Sexual Harassment Training Should Be Separate for Managers and Rank and File

By Allen Smith, J.D. Nov 2, 2017
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Managers and the rank and file need to be told different things during sexual harassment training, so keep their training separate.

Employees need to know the basics on respectful and professional behavior and where to turn if they are the victims of sexual harassment, legal experts say. Managerial training should focus on how to end disrespectful conduct, how to avoid liability, how to handle complaints, the investigation process and anti-retaliation rules.

Training may not prevent all sexual harassment, but legal experts say it does prevent some. And under the Faragher-Ellerth defense, training, in addition to steps to timely correct sexual harassment, can be an effective way to avoid liability if there is a lawsuit.

"It is difficult to change human behavior, but I do think raising awareness can change behavior," said Nancy Puleo, an attorney with Posternak Blankstein & Lund in Boston. Sometimes, employees accused of harassment are unaware that what they were doing was offensive.

Plus, some employment practice liability insurance (EPLI) providers will reduce premiums for a company that provides harassment training. In some cases, training may be required to be insured, she noted.

Employee Training

Rank-and-file employees might need as little as 45 minutes of training a year on sexual harassment and other equal employment opportunity (EEO) topics, said Jennifer Sandberg, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta, who provides live training. "Everybody needs training on the sexual harassment policy and complaint procedure," she said, noting that if anyone thinks the policy has been violated, that person should report it.

Training "can help people realize what is respectful and professional behavior," Sandberg said.

She provides training that covers all the legally protected categories, not just sexual harassment but race harassment and discrimination based on sex, religion, disability and age.

Many employers just train managers rather than managers and employees, and "that's a big mistake," said Ingrid Fredeen, J.D., vice president of Navex Engage, the online learning content service for Navex Global in Portland, Ore.

When an employee is harassed, the worker doesn't always understand what to do, she said. Employees may not realize that they don't have to deal with abusive behavior in the workplace. Employers can't assume that workers already know what inappropriate behavior looks like, she cautioned.

Managerial Training

In some states, such as California, Connecticut and Maine, private employers are required to provide managerial training on sexual harassment. Many public employers have similar mandates.

California requires that companies that do business in the state and have at least 50 employees provide each supervisor with two hours of training on sexual harassment every two years and provide new supervisors with two hours of training within six months of them becoming managers.

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

Managerial training in California soon will include training on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation harassment.

Managers need to understand that anyone can be a harasser or the victim of harassment, Fredeen said. Managers need to understand how to create a culture that doesn't tolerate harassment and how to intervene to put an end to disrespectful behavior, she said.

They also should be trained on their role in receiving complaints, on how an organization will respond to a complaint and what their role is in the investigation process, which HR often leads. Managers should also understand that they can't retaliate against someone who complains of harassment and should be aware of how harassment creates liability for a company.

Blended Approach

Fredeen has provided online training for 11 years but noted that some organizations use a "blended approach" with some live training and some online.

Online training communicates a uniform message across an entire entity and reaches employees who might never be reached with live training, she said. It's also effective at covering the basics. Live training can build on the basics and include scenarios drawn from the workplace's experience, she noted.

If an organization has the bandwidth to do both, blended training can be "very powerful," Fredeen said.

One-on-One Training

After a harassment incident, the harasser may be required to participate in one-on-one training, if he or she isn't fired, Puleo noted.

Such training is becoming more common to resolve claims with enforcement agencies, she said. The agencies do not just want monetary relief for the victims.  

 

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