December 20, 2018
A year after the #MeToo movement sparked a national conversation on sexual harassment in the workplace, sexual harassment training for employees has become a priority for HR professionals and their organizations. An effective sexual harassment training program can reduce the risk of harassment claims, motivate employees to recognize, report and prevent misconduct, and help create a respectful, inclusive workplace culture.
If you’re thinking about new ways to make your sexual harassment training for employees more effective in 2019, here are six essentials to consider:
- Train employees on a regular basis
In its 2016 study of workplace harassment, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) select task force said that regular, interactive training tailored to the organization is an essential step for effectively addressing and preventing harassment. Periodic training keeps employees up to date on changes in regulations, policies and procedures, and is a practical way to keep sexual harassment prevention top of mind throughout the year.
- Require that all employees participate
With the current spotlight on workplace harassment, it seems obvious that sexual harassment training should be a requirement for all employees. However, until recently many organizations only trained managers and supervisors. That’s changing. Since #MeToo, California, New York State and New York City have passed stronger anti-harassment laws that expand sexual harassment training requirements to all employees, including part-time, temporary and seasonal workers. Other states and municipalities are expected to follow.
- Ensure content is relevant and interactive
To hold the attention of often-distracted employees, the content and format of sexual harassment training should be timely, relevant and authentic. As much as possible, the training should use examples, terminology, images and scenarios that are specific to an organization’s industry and workforce. Training should address language and cultural differences, too. Incorporating microlearning, interactive videos and other eLearning tools can bring content to life and make online sexual harassment training more engaging and meaningful. Bite-sized episodes that immerse employees in realistic situations create emotional connections that can have a positive influence on behavior. Instead of a static list of dos and don’ts, video scenarios can dramatize different types of unwelcome conduct, especially subtler forms, and show how quickly it can escalate into illegal harassment or discrimination, if left unchecked.
- Send a clear message that complaints are taken seriously
Workplace sexual harassment is under-reported, which allows bad behavior and a toxic work environment to continue. A fear of retaliation due to the lack of an anti-retaliation training program and a lack of information about the organization’s reporting procedures prevent many individuals from reporting sexual harassment. Training is an opportunity to clearly communicate and reinforce your anti-harassment policy, and explain the complaint process and reporting options. Anti-harassment training should emphasize the importance of reporting concerns about sexual harassment and other inappropriate conduct. Managers’ training should explain the responsibilities and procedures for appropriately addressing all harassment complaints.
- Promote respect, civility and diversity
While effective sexual harassment training should include the relevant laws and regulations, its central focus should be on encouraging positive behavior and promoting a safe, respectful workplace. When the EEOC reconvened its workplace harassment task force in June 2018, Acting EEOC Chair Victoria Lipnic reiterated the need to shift the focus of harassment training away from avoiding legal liability to preventing workplace harassment and promoting respect, civility, diversity and bystander intervention.
- Make training part of a holistic approach to preventing harassment
It may be a cliché to say a check-the-box approach to sexual harassment training doesn’t work, however, since workplace harassment remains a pervasive problem, it’s worth repeating. To be effective, sexual harassment training must be a strategic priority for organizations and senior management, and an integral part of a holistic approach to preventing all forms of harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
Sexual harassment training must continue to evolve to be relevant and effective. These six essentials create a strong foundation for a sexual harassment training program that reinforces your organization’s policies and efforts to address and prevent the pervasive problem of workplace harassment. As part of a holistic approach to preventing sexual harassment and discrimination, training should emphasize what employees and supervisors can do to create and maintain a positive culture of respect, civility and inclusion.