January 14, 2021
7 Tips for Providing Effective Sexual Harassment Training

There is no easy way to address sexual harassment training—at least not if you want to do so effectively. Nonetheless, it is a critical subject that all employees should be trained on regularly.

Many employees don’t know how to identify harassment in its many forms, just as managers may not know how to deal with these delicate situations appropriately. All employees should be educated on this topic to maintain a safe and healthy work environment.

But how can employers present the subject so that it resonates with employees and they take it seriously? Below, we’re sharing our top seven tips for providing practical sexual harassment training.

1. Provide sexual harassment training for managers.

Managers need to understand their role if and when a sexual harassment case arises. Like California, Connecticut, and Maine, certain states require private employers to provide specific managerial training. The same goes for many public businesses.

When it comes to sexual harassment prevention and issues, managers need to understand:

  • That anyone can be a harasser or the victim of harassment.
  • How to create a culture with zero tolerance for harassment.
  • How to intervene and put an end to disrespectful behavior.
  • Their role in receiving complaints and the investigation process.
  • How the organization will respond.
  • That they can’t retaliate against someone who makes a sexual harassment complaint.
  • How harassment creates liability for a company.

2. Provide separate training for rank-and-file employees.

While all employees should receive sexual harassment training, employers should keep in mind that managers and rank-and-file employees do not necessarily need the same levels of training. 

Of course, many organizations only train managers, which is a big miss. Employees need to know the policy and complaint procedure. Too often, they don’t know what to do or what inappropriate behavior looks like. 

Jennifer Sandberg, an attorney with Fisher Phillips in Atlanta, told the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) that employees may need as little as 45 minutes a year on sexual harassment and other equal employment opportunity (EEO) topics.

3. Give employees the information and tools necessary to feel safe.

What is sexual harassment? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) defines it as “unwelcome sexual conduct when submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment.” The U.S. Supreme Court has also deemed discrimination based on sex as a form of sexual harassment.

All employees must understand not only the definition of sexual harassment but how to identify it. Once workers understand this, they should know what to do if they experience it directly or witness it. This means they should know:

  • How to report incidents.
  • How incidents are investigated.
  • What options and solutions are available to individuals who experience harassment.

Training should include examples that are meaningful for employees. Use scenarios that cover multiple situations and draw on your particular industry and workplace.

4. Approach harassment training with a focus on culture.

A significant part of the training should emphasize sexual harassment prevention. In other words, focus on creating a culture based on mutual respect. 

In a SHRM article that interviewed several HR professionals, employment attorneys, and other experts, Charlotte Miller, attorney and HR leader, said that leadership members should set examples of respect through their language, actions, and daily interactions. Leaders should also refrain from joking about being “politically correct” or keeping out of trouble with HR.

David Nuffer, chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, recommends developing a system that allows microaggression, inappropriate behavior, or harassment—both actionable and not—to be reported without automatically leading to discipline. Although employees need to understand this non-confrontational solution’s limitations, it can validate the complainant, provide assistance, and educate the employer on organizational needs.

This may not come as a big surprise, but bullying and harassment often go hand-in-hand. Sally Helgesen, coauthor of How Women Rise, reviewed 20 cases of men who were let go from high-profile positions because of inappropriate behavior with women. She found that most of these men were viewed as nonsexual bullies by men who worked with them in subordinate positions. Helgesen noted that if workplaces are aware of this trend, it could prevent bad behavior by high-performers from being overlooked.

Respect and professionalism come from the top down. Your employees are always watching and taking cues from you. It is up to you to set the tone for acceptable, professional, and respectful behavior.

5. Use a blend of live and online training.

Again, some states have requirements when it comes to how the training is held. If your company is legally able to and has the bandwidth to manage it, online training can be a great tool that allows you to send a consistent message across the entire organization.

Plus, online training allows you to reach remote employees, if applicable. This channel gives companies a convenient and consistent way to cover the basics.

You can then use live training to build on that content and include specific scenarios, as we mentioned above.

6. Know the sexual harassment training requirements in your state.

Sexual harassment training requirements vary by jurisdiction and may differ based on the employer’s industry or size. This includes different requirements regarding content, format, and frequency of training.

For example, Connecticut requires companies with three or more employees to provide two hours of sexual harassment training to all employees. All Connecticut employers, regardless of size, are also required to provide training to supervisors. The law goes on to explain what the training should include and acceptable methods. 

Maine also has specific requirements, stating that businesses with 15 or more employees must train all employees on sexual harassment within a year of the beginning of their employment. Supervisors and managers must receive additional training within a year of assuming their positions. There are requirements when it comes to the content of the training as well.

Be sure to find your state-specific sexual harassment training requirements as you develop and update your program. 

7. Reduce risk by providing the required training.

If your state does have a law on sexual harassment training, it most likely has a monetary or another type of penalty for not providing the training. We can’t emphasize enough the importance of staying up-to-date on your local laws to ensure your training is compliant. Overlooking this area is simply not worth the risk!

Even in states with no legal requirements, employers should give sexual harassment training. When done effectively, it reduces your company’s risk related to sexual harassment complaints. Providing regular, mandatory anti-harassment training is an essential part of protecting your employees and anyone in your workplace from harassment.

Sexual harassment prevention and training is a serious but necessary element in today’s workplace. If you are unsure of your state’s requirements or you simply don’t know where to start, contact BlueLion at info@bluelionllc.com or 603-818-4131 today. Our HR experts will help you create a thorough training program built on respect, awareness, and safety.

The information on this website, including its newsletters, is not, nor is it intended to be legal advice. You should contact an attorney or HR specialist for advice on your individual situation.