Sexual Harassment – Can Training be Improved?

In our current culture of sexual harassment, it is not only important for employers and employees to understand how to navigate a report of sexual harassment, but how to train employees to prevent and report harassment.

Employers should have a policy on sexual harassment and provide sexual harassment training on a regular basis.  In 1998, the United States Supreme Court issued two decisions that set a defense for an employer to avoid liability in a sexual harassment case by showing that it had trained employees on its anti-harassment policies.  Legally, such training is good protection should an employer be sued for sexual harassment.

But the question arises as to whether such training can not only provide a defense, but also have more of an impact on preventing sexually harassing behavior or identifying employees that are harassing.  The standard sexual harassment training, giving hypotheticals of workers, typically male, either saying potentially sexually charged comments or taking potentially sexually based action, and then asking employees to identify sexual harassment, has been shown to not be the most effective way to prevent such behavior in the workplace.  Recent research had indicated that such training reinforces the belief that men are powerful and women are weaker.

So, next time you schedule a training session on harassment, think about incorporating some of the following 3 tips into your training:

  1. You should train your employees to be the eyes and ears of your company and report any behavior by other employees or third parties that they may consider harassing, not just to themselves, but to other workers. The focus of the training becomes not whether the hypothetical is sexual harassment, but what to do you do if you witness this behavior in the workplace.  In some cases, saying something to the potential harasser is the best solution.  In other cases, talking to a third party about it may be helpful.  You need to empower employees to find any harassment and respond to it effectively and report it to the appropriate person.
  2. Training that is simply watching a video or listening to a presenter is less effective than interactive training that engages the participants.  A good example is on an airplane, prior to taking off, when the flight attendant is giving life-saving information over the intercom system.  Rarely do people listen.  Training needs to be interactive and it needs to be done in a manner that catches workers attention and makes them listen.  Thus, while a harassment video may be cheaper, think about the most effective training, usually a live person and one who will capture the attention of the audience.  Also, training should occur frequently.
  3. Often an employer views a report of harassment in a negative manner, as one more issue to address.  Rather, reporting should be encouraged as it allows an employer to identify possible harassers and take appropriate action, hopefully at an early stage in the professional career of an employee and where there is potentially less hardship to the employer in terminating the employee if necessary.  Encourage reporting.


About the Author: Jennifer Eber

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