workspaces, he said. Large gathering sites including the board chambers — in which trainings would be conducted — were closed.

Organizing COVID-19 trainings for employees, running an emergency operations center and hosting vaccination clinics were priorities of town government, Kulpa said. Providing equipment and instruction for blue-collar workers to complete the training online was an additional hurdle to full compliance.

The audit warned against possible consequences for not completing the training.

“A lack of SHP Training is an ongoing risk to the Town’s ability to provide employees and other individuals in the workplace with an environment free from sexual harassment. Furthermore, the implications of sexual harassment in the workplace can have a far-reaching impact, from the Town’s finances to employee productivity to a safe work environment,” DiNapoli’s report read.

The audit included a formal response by Robert P. McCarthy, the town’s director of human resources, who echoed many of the Covid-19 impacts that Kulpa explained Friday.

Kulpa and McCarthy said the town’s current approach to sexual harassment prevention training is led by department heads, who may offer the training online or in-person, depending on staff access to technology.

McCarthy said about 75% of town employees do not have laptops or email addresses.

Kulpa said it’s important the town not be involved in a sexual harassment case.

“We’re trying to make sure we are accountable,” he said.


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The comptroller’s audit of sexual harassment prevention trainings in the City of Niagara Falls for 2021 found a lack of compliance to a lesser degree, but still exposed problems.

Niagara Falls, with a total of 648 employees and officials, had its audit report published this month. A sample of 65 individuals — 59 employees and six elected officials — found 14 employees (24%) and five elected officials did not finish the training. The report added that training was canceled by the fire chief for all 131 uniformed fire department personnel.

The city’s director of human resources told auditors she was unaware that the fire department canceled its trainings, the report said, and that the city had no system to track completion.

In its response, Niagara Falls Administrator Anthony Restaino said the city would centralize its trainings to its human resources department to better track data.

Amherst is trying to improve as well.

The Amherst Town Board in April passed a resolution, McCarthy said, to form a committee that would meet to study how to continue trainings including sexual harassment prevention during emergency situations and develop an action plan. The Town Board also resolved to update the town’s sexual harassment prevention training and policy as recommended by the state, he said.

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