HR Magazine, May 2000: Screening for Harassment

By Kathryn Gravdal May 1, 2000

HR Magazine, May 2000

Vol. 45, No. 5

A review of a dozen anit-harassment training video

Numerous videos make a similar claim—that they can help you teach employees to understand and avoid sexual harassment. Yet these products are far from interchangeable. In fact, they can vary in a number of important ways, including length, style, goals and price.

So, how can you tell which one is right for you?

When selecting a video geared to sexual harassment prevention, HR professionals and trainers need to consider at least three key elements:

  • Who is the intended audience? Is the video geared toward office workers, health care workers, factory workers, managers?
  • What is the format of the video? Can it be used as a stand-alone, or does it require a trainer?
  • What is the goal of the video? Is it to teach basic working definitions? To explore the gray areas of the law? To give detailed instruction explaining how to hande sexual harassment complaints?

Thankfully, today’s HR professionals have a wide variety of options. This article seeks to answer these questions—and to provide an index of the respective strengths and weaknesses—of 12 widely used videos.

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace…Identify. Stop. Prevent. II (24 minutes) Cost: $795
American Media Inc.
4900 University Ave.
West Des Moines, IA 50266-6769
(800) 262-2557

Sexual Harassment in the Workplace…Identify. Stop. Prevent. II, simulates a corporate training session. An actress portrays a trainer who visits a company office and leads a session on sexual harassment prevention. The “trainer” shows film clips from a “training video” and explains legal definitions of sexual harassment. She then fields questions from office employees, whose attitudes range from eager to indifferent to skeptical.

The weakness of this video is in the “film clips.” They represent highly stereotypical images of sexual harassment, such as an office manager hounding his secretary to go on a business trip with him and co-workers placing pornographic photographs on a woman’s computer screen.

In a day and age in which sexual harassment is very much on the public agenda, employees usually grasp the basic concept. The issues that need to be addressed most are those that fall in gray areas, and these are not addressed in this film.

It is worth noting, however, that a highly useful training manual accompanies this and all of the videos produced by American Media Inc. The manual includes tips for trainers who lead discussions of the video. It also includes legal definitions and documents that can be reproduced for participants.

Sexual Harassment: Is It or Isn’t It? II Situations for Discussion
(21 minutes) Cost: $795

Sexual Harassment: Is It or Isn’t It? II Manufacturing Version
(17 minutes) Cost: $795

Sexual Harassment: Is It or Isn’t It? II for Health Care
(17 minutes) Cost: $495

American Media Inc.

(See previous review for contact information.)

Sexual Harassment: Is It or Isn’t It? II is more than a single video—it’s a series. The series has been updated to reflect two significant U.S. Supreme Court decisions from 1998: Ellerth v. Burlington Industries and Faragher v. the City of Boca Raton. In those decisions, the Supreme Court held that businesses that lack a policy about sexual harassment have no affirmative legal defense in lawsuits and will be liable for the actions of their employees.

One of the tapes in this series, Situations for Discussion, attempts to tackle the gray areas of sexual harassment. The video consists of vignettes covering a useful and wide range of situations, including male-on-male harassment and employee-vendor harassment. It can be shown by a trainer or used as a stand-alone teaching tool.

The video is introduced and narrated by an attorney, Greg Naylor, who explains basic legal concepts, such as the difference between quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment. After each vignette, Naylor explains why the scenario did or did not represent sexual harassment.

The Is It or Isn’t It? series also includes versions specifically tailored to the health care and manufacturing industries. As with Situations for Discussion, Naylor narrates these videos and offers a legal perspective on each dramatization. á

The health care version is outstanding in its dramatization of the difficulty of identifying sexual harassment in this arena. For example, in one vignette, a male nurse reaches out to a female patient to remove the sling from her arm. As he tries to undo the sling, he touches her chest. The patient recoils with indignation and exclaims, “What are you doing?”

The narrator points out that physical contact is an integral part of health care and cannot be eliminated. The nurse’s action does not constitute sexual harassment. To prevent such situations, the narrator counsels, health care workers should explain to patients any physical actions they are about to perform before carrying them out.

In a second vignette, the video shows a hospital volunteer hounding another volunteer for a date. Is it sexual harassment if neither party is an employee of the hospital? Yes, it is, Naylor explains: Organizations are responsible for monitoring the behavior of vendors and clients, as well as volunteer workers, while on their premises.

Yet another example of the breadth of an organization’s responsibility, the health care video incorporates a scene in which a hospital patient shows a nurse a “girlie” calendar that he plans to post on the wall of his room. Once again, although the patient is not an employee of the hospital, this situation constitutes sexual harassment for the nurse. The nurse’s supervisor should step in and explain to the patient that the calendar is inappropriate, offensive to the staff and may not be displayed.

Curiously, the manufacturing version of the video portrays various examples of sexual harassment in a surprisingly graphic way. First, in a cafeteria scene, three workers actually tell a series of offensive sexual jokes. Next, in a vignette intended to demonstrate that ogling and leering are examples of hostile environment harassment, the camera lingers in close-up shots over various parts of an actress’s anatomy.

In yet another example of hostile environment harassment, the video shows a worker pointedly grabbing at his crotch in a suggestive way. (In fact, it shows the gesture twice.) Despite its merits, the manufacturing version might make some viewers uncomfortable.

Subtle Sexual Harassment Program I: The Issue is Respect
(28 minutes)

Program II:Management’s New Responsibilities
(28 minutes) Cost: $425
Quality Media Resources
10929 SE 23rd St.
Bellevue, WA 98004
(425) 455-0558

From the opening frames of Subtle Sexual Harassment: The Issue is Respect, one realizes that this video stands out from the crowd. It begins with interviews of actual victims of sexual harassment. The video pursues the interview technique throughout, using 10 experts (psychologists, lawyers and human resource specialists) to explain and comment on sexual harassment.

The video has two goals: to avoid titillating images of sexual harassment and to examine the less obvious and more confusing aspects of sexual harassment.

In addition to interviews, this video includes a series of dramatizations using actors. But the film does not discuss or dramatize the most sensational forms of abuse. Rather, it portrays subtle and complex hypothetical cases.

In one dramatization, we are told that two co-workers, Anne and Bill, previously had a relationship. Anne is promoted to a supervisory position and has the opportunity to promote one of her employees—either Bill, her former lover, or a woman named Judy. If Anne promotes Bill, will Judy be a victim of sexual harassment? If she promotes Judy, will Bill be a victim of retaliation?

Experts comment on the dramatized scenario and interpret the segment according to their experience and views. Most agree that both Bill and Judy could potentially become victims of retaliation or sexual harassment.

A handbook, which can be used with or without a trainer, accompanies The Issue is Respect. It provides useful directions, suggestions for presenting the video and a script for a trainer.

The video’s companion, Management’s New Responsibilities, is only slightly less effective. Like The Issue is Respect, Management’s New Responsibilities interviews the same expert witnesses, who comment on four brief dramatizations.

This video touches on the duties incumbent upon supervisors and managers, but it does not outline them in a step-by-step way. The video would have been more effective had it given specific, nuts-and-bolts guidance to managers.

Furthermore, this video was produced in 1992 and does not cover the 1998 Supreme Court rulings, which increase the liability of managers in sexual harassment cases.

A handbook that suggests three ways in which the tapes might be used accompanies these two programs. The first option is for the trainer to show the video and lead a discussion. The second option is for the trainer to take a more active role, guiding the participants through the video material. The third option is to use the video as a self-contained training tool.

The guidebook for the video includes many worthwhile handouts, such as the EEOC guidelines on sexual harassment and a sample harassment prevention policy.

Sexual Harassment: Prevention, Recognition, and Correction
(25 minutes) Cost: $295
Produced by the Bureau of Business Practice
Monad Trainer’s Aide, Inc.
163-60 22nd Ave.
Whitestone, NY 11357-4030
(800) 344-6088

A good example of a training video aimed at managers and supervisors is Sexual Harassment:Prevention, Recog- nition and Correction, produced by the Bureau of Business Practice. This video uses two actors in the role of attorneys. These two “lawyers” spell out, step by step, the actions that managers must take to handle sexual harassment.

Although this video is didactic and at times wooden and stilted, its explicitness and organization make it an extremely useful training film. To give an idea of its teaching style, the film ends by reminding managers of the major points it has made:


  • Explain company policy to employees.
  • Encourage employees to discuss problems.
  • Create an atmosphere free of intimidation.


  • Know how the courts and the EEOC define sexual harassment.
  • Consider the ‘reasonable woman’ standard.
  • Be aware of what’s going on in your department.


  • Treat every complaint seriously.
  • Conduct confidential investigation according to company policy.
  • Warn against retaliation.
  • Take appropriate action.”

It would be possible to show this video as a stand-alone because the two “attorneys” provide all the necessary commentary on the three dramatized narratives.

Although this video was produced in 1993, it is remarkably prescient in its anticipation of the 1998 U.S. Supreme Court decisions regarding sexual harassment and their ramifications for managers.

Sexual Harassment…Shades of Gray
Video 1: What Are We Doing Here?
(18 minutes)
Video 2: What Is Sexual Harassment?
(14 minutes)
Video 3: Costs of Sexual Harassment
(15 minutes)
Video 4: What Does the Law Say?
(20 minutes)
Video 5: What Should I Do?
(13 minutes)
Cost: $995 for the five-video set
Pacific Resource Development Group, Inc.
4404 N.E. 58th St.
Seattle, WA 98105
(800) 767-3062

Susan L. Webb, producer of the five-part series Shades of Gray, does not use actors or dramatizations in her videos. “I used to show other people’s videos in my training sessions because I felt I needed to offer the vignettes,” she says.

But she wasn’t happy with the videos available to her. “Participants told me they were overacted, corny and obvious,” she says. So she decided to make her own videos.

“It’s more important for people to understand a concept,” says Webb. “Once they understand the concept they will think up their own examples, rather than the other way around. I want to give the maximum amount of information.”

In the Shades of Gray series, Webb does indeed deliver the maximum amount of information. In fact, a viewer would be hard pressed to take comprehensive notes during Webb’s videos because the information flows so quickly.

The first part of the series, What Are We Doing Here?, explains the three recurring concerns people express about sexual harassment:

  • I don’t understand what it is.
  • Why do I need to be concerned?
  • What am I supposed to do about it?

The goal of the series is to address these three concerns.

The second part of the video, What Is Sexual Harassment?, provides behavioral definitions of harassment, sketching out a continuum that moves from light gray (inappropriate behavior) to dark gray (illegal behavior).

In the third part, Costs of Sexual Harassment, Webb explains the high costs of sexual harassment to the employer, the victim, the harasser and co-workers.

What Does the Law Say?, the fourth part, takes the viewer through the legal history of U.S. sexual harassment law during the 1980s and early 1990s. (Copyrighted in 1997, the video does not include the 1998 U.S. Supreme Court decisions.)

The fifth video, What Should I Do?, offers practical do’s and don’ts for victims of sexual harassment, managers and employers.

Webb’s videos are unlike others in that they feature no actors, dramatizations, interviews or expert witnesses. In all five, we see only Susan Webb. Those seeking a little distraction or entertainment should look elsewhere.

Kathryn Gravdal, Ph.D., is visiting scholar at the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at Columbia University. She is the author of an internationally recognized study of sexual violence, Ravishing Maidens (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991).​

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