HR Professionals Gear Up for Mandatory Anti-Harassment Training

By June Bell November 30, 2018
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Trainers who provide sexual-harassment-prevention courses are fielding more requests from California businesses looking to schedule training sessions that comply with a new state mandate.  

SB 1343, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed Sept. 30, requires employers with at least five workers to provide sexual-harassment-prevention training for all employees. Previously, only businesses with 50 or more employees had to provide this instruction—and only to managers.

"I'm definitely getting more inquiries," said Sejal Friday, an attorney, trainer and owner of TrainXtra in south San Francisco. "At this point, people are like, 'What do we do?' " Robert Orozco, an attorney with Jackson Lewis in Irvine, Calif., said he has noticed an uptick as well.

The new law requires businesses to train employees by Jan. 1, 2020, and to repeat the training every two years. Employers must schedule at least two hours of instruction for all supervisors and at least an hour for all other employees.

The training must cover abusive conduct, prevention, discrimination and retaliation, and it must include instruction on harassment tied to gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. Even temporary, seasonal and migrant agricultural workers must participate.

Nuanced Examples

Employers must provide "classroom or other effective interactive training and education" or use an interactive online training program, to be created by the state's Department of Fair Employment and Housing.

The most effective and lasting education uses nuanced examples and discussions to educate workers, said Patti Perez, an attorney, trainer and vice president of workplace strategy for Emtrain of San Diego. "If it's just a lecture, it's not going to do any good," she said.

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What are the different types of sexual harassment?]

Perez, who has conducted more than 500 California training sessions, said that a skilled trainer helps employees understand the difference between the legal definition of sexual harassment and behaviors that are more accurately defined as disrespectful, demeaning or excluding. An adept instructor can guide discussions to help employees recognize the distinction and learn how to speak up about incidents that make them uncomfortable but do not meet the legal standard of harassment or a hostile work environment.

Respect and Tolerance

Inappropriate conduct that workers report to HR or a manager doesn't always meet the legal definition of harassment, discrimination or retaliation, Friday said. Most incidents are correctly characterized as involving rudeness, incivility, discourtesy or bullying that is not tied to any protected category, such as race or sexual orientation. Ideally, she and Perez said, the training will cover workplace civility, and employees will leave sessions committed to fostering a culture of respect and tolerance.

To squeeze the most value from one or two hours of instruction, HR professionals should encourage employees to submit questions anonymously and in advance and suggest topics they want to learn more about, Orozco said. That input helps instructors tailor the content to a specific workplace and industry.

'Definitely a Game Changer'

The new law also specifies that seasonal and temporary workers, or anyone hired to work for less than six months, must receive sexual-harassment-prevention training during the first 30 days on the job or 100 hours of work, whichever comes first. When companies contract with temp agencies to fill jobs, the agency is responsible for the training.

The law "is definitely a game changer for us, especially with the temporary and seasonal factors that come into play," said Kate Stemplinger, director of people services for iD Tech, a summer camp headquartered in Campbell, Calif. It serves 55,000 children and teens in seven countries and 29 states, including California.

The organization employs about 1,700 seasonal workers—largely teachers and college students who spend up to eight weeks working as instructors and camp directors.

Because staff report to more than two dozen locations across California, summer workers will receive the mandated training online. "Logistics is the No. 1 hurdle for us," Stemplinger said. "Just wrangling 1,700 people will be challenging."

[Visit SHRM's resource page on workplace harassment.]

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