Schoharie County

Worker unease topic of Schoharie County’s concern

A probe into allegations of workplace harassment could cost more than $100,000, Schoharie County off

A probe into allegations of workplace harassment could cost more than $100,000, Schoharie County officials said this week.

The county’s Board of Supervisors on Tuesday interviewed representatives of two of several law firms that responded to a request for proposals issued in May. The county is calling for an investigation into complaints made by county employees cut from the payroll last fall.

Legal firms are being asked to survey current and former employees dating back to 2009 in addition to supervisors, elected and appointed department heads and outside agencies.

The board tabled any action on selecting a law firm and the measure may be taken up for a vote next month.

Supervisor Gene Milone, R-Schoharie, who has been calling for a probe since the start of the year, said cost is an important factor but he believes an investigation is necessary.

The request for proposals states the county, through existing policy, encourages individuals who think they are facing discrimination, harassment or intimidation to come forward, but few if any have.

Three employees cut under the 2012 budget alleged mistreatment in lawsuits filed against the county. All three lawsuits were dismissed earlier this month.

One employee alleged that she was passed over for a promotion to the benefit of a younger candidate. Another employee was allegedly yelled at by a department head, and a third alleged he was improperly terminated.

The lack of formal complaints, according to the RFP, brings up suspicion as to whether employees are uncomfortable complaining.

“During the past several years, few if any complaints have been filed by employees alleging unlawful discrimination, harassment and/or intimidation by using [the policy],” the RFP states.

Milone, who has said employees were afraid to complain about mistreatment, believes the county board lacks adequate oversight of department heads he suggests have been “free-wheeling.”

“We need to know if there’s a problem and if there is we have to put policies and procedures in place to ensure the problem goes away and it doesn’t happen again,” Milone said.

He said there’s no real method by which supervisors can address the behavior of department heads.

“There’s no way of addressing it. If you want to write them up, there’s no process for that, there’s no policy for that,” he said.

County Attorney Michael West said there isn’t yet a precise estimate for how much such a probe would cost. But law firms are offering rates between $200 and $300 per hour and the investigation would require interviews of as many as 400 people, which could take between 40 and 60 work days.

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