Sexual Harassment Prevention: Employers Must Do More

As sexual harassment in the workplace continues to be a focus for businesses, workers and enforcement agencies, evolving requirements and workplace demands have caused employers to focus on prevention strategies.

What is the chief takeaway for employers with respect to sexual harassment prevention? It can be summed up in two words: Do more.

More specifically, employers need to do more to:

  • Emphasize that sexual harassment prevention is a strategic focus for a business and not merely a compliance requirement;
  • Train as many employees as possible on sexual harassment prevention;
  • Enforce policies and procedures already in place;
  • Include training modules that go beyond those required; and
  • Emphasize a workplace culture that values respect, safety and engagement.

Above and Beyond

Different jurisdictions have a variety of requirements, resulting in employers having to ensure that they follow all applicable sexual harassment prevention training obligations.

Just in the past year, New York and New York City have added sexual harassment training prevention requirements for not only supervisors, but employees as well. For an employer in New York City, the training requirements may be confusing due to differing state and local requirements.

And what if an employer has operations in Connecticut, Maine and New York? Should an employer do the bare minimum required by jurisdiction, or offer a comprehensive training program to cover all worksites?

More and more, employers are choosing the latter. Embracing global solutions provides a more inclusive culture across all workplaces.

Fashioning a sexual harassment prevention program that goes above and beyond compliance obligations fosters fairness and engagement, thereby making the program well worth the investment.

Floors, not Ceilings

None of the laws regarding discrimination and harassment are meant to set the maximum that an employer may do to prevent workplace harassment. If an employer is not explicitly covered by a law (for example, they employ fewer than the minimum number of workers so that training is not required), then the employer may still wish to offer a sexual harassment prevention program that may consist of a number of initiatives, such as:

  • Implementing a workplace harassment prevention policy;
  • Holding brief information sessions on the policy; and
  • Offering training for supervisors.

Even if training requirements may not apply, chances are that compliance obligations with respect to broader antidiscrimination laws do. Taking steps toward ensuring a workplace that is safe from harassment may aid an employer in minimizing liability risks in the event of a complaint.

Evolving Obligations

Sexual harassment prevention training has evolved over the years to emphasize additional content, including:

  • Workplace bullying;
  • Workplace civility;
  • Other forms of harassment, such as harassment based on gender identity and expression; and
  • Bystander intervention.

A major step forward for regulators has been to acknowledge the importance of training employees as well as supervisors to report workplace misconduct. HR practitioners have been championing broader training for employees as a best practice for years.

HR should continue this practice, and encourage peers and employers to adopt comprehensive training models that target different employee populations.

Understand Interactivity

Compliance training often must be interactive – a requirement that the modules be participatory, with an opportunity for trainees to ask and answer questions. Employers should be careful not to conflate interactive training with in-person or classroom-based training – these terms are not synonymous. While in-person training may be interactive, the two are not mutually exclusive. In fact, interactive training can be made available in mobile-friendly, individualized modules that work well with limited budgets, busy schedules and remote work locations.

Separable modules may also add to increased comprehension and internalization of concepts by trainees. If a trainer drones on for hours, the concepts may not have as much of an impact as imparting discrete ideas in digestible chunks.

Finally, consider diverse employee populations with respect to interactivity: if employees are more comfortable in a language other than English, then efforts should be made to offer training sessions in the languages spoken by a significant percentage of the workforce.

 

How does your organization go above and beyond compliance obligations to foster a fair and inclusive workplace? Let us know!

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