Q. As a small business owner, am I obliged to offer formal sexual harassment training for my employees?

Kimberly Page Walker, a shareholder of Williams Parker Harrison Dietz & Getzen law firm and board certified by the Florida Bar Association in labor and employment law, answers: If an employer can be sued for sexual harassment, the employer should provide sexual harassment training to educate its employees on the law, significantly decrease the employer's risk, and provide a defense to many harassment claims.

However, unlike California, Florida currently has no law mandating training. Likewise, federal law has not yet mandated training, but the U.S. Supreme Court explained the risk associated with not training: In the 1998 case Farragher v. City of Boca Raton, the Supreme Court decided that an employer that takes reasonable steps to prevent harassment (distributing an appropriate sexual harassment policy, providing training and complying with its policy) has a complete defense to various types of harassment claims. Employers that do not provide this training do not have this defense. This case and federal and state sexual harassment laws cover most employers with 15 or more employees. A city of Sarasota ordinance prohibiting discrimination and harassment applies to most entities that employ at least five employees.

Recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settlements evidence the EEOC's position on training. A Wall Street investment company settled with the EEOC for $54 million, and of that settlement, $2 million was mandated to be devoted directly to diversity programs and training on anti-discrimination laws. In another settlement for $1 million, the EEOC required annual training at its offices to prevent future discrimination. Another company settled a claim with the EEOC for $475,000, and was required to implement and oversee management-level training programs on anti-discrimination.

Kim Walker can be reached at (941) 329-6628, or kwalker@williamsparker.com.

Q. I'm thinking of relocating my cabinet installation business from New Jersey to Sarasota County. How can I go about finding worker's compensation insurance?

Chris Dunn, an insurance agent with Ludwig-Walpole Insurance in Sarasota, answers: The insurance marketplace in Florida is unique compared to the national market as a whole, especially in the area of workers' compensation. In Florida, rates are established by the state. Individual companies may offer certain discounts and rate modifications based on past claims experience. Typically most companies will want to see a minimum of three years claims experience (in-state) along with a requirement to have a certain number of employees and officers covered (usually two or five).

These criteria make it difficult for a small operation to find coverage in the voluntary market. You may even have to look into the Florida Workers Compensation Joint Underwriting Association, commonly referred to as the JUA. This is the state pool, or insurer of last resort. There are many reasons why you should look to the voluntary market, including the fact that the JUA charges a sizable surcharge above the set rates. I would highly suggest you research the options available to your particular situation.

First, contact an agent who is familiar with current market conditions in Florida. Do not hesitate to ask for referrals to other agents if the first one you contact is unable to assist you. A good starting point for finding local agents is on the member locator section of the Florida Association of Independent Agents Web site, www.faia.com. You may also want to look at www.fwcjua.com, which contains a very helpful Q&A section.

Keep in mind that in Florida, even if you are exempt from carrying workers' compensation, the statute is very clear: You as an employer will be responsible for any loss that would have been covered, plus any immunity to legal recourse offered by workers' compensation is lost.

Chris Dunn can be reached at (941) 487-1244, or www.insuresarasota.com.

If you have a workplace-related question you'd like to ask the experts, please e-mail Ilene Denton at ilened@sarasotamagazine.com.

Filed under
Show Comments