It’s rare for HR training to be exciting. Heck, some even consider it divisive or controversial. That’s particularly true in environments where not all HR employees have the same responsibilities, but all may be approached by other employees with questions or where employees must be trained to deliver difficult news.

Thankfully, controversial topics in HR training do not need to be “deal breakers.” With the right approach, you can handle them relatively easily. In this post, we’ll explore several tips to help deal with controversial topics, as well as identify some of the most sensitive topics your team might have to deal with.

Controversial Topics and HR Training: Tips to Accelerate Success

The Sensitive Topics

Much of what HR does can be considered pretty mundane. Explaining employee benefits and helping employees choose the right insurance tier – these aren’t earthshaking responsibilities. However, some topics can be quite challenging to cover. This is doubly important in a virtual environment if your organization is still working remotely or is following a hybrid work model.

Pay Equity

Pay equity is a critical consideration. It’s really nothing more than paying people the same amount for doing the same type and amount of work. Most states now have equal pay legislation in place that requires men and women to be paid the same if they perform “substantially similar” work.

That protection also extends beyond gender to ethnicity and race. However, pay equity does not necessarily mean “equal pay”. You will still need to account for factors like experience, education, job performance, and tenure. The goal of pay equity HR training should be to ensure that all HR employees can answer questions and/or involve higher-ups in pay-related conversations.


Few topics are as sensitive or controversial as harassment. It could be sexual harassment or some other type, but they are all difficult to cover, particularly in an online training format. Creating successful harassment training programs for your employees will require the use of video, branching scenarios, and simulations that put the learner in someone else’s shoes.

It’s also important that all harassment-related training be supported by state and federal law. Harassment can fall into many different categories, and you’ll need to provide training on all of them.

Tips to Ensure Success

Creating online HR training programs that imbue your team members with the knowledge and skill required for success doesn’t have to be challenging. The tips below will help streamline and simplify the process.


Text has its place in online training. However, if you want your programming to be evocative and successful, you’ll need to focus on using visuals and infographics, videos, and other visual content. HR employees must commit a great deal to memory, and most people learn best by seeing rather than reading.

When text must be used, make sure to choose evocative wording that conveys images accurately and supports the graphics you’ve used. Highlight key takeaways. Put information HR members should retain in small, digestible nuggets.

Social Learning

Real learning doesn’t take place in the classroom. It occurs when people can put knowledge to use. That doesn’t have to be on a work project, though. You can encourage better information retention through social learning. Online discussions, message boards, user forums, and the like all provide the opportunity for your people to interact, share what they’ve learned, and cement knowledge into learning.

Few Distractions

Pay attention to the package – not just the content. Is your user interface minimalistic? Is the focus of the online training the training itself? How many elements distract your learners from the key purpose?

Anything that takes away from the experience or distracts learners from their mission should be eliminated (if possible). User interfaces should be streamlined and not distracting. Reaching the modules they need to complete should require a minimum of hassle.

If your learners must jump through hoop after hoop or deal with distraction after distraction, it’s time to consider a new LMS. Or revisiting your system’s design at the very least.

Role-Play Matters

How do you ensure that your learners are absorbing the information they need? For most, it’s through an assessment of some type. However, there’s good reason to ditch conventional tests and quizzes in favor of more interactive assessment methods.

Role-playing within a simulation provides a much better gauge of how well your learners have mastered the information and also to see how they react within specific situations. It’s even possible to create scenarios that put your HR professionals in challenging situations, such as handling terminations, dealing with harassment, and the like. Branching scenarios can also be used to help employees explore how they might interact with someone in the real world and what the repercussions of their actions would be.

Provide Feedback

HR learners don’t succeed in a vacuum. They need regular feedback. However, this will require that you take a more active hand in analyzing employee assessments, gauging scores, and communicating with HR employees. It’s also important that you seek out feedback from your learners rather than only providing feedback to them. It’s a two-way street. Plus, their feedback can help you create a more streamlined, effective training system that results in better outcomes for everyone.

Building Your Training Program

Online HR training provides many benefits. It’s fast, effective, and flexible. However, using it accurately will require a strategy and intentionality. It will also mean finding ways to cover sensitive and controversial topics in sufficient depth to build expertise in your team.

It’s also important to provide your employees with the opportunity to test their knowledge and skills in a variety of ways. Online social interaction can reinforce learning and deepen understanding of topics. Simulations and role-playing can help employees explore how real-life interactions might occur, refine their strategies and approaches, and adapt.

Of course, having a modern learning management system (LMS) is critical here. If your current LMS is not up to the task, or you have yet to implement one in the first place, contact eLeaP to learn more about our system and how it can support your organization.