The Importance of Workplace Sexual Harassment Training

Jul 17, 2018
| David Pearson
sexual harassment training

2017 brought workplace and sexual harassment into the spotlight due to various scandals, with many involving well-known individuals. Perhaps the most high-profile of these – the Harvey Weinstein scandal – culminated in recent weeks when he was indicted on numerous charges stemming from sexual harassment allegations.

As these scandals became more prevalent, and the #MeToo movement began, attention started to shift to employers and how they were taking actions to address and prevent workplace harassment.

Two areas in particular – policies and training – are seen as most important for employers to improve in order to achieve this important goal.

XpertHR Sexual Harassment Survey Results

In February 2018, XpertHR conducted a survey of HR professionals that asked various questions around sexual harassment in the workplace. In total, there were over 500 participants from small, medium, and large employers.

Two of the areas the survey focused on were sexual harassment policies and the training that takes place in organizations to prevent it in the workplace.

The results showed that 92% of HR professionals said their organization had a formal sexual harassment policy in place.

When asked if organizations would be updating their policies in 2018, the results were mixed:
  • 37% said they would
  • 26% said they wouldn’t
  • 35% were unsure

Next, the survey explored sexual harassment training. When asked if their organization offered training:
  • 74% said their company does offer sexual harassment prevention training
  • 22% said their company doesn’t offer prevention training
  • 3% said they didn’t know

In addition, the report asked HR professionals if their employer was planning to offer additional training in 2018:
  • 30% said yes
  • 43% said they were unsure
  • 27% said their organization wasn’t planning to offer

Lastly, the survey showed that 18% of organizations are planning to offer bystander training in 2018, with 51% saying they were unsure if their employer was planning this type of training.

Training is Critical to Workplace Sexual Harassment Prevention

For employers looking to improve their efforts to prevent harassment in their workplace, while policies are an important first step, mandatory training is a necessity.

It’s important for employers to ensure their employees understand updated and enhanced workplace harassment policies in order for them to be as impactful as possible.

With some state and local laws making harassment training mandatory, employers who lack sufficient training face potential penalties even if no grievances occur.

Effective sexual harassment training should take multiple forms, including:
  • In-person seminars and interactive sessions
  • Online training
  • Meetings with external organizations (both in-person and virtually)

Additionally, mandatory training sessions should cover and discuss certain topics, and be conducted in specific ways. For example:
  • Training should be interactive
  • Provide examples of what would be considered sexual harassment
  • Thoroughly go through all company policies
  • Provide information on state and federal workplace harassment laws
  • Give information on the rights employees have and all available methods for an employee to file a grievance
  • Tailored to each organization and audience
  • Conducted on a regular basis, and whenever a policy change or update occurs
  • Include how to report a grievance and the investigation process
  • Discuss the importance of bystander intervention
  • Be mandatory for ALL employees regardless of title or position

Preventing workplace harassment must be a key objective for every business, and ensuring a strong training program is a critical step to ensuring a safe and healthy working environment for all employees.

Workplace Sexual Harassment Legislation Will Impact Policies, Training, and Organizations

Even before the scandals in 2017, state and local governments were starting to take legislative action to address harassment in the workplace.

Just recently, both New York State and New York City enacted anti-harassment laws that went into effect in April 2018. These laws require employers in New York and New York City to have sexual harassment policies and training that meet standards set by the government.

Failing to comply with the standards set by the laws could lead to fines and penalties for employers in New York and New York City, in addition to employee lawsuits.

It is also expected that more states and municipalities will enact their own anti-sexual harassment laws, meaning that employers will need to update their existing policies, procedures, and training if they are impacted.

Working with HR compliance and risk management experts can help smaller employers ensure that they have effective policies and training materials in place to help prevent workplace harassment, and ensure that they remain compliant with all federal, state, and local laws.

Doing so will ultimately create safer and happier working environments for employees, which employers need to ensure and provide to their workforce.

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