HRA Blog

Organizational Sexual Harassment Training Recommendations

Written by Tiffany Aukema on .

If you search online for “Sexual Harassment Training,” you will find 6,530,000 hits in the News section alone.  It should come as no surprise that many of these articles have been posted over the past few weeks with fresh allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct coming to light daily across business, politics and entertainment industries .  In the wake of what is becoming known as the “Harvey Weinstein Effect,” many employers are scrambling to dust off their sexual harassment policies and offer trainings.  Other employers may already have solid policies in place and regularly offer training; however, they are asking themselves, “what can we be doing differently?”

Now, more than ever, employers should be encouraged to take a more insightful approach to their sexual harassment training and policy.  So, as an employer, what can you be doing differently in 2018?

Consider Live Training.  Many organizations offer sexual harassment training online.  While online training allows organizations to reach employees quickly and across diverse geographic locations, many feel that it isn’t the best method to effectively cover this topic.  If we are being honest with ourselves, how many of us multi-task while only half listening to online trainings?  Yes, live training demands more time and resources, but if delivered effectively, it will benefit both the employee and employer through greater participant engagement.  Live training offers an unrivaled opportunity for questions and participant discussion which offers greater understanding of the training materials.

Live training also allows employers to discuss real life workplace scenarios.   Realistic examples help employees connect the dots and understand that sexual harassment goes way beyond amplified stories in the news and is relatable to their workplace environment.

Focus on Respect.  Most sexual harassment training programs focus on the laws and employer obligations.  While this focus often checks a box for most organizations from a legal protection standpoint, this type of training can often create a misconception that sexual harassment politicizes are simply a bureaucratic activity driven by leadership to protect an organizations.

While clearly legal definitions are an essential component to sexual harassment training, however, employers who choose to equally focus on the law and creating a work environment based on respect and civility, will find greater success and effectiveness in their training. Employees want to work in an environment that is based on trust and mutual respect.  This is fundamental in creating workplace that is truly free of harassment.

See Something, Say Something.  Sexual harassment policies and training typically focus on behaviors of the harasser and the options available to the victim to address the issue.  Employers should equally emphasize the responsibility of the entire organization to “see something, say something,” when it comes to sexual harassment both through organization-wide training and policies.

Anyone who witnesses harassment or inappropriate behavior should be empowered to do something.  Simply because an employee was not the direct recipient of inappropriate behavior, he or she should take action.  “Bystanders” should be encouraged to speak directly with the person who was harassed.  Employees who are recipients of harassment are often uncomfortable and may welcome the support of a colleague.  A bystander should also be encouraged to speak with a manager, human resources, and even directly to the employee who exhibited the inappropriate behavior.

Be Clear about Consequences.  Recent news highlighting the dramatic downfall of many prominent men can actually cause some victims to be reluctant to come forward.  In most instances, the victim wants the behavior to stop and that doesn’t always equate to the firing of the harasser.  Employers should be clear that there are many different appropriate consequences depending on the severity of the situation.  The media has shown a light on gross sexual misconduct where the appropriate consequence is indeed termination, however, in many cases, termination is not wanted, needed, or appropriate.  Employers should be clear that a fair investigation will follow a complaint and the employer will respond appropriately and proportionately.

Invite the Conversation.  Employers should not only train often on this topic, but open up the dialogue as a normal part of doing business.  Managers have often shared with me that they fear an uptick in complaints after facilitating training on sexual harassment.  The irony is that this is a desired outcome of providing training and opening up conversation about sexual misconduct and harassment.  The EEOC actually has suggested that employers reward managers if harassment complaints increase, at least initially.  It shows that employees have faith in the system and believe that their concerns will be heard and addressed.

Let’s find one silver lining in the “Harvey Weinstein Effect” and use this as opportunity to look closely at our policies, training, and communication around sexual harassment.  Creating an environment founded on respect and support from colleagues, managers, and human resources is a constant evolution and not an end goal.  Current events has proven that we can always do better.