AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) — New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s Office is criticizing a Western New York town and city for not providing sexual harassment training to elected officials, among other government employees.
The state comptroller conducted audits on both the Town of Amherst and the City of Niagara Falls and found state-mandated sexual harassment training to be lacking in 2021.
Every employer in New York State is required to provide employees with sexual harassment prevention training.
According to the audit, in Niagara Falls, 14 employees and five elected officials did not complete their annual training. Plus, the fire department canceled its training for all 131 of its uniformed personnel — due to concerns over COVID — even though training modules were given in-person and online.
The review states: “The Associate Director disseminated an interactive, online module SHP Training to employees with a City email address. In addition, an in-person group training was provided to laborers in the Department of Public Works. The Director told us all newly hired City employees, including Police Department employees, were trained in-person during their orientation. The Police Department’s training officer disseminated a separate interactive, online training module for police officers, and the Fire Chief scheduled an in-person training for the Fire Department’s uniformed personnel.”
In a letter, the city’s administrator, Anthony Restaino, said the city proposed centralization of all sexual harassment prevention through the city’s Human Resources Department.
Meanwhile, in Amherst, even though links and DVDs were given, more than 60 employees did not take sexual harassment training, including three board members, two town judges, the highway superintendent and the town clerk.
Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa told auditors he took the training at the university where he works but did not submit any paperwork to the town. Town officials say that given COVID, there were challenges in getting the training completed.
“It was a horrible time to conduct an audit because obviously we were wrapped with COVID in 2021, a lot of our facilities were shutdown by Governor’s directive, employees couldn’t report to work,” said Bob McCarthy, the personnel director for the Town of Amherst. “We’ve got departments where employees have no computer access or emails or any way to remotely access the training that we were giving.”
“75 percent of our employees aren’t sitting at desks, they’re out on the road, police officers, and highway workers and sewer maintenance guys, they don’t have computers they don’t have email they don’t have access whatsoever,” McCarthy said.
According to the audit, the Amherst Police Department created its own training material and provided in-person training and the Youth and Recreation Department required their employees to complete online training.
As a corrective action, Amherst leaders are going back to doing training in groups.
Sexual harassment prevention was a key issue in 2021, following the resignation of former Governor Andrew Cuomo who was accused of numerous sexual harassment allegations. But, the Comptroller’s Office will not say whether it conducted these reviews in reaction to Cuomo.
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.