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Legal Updates

It’s Time For More Effective Workplace Training

In the wake of extensive news coverage about sexual assault and harassment, from Roger Ailes to Harvey Weinstein, the problem of sexual harassment in the workplace, in the boardroom, and beyond, is very much on the minds of employees and employers alike.

Perhaps not coincidentally, a year ago, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (“EEOC”) Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace released a report indicating that harassment remains a persistent and pervasive problem in the workplace. Importantly, this EEOC report explored ways that employers can better help to create positive, harassment-free work environments.

The EEOC report found that the way that many employers are conducting anti-harassment training is ineffective at best. Most notably, the report found that the traditional way of teaching about sexual harassment – i.e., training that is focused almost exclusively on legal definitions and company reporting procedures – wasn’t optimally effective, and was only a small part of effective prevention of workplace harassment.

Rather, the report found trainings should also “describe conduct that, if left unchecked, might rise to the level of illegal harassment [and] focus on the unacceptable behaviors themselves.”

Other key takeaways from the report are that effective compliance training:

  • is tailored to the specific realities of different workplaces;
  • includes separate targeted training for middle-management and first-line supervisors;
  • clarifies what conduct is not harassment and is therefore acceptable in the workplace;
  • educates employees about their rights and responsibilities if they experience or witness unacceptable workplace conduct;
  • describes in simple terms how a workplace’s formal complaint process will proceed;
  • is supported at the highest levels of leadership;
  • is conducted and reinforced on a regular basis for all employees; and
  • is conducted by qualified, live, and interactive trainers.

More globally, the report found that “to be effective in stopping harassment, training cannot stand alone, but rather, must be part of a holistic effort undertaken by the employer to prevent harassment.”

What Employers Should Do

Today’s climate offers a “call to action” for employers, and the EEOC report offers a roadmap for bringing about change.

The EEOC report envisions a comprehensive harassment prevention plan that includes traditional compliance training together with workplace civility training and bystander intervention training. And management at all levels must be committed to creating a positive and harassment-free workplace, and to ensuring that workplace complaints are treated seriously.

Specifically, then, now would seem to be the ideal time to:

  • Review and update your workplace’s current sexual and other harassment policy, reporting procedures, and anti-retaliation language.
  • Make sure that all employees – and all levels of management (including your Board) – understand and follow (and enforce) the established policies and procedures.
  • Review any recent harassment complaints with the aid of counsel, to consider whether complaints were resolved properly or need to be revisited.
  • Evaluate current harassment training to ensure that it comports with the best practices identified in the EEOC report.
  • Conduct a comprehensive training program to minimize the risk of not only workplace misconduct, but also the disruptions that can follow.
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If you have any questions about how to achieve any of these goals, or any other questions related to preventing and/or addressing workplace harassment, please feel free to contact us.