6 Tips for Developing a Sexual-Harassment Training Program

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HICAGO—In the wake of the #MeToo movement, more states and cities are mandating sexual-harassment training for all workers—not just managers. But even where training isn't required, employers should consider the benefits of creating a program, said Patti Perez at a concurrent session during the SHRM 2018 Annual Conference & Exposition.

The main goal of training should be to ensure a healthy and productive workplace culture, she said. Perez is vice president of workplace strategy at Emtrain, a culture tech company based in California that offers online compliance training.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Complying with California Sexual Harassment Training Requirements]

SHRM supports a discrimination- and harassment-free workplace and believes employers should have effective anti-harassment policies that enable thorough investigations of harassment complaints and hold perpetrators accountable, according to the Society's 2018 Public Policy Issues Guide. "In addition, employers should work toward creating a workplace culture that does not tolerate discrimination or harassment," the guide says.

Anna Fazekas, SHRM-CP, an Annual Conference attendee who works for Active Staffing Services in Jamaica, N.Y., is in the process of creating a training program. She wants to make sure employees are engaged during the training and leave with the information they need.

Here are some tips for developing an engaging and effective training program:

1. Customize Training for Your Workplace

Make sure your training aligns with your organization's mission and values and is consistent with your policies and practices. If workers know an employer is only doing training to "check the compliance box," it won't be effective and could actually have a negative impact on morale, Perez said. "Define it. Live it. Color it in," she added.

2. Don't Just Focus on Legal Compliance

Most state and local laws require trainers to define sexual harassment and to give examples of behaviors that constitute harassment. But trainers should do more than discuss harassment in a purely legal context, Perez said. It's very important to give examples of behaviors that might not be unlawful but are unacceptable at work. Describe that behavior and let employees know the consequences for exhibiting it.

3. Don't Just Show the Obvious

Some sexual-harassment training programs include "obvious and cheesy scenarios," Perez noted. "Oh, that guy grabbed her butt, and that's illegal? Who knew?" she joked. Most workers already know that that behavior is unacceptable. It is important to provide examples of more-nuanced situations that employees are more likely to encounter in the workplace. What if employees overshare details about their dating lives? What if someone stands uncomfortably close or makes inappropriate jokes?

4. Think About Your Training Goals

When developing a training program, employers should work backward, Perez said. Start by thinking about what you want employees to get out of the session. What are the lessons you want employees to learn? Employers probably want workers to identify and report less severe issues so that HR can intervene early and deal with problems before they get out of hand or rise to the level of unlawful harassment. Design a program that addresses the root causes of harassment and other issues in a way that makes sense for your workplace, she suggested.

5. Provide Ongoing Training

It's difficult to include every topic in one session. That's why Perez suggested designing an ongoing harassment-prevention and healthy-workplace program, rather than just one course. Employers should have a subject matter expert design the program. The designer doesn't have to be a lawyer, Perez noted, but he or she should understand anti-harassment laws, as well as the sociological and psychological factors that motivate behavior.

6. Choose a Format

Decide whether to provide live or online training, or a combination of the two. The most important thing is to deliver a quality program, Perez said. Training has to be engaging, relevant, practical and interactive. Live training can have some great benefits, but it's not feasible for all businesses. Consider the size of the organization and any work or geographic constraints when selecting a method. 

Whether the training is online or in person, pay attention to employee responses. "What are the things you are seeing as trends afterward?" Perez asked. Maybe employees asked questions on new topics that should be incorporated into future training. Maybe they didn't understand what early intervention or unlawful retaliation mean. When employers look at the results, they are going to get a road map to take their training to the next level, Perez said.

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