The Importance of Sexual Harassment Training

Sexual harassment training has such a negative connotation in the corporate world. It’s seen as outdated, unnecessary, ineffective and in some cases just plain offensive, but it’s also a necessity in today’s environment.

Sexual harassment training can not just help you avoid costly lawsuits or penalties from the federal government, but it can also strengthen your workplace. When people feel as if they’re in an environment that’s unprofessional or lacking in general standards, their quality of work is likely to suffer as a result. An environment that does nothing to discourage, prevent or punish sexual harassment is also one where productivity may suffer, as employees are distracted with the unprofessionalism surrounding them. It can be damaging to both your employer brand and your overall identity if a word starts circulating your workplace is one that isn’t professional, or could be considered a hostile work environment.

Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, any employer with more than 15 employees is mandated to provide harassment training, and employers can be held legally responsible for the actions of employees in some cases.

If you do take steps to create and implement strict anti-harassment policies that coincide with robust training, you can protect yourself against potential litigation.

Additionally, some states have very strong laws in place dictating how employee harassment training must be handled. Perhaps the most notable of those is California.

Since 2005 California has required employers with 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment training for supervisors within six months of them stepping into these supervisorial roles. In 2014, this harassment training mandate was further expanded, with Governor Brown enacting AB 2053. This legislation says training must also highlight the prevention of abusive conduct, which is the behavior of anyone in the workplace who acts with malice in a way that a reasonable person would deem as hostile, offensive or unrelated to legitimate business interests. Abusive conduct may include verbal abuse, and while the state doesn’t dictate how this training should be carried out, it is required.

With all that being said, many employers find that they’re wary of sexual harassment and hostile workplace training because they don’t see it as worthwhile. That could be the result of the following mistakes, which almost always sabotage harassment training efforts:

Cheesy Videos

The Importance of Sexual Harassment Training

Sexual harassment training almost always includes videos, and while we frequently espouse the benefits of videos as an effective, engaging training tool, these aren’t the types of videos we’re talking about. Dramatic, cheesy or outdated videos aren’t going to train your employees on how to avoid and tackle harassment in the workplace. Instead, they’re going to make your employees feel as if you’re talking down to them, or treating them as if they’re children, which can lead to almost instant disengagement from the content.

Too Focused on the Obvious

Most of your employees know that it’s not appropriate to grab another employee in a sexual way or try to plant a kiss on a coworker. There’s not a lot of need to cover these topics in harassment training, yet this is where content tends to focus. Where the focus should instead be is on the gray areas of sexual harassment, or a general hostile workplace. Employees may not even realize showing graphic pictures on their smartphone, even when done in a joking manner, isn’t acceptable, or they may not know making certain jokes about a coworkers appearance, even when done in jest, could be considered harassment. Rather than focusing training materials on what reasonable employees already know, try to hone in on the less understood areas of harassment and how to prevent it.

No Training on Handling Harassment

Sexual harassment training is often focused on the perpetrators of the harassment. It tells people how not to behave, which is, of course, important, but it’s equally important to train employees on how to handle harassment, either if they’re the victim, or if it’s something they witness. Many employees may not come forward and report negative and harassing behaviors because they really just don’t know the process or how to approach it. Include these topics in your training for the best overall results.

Emphasizing Rules Over Behaviors

Trying to train employees only on rules and standards, rather than actual behaviors isn’t going to be valuable for anyone. Yes, employees should be aware of your sexual harassment policy, but try to focus on what actions represent harassment, how these behaviors can be remedied, and what the appropriate expectations are for all employees.

No Emotionality

One of the best ways to make employee training stick, whether it’s related to sexual harassment or any other important topic, is to evoke a sense of emotion. When sexual harassment training is dry and technical, employees aren’t going to feel connected to it, so they won’t engage, and when they don’t engage, they don’t retain. One of your ultimate goals when creating harassment training should be to evoke emotions on the part of your employees. Use case studies or real-life situations to explain to them not just why harassment isn’t acceptable, but how it impacts the other people in the office.

It’s Only Administered Once

Sexual harassment training should be ongoing. When you only deliver it to employees one time, such as during the onboarding process, not only do employees forget what they learned, but it can become outdated very quickly.

Not Tracking Training

Even if you administer the best sexual harassment training in the country, it’s going to fairly irrelevant if you don’t have proof of that training. Using a learning management system makes it easy to automatically track training completing and progress of all your employees. You can keep these records in a centralized location, which is valuable because it shows you not only where deficiencies may exist, but it also means you have records in case an adverse situation or civil suit does arise.

Devoid of Interactivity

Our final big mistake making this list includes when sexual harassment training isn’t interactive. You may give employees all the information and guidelines, but it’s not likely to resonate without some semblance of interactivity. There is a range of different ways to accomplish this. One way is to ask for feedback and social discussions via e-Learning. You can also create case studies and ask learners to report how they would react to a particular situation. You can then use your learning management system as a way to give instant feedback on how they would handle the situation.

What are your thoughts? What pitfalls have you commonly seen in sexual harassment training?

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