Sexual harassment training teaches employees to identify unacceptable conduct in the workplace. It also teaches employees how to report sexual harassment if they see it or experience it. The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends that all employers conduct sexual harassment training. Some US states and cities have enacted laws requiring regular training programs in this area. Whether you’re required by law to conduct sexual harassment training or not, doing so is an expected part of running a successful business.
What Is the Purpose of Sexual Harassment Training?
Sexual harassment training provides benefits to both employers and employees. These include:
- Clarifying company policy and processes. The employer benefits by making sure company policies against sexual harassment are fully understood. Employees also benefit when there is no ambiguity around which types of behavior are tolerated.
- Training helps by providing examples and explaining what would happen when someone violates the policy. Training that includes examples of actions that would lead to discipline or termination is especially helpful to ensure all employees understand what the company expects.
- Providing legal protection. In the event of a lawsuit against the company, the employer benefits by showing any bad actors were aware of company policy and had been through sexual harassment training. In this way, the employer shows that the behavior is not aligned with the company’s policy and expectations.
- Employees who have witnessed or experienced sexual harassment are also trained to report the behavior to HR. This gives the employer the opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation and take steps to end harassing behavior as quickly as possible.
- Creating a safe space. Communicating the company’s commitment to a harassment-free workplace benefits employees by creating an environment where they can feel safe. Employees feel empowered to report harassing behavior when they believe their employer opposes that behavior and will take action to make it stop. Employers also benefit from creating a safe space through increased employee engagement and employee alignment with their brand.
Is Sexual Harassment Training Required?
The following states and local governments have made providing sexual harassment training mandatory by state law:
- California: statewide requirement for all employers with 5 or more employees.
- Connecticut: statewide requirement for all employers with 3 or more employees.
- Delaware: statewide requirement for all employers with 50 or more employees.
- Illinois: statewide requirement for all employers with 15 or more employees. All Chicago employers must also comply with city-wide requirements.
- Maine: statewide requirement for all employers with 15 or more employees.
- New York: statewide requirement for all employers. New York City employers with more than 15 employees must also comply with city-wide requirements.
- District of Columbia: district-wide requirement for all employers of tipped employees.
Sexual harassment training is not required in other areas of the US. However, the EEOC recommends in its 2016 Task Force Study of Harassment that all employers should conduct sexual harassment training. Note that if your company has branches in multiple states, you’ll need to comply with the regulations for each.
Sexual Harassment Training Formats
The format in which you provide sexual harassment training will depend on what works best for your organization. The choice generally comes down to whether you want to conduct training in person or online.
Providing training through an online training course is increasingly popular, and with good reason. Online training is on-demand, easy to scale and schedule, and a lot less expensive than in-person training. Effective online training solutions such as those offered by Connecteam provide maximum flexibility for scheduling training. Employees can complete the training during onboarding from their mobile device and have individualized deadlines for renewal training. Connecteam also allows you to add any new components quickly and easily before pushing them to all employees for update training. Training modules can be completed as and when each employee sees fit, rather than sticking to a rigid training schedule. Managers can then use the app to track who has completed the training—essential for compliance. Online sexual harassment training sessions are created once, but endlessly reusable. This helps save trainer time and promotes consistency as the training can be repeated as often as needed in the same format. To ensure engagement, online training should include checkpoints along the way. These can be mini-quizzes or puzzles that check the employee’s knowledge of the material covered so far.
Training in person was once the only method for providing sexual harassment training. For those companies who still use this method, the reasoning is often a mistaken belief that it will be more engaging for participants and training can be knocked out with one big event. The unfortunate reality is that your employees are much less likely to retain what they learn from in-person training. Research has shown that in-person training participants forget 70% of what they’ve learned within 24 hours of training and as much as 90% within one week of training. As for scheduling, in-person training is the most challenging format to fit into employee schedules. While you may be hoping to train everyone at once, you will inevitably have to work around employee illness, unforeseen deadlines, and personal emergencies that will require catch-up training. You may also find that some employees are uncomfortable discussing sensitive topics in large in-person groups. Also bear in mind that taking whole teams away from their work to conduct group training can result in lost productivity, as well as considerable costs in terms of hiring a venue and providing catering.
Main Topics To Cover in Sexual Harassment Training
Sexual harassment training should cover three main topics:
- What is sexual harassment?
- How is sexual harassment identified?
- How should sexual harassment be reported?
Sexual harassment definition
The EEOC website indicates that harassing a job applicant or an employee because of their sex is illegal. This includes sexual advances or other harassment of a sexual nature. It can also include offensive remarks about a person’s sex, such as derogatory comments about women as a group.
Identifying sexual harassment
Much of sexual harassment training comes down to covering this topic. Most employees will be familiar with examples of “quid pro quo” sexual harassment. Quid pro quo (Latin for “this for that”) is typified by a supervisor asking one of their direct reports for a sexual favor and withholding a promotion or raise if they refuse. This type of sexual harassment is severe, which makes it easier to identify. The EEOC indicates that illegal harassment does not include teasing behavior or isolated comments and incidents that are not of a serious nature. However, if harassment occurs often enough or is severe enough to create a hostile work environment, it is illegal. It is important for your training to identify when certain behaviors become unacceptable in your organization. Note that behavior doesn’t have to be illegal for you to decide it is unacceptable.
Reporting sexual harassment
In this topic, you should teach your employees about their obligations to report sexual harassment and how they can go about doing this. Outline who they can reach out to with a report. This should include more than just their direct supervisor as that person may at some point be the object of a complaint. Typically, reports are encouraged to supervisors, HR staff, or through a complaint hotline.
If you’re conducting training in a state that mandates sexual harassment training, you may need to follow a training guide established by the state. For instance, California requires supervisor training to include the supervisor’s obligation to report harassment. Check with your local labor office if you are putting together training in a regulated area.
How to prevent sexual harassment
Be clear that preventing sexual harassment is everyone’s responsibility. Being aware of what sexual harassment looks like is a start, and having straightforward reporting processes will encourage employees to say something when they see potential harassing behavior. It is also important that your organization’s leaders are dedicated to creating a workplace that does not tolerate sexual harassment. Their leadership will set the tone for how employees behave.
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How To Set Up a Sexual Harassment Training Program
When you set up a sexual harassment training program for the first time, be sure to follow the following steps.
Check your state requirements
If your business operates in one of the states or local government areas that require sexual harassment training, check with your local labor office for a full list of requirements. Some areas may require you to train in a certain way or they may provide a full training outline to follow.
Align training with your policies
Once you’re sure your training meets legal requirements, check that your policies on sexual harassment align with your training. Ideally, your training will complement your policies and make them easier to understand. What you don’t want is training that differs from your policies in a meaningful way. For example, don’t train employees to call a hotline to report sexual harassment if you don’t have a hotline set up.
Decide on your training platform
Determine which training format makes the most sense and set up your training platform accordingly. For instance, ensure your small group in-person sessions have adequate space to meet. If you want to use an online platform, make sure it’s fully up and running before you roll it out to employees.
Trainers may be qualified employees you have on staff. They may also be video trainers assigned through an online training system or external professionals hired to conduct training courses. What you need will depend upon the format you choose and the expertise of your staff. You should not have an unqualified employee conduct sexual harassment training. Doing so can lead to misunderstandings and conflict with the law or your policies.
Online training platforms often integrate a scheduling application that will remind your employees to complete training and set deadlines. If you’re conducting training in person, make sure that employees have enough time to set the training on their calendars. All sexual harassment training should have a deadline for completion that is clear to each employee.
Document training, ask for feedback, and follow up
Once you’ve conducted your new sexual harassment training, document completion for each employee. This will stay in your company records rather than being submitted to state authorities but can be important if your organization later faces a sexual harassment complaint and you want to show that your employees have completed this training. Any employees who do not complete the training when expected will need to be followed up with until you have full compliance. You should also ask all employees for feedback on the training to determine its effectiveness. This can be accomplished with surveys or through feedback emails shared after training is complete. Review this feedback and make changes to your training if you find areas that are not effective.
The Importance of Sexual Harassment Training
Sexual harassment training is based on legal requirements and compliance is necessary to run your business appropriately in some states. However, it also establishes your organization’s values and dedication to creating a safe workplace. By creating an effective sexual harassment training program, you will teach your employees how to prevent this form of harassment and demonstrate your commitment to an inclusive and comfortable work environment.
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