Fix the Boardwalk! Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Can Wait!

Whoever said that elected officials are savvier than the average citizens?


I just read a piece out of Michigan which reported that several commissioners from one county are objecting to a proposal for mandatory sexual harassment prevention training for themselves.

The proposal “would require county commissioners to attend an orientation within 45 days of taking office that included a sexual harassment training from the human resources director. …[and] would also require commissioners to receive a copy of the county’s sexual harassment policy within 90 days and sign an acknowledgement they had read the policy and would comply with its provisions.”

You know … similar to the new laws in New York state and city, and many other places.

The report noted that “all of the county’s 500-plus employees are required to take the sexual harassment training in order to work for the county.”

So why should the commissioners be exempt??

The commissioners were told (quite correctly) by a county official, formerly a county counsel, that “Having a policy and having people sign a policy, having elected officials sign a policy, can protect the county from potential civil liability in the same way that we require our employees to do it. … it’s a good idea if you want to protect yourself. …”

For sure.

But the commissioners were having none of that silly liability stuff.  One said that “in 40 years of working with Fortune 500 companies and attending ‘many different types of training,’ he had never seen a requirement to sign a document agreeing to comply with a policy.”


Was it not explained to him that aside from all of the new laws around the country requiring this, it is also best practices (and standard) at large and small companies?

He also posited an interesting new argument against such mandatory new training, that “he didn’t ‘see the purpose’ of requiring county commissioners – who are elected officials and thus can’t be fired – to sign documents that couldn’t be enforced against them.”

Take that to the court as a defense!!

More aware officials explained to the commissioners that:

“a county commissioner accused of sexual harassment could be a liability for the county, which could be co-named in a lawsuit by a victim. By holding mandatory training and requesting commissioners to acknowledge in writing that they’ve read and understood the county’s harassment policy, the county would have a stronger legal defense that it took all precautions possible to prevent harassment from officials.”

Indeed, one commissioner “expressed bewilderment about the objections being raised about the harassment training. ‘It just strikes me that this is an easy thing to approve of,’ he said. ‘In this day and age, this just seems like a no-brainer. I don’t know why it would be a problem as far as signing it…at least we can be held to account, that we can’t say, ‘Oh gosh and golly, I didn’t know.'”

The last word, however, apparently belonged to one commish who responded that:

“if commissioners were ‘concerned about lawsuits,’ they should focus on the [local] boardwalk … ‘[t]hat is by far probably our greatest hazard, for kids running and jumping in the river, in the water.”


Commish, that may very well be a legitimate concern — but no reason to ignore or object to anti-harassment training, which will cost a pittance compared to just one lawsuit. But let’s face it – what are the odds of an elected official being sued for sexual harassment?

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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]