Preventing sexual harassment became a dominant workplace issue in 2018, and as 2019 gets underway, HR professionals can expect it to stay in the spotlight. This year brings new anti-harassment legislation and heightened awareness for organizations to more effectively address and prevent sexual harassment, retaliation, unconscious bias and other forms of discrimination.
As #MeToo continues to spark conversations, in and out of the workplace, here are four trends to keep top of mind:
- EEOC is keeping workplace harassment front and center
Promoting respectful workplaces and combating all forms of workplace harassment − whether it’s based on sex, race, color, disability, age, national origin, or religion – remains a top priority of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC’s preliminary sexual harassment data for fiscal year 2018 reflects the agency’s intention to continue to lead the fight against workplace harassment. In FY 2018, there was a 50% increase in sexual harassment lawsuits over FY 2017. Overall, the federal agency recovered nearly $70 million in FY 2018 for targets of sexual harassment, compared to $47.5 million in FY 2017.
- Harassment training continues to evolve
The wave of #MeToo allegations in 2018 underscored the need for harassment training to shift its central focus away from compliance and avoiding liability to raising awareness and motivating positive behaviors and attitudes. Some ways to make training more effective, relevant and appealing to employees include breaking the training material into bite-sized nuggets, and illustrating topics with interactive videos that depict real-world situations that are relatable to employees. Today’s workforce also benefits from mobile-friendly training programs that are accessible on any laptop, tablet or smartphone.
- Expanded training requirements for sexual harassment prevention
In 2018, 32 states introduced or passed more than 125 pieces of legislation on sexual harassment and sexual harassment policies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. California and New York led the legislative charge with stronger anti-harassment laws and training requirements.
In California, SB 1343 requires that employers with five or more employees provide two hours of sexual harassment training to all supervisory employees and one hour of training to all nonsupervisory employees – including temporary and seasonal employees – by January 1, 2020. The law also requires employers to train employees within six months of their promotion to supervisory positions, and then retrain employees every two years.
Under New York’s new workplace harassment laws, employers must conduct annual sexual harassment training for all employees by October 9, 2019. This includes part-time and temporary workers, seasonal workers and exempt and nonexempt employees. In addition to New York State’s training requirements, New York City enacted its own anti-harassment laws, with additional training requirements for NYC employers. Under the Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act, which goes into effect on April 1, 2019, NYC employers with 15 or more employees must start providing sexual harassment training to all employees, and then train annually. New employees must be trained within 90 days of hire.
- Focus on building respectful, inclusive workplace cultures
Building a respectful, inclusive, harassment-free workplace culture is not a turnkey process. It takes many steps, including a long-term commitment by senior management, regularly communicating the organization’s values and expectations for behavior, and a program to promote diversity and inclusion.
Organizations with a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion are better able to build workplace cultures that are free of discrimination and harassment. And studies show that improving workplace diversity and cultural competency — the ability to interact effectively with people of different backgrounds and cultures —can be a competitive advantage in recruiting and retention, customer loyalty, company branding, productivity and the bottom line.
There’s little doubt that 2019 will be a challenging year for HR professionals, as organizations face heightened awareness and expectations to effectively address and prevent all forms of workplace harassment. 2019 also brings new requirements for many employers to revise policies and procedures and provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees and managers. For all organizations, across industries, the new year is an opportunity to cultivate a workplace culture that is safe, respectful and inclusive.