The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported a 15.2 percent increase in workplace discrimination charges in 2008. One way to curb this unprecedented growth and protect the organization is to provide harassment prevention training. Unfortunately, many companies are failing on this front and pay a hefty price as a result.
“If you’re a large organization, you can look statistically at your figures year over year, and you can guarantee you will have some kind of harassment claim [in your] organization,” said Shanti Atkins, president and CEO of ELT, which offers workplace compliance training.
“If you have a bad actor inside your organization that does something terrible, but you’ve done all the right things — you have a policy [and] you trained them — you’re going to be able to either absolve yourself of liability or reduce damages for liability.”
While companies that forgo harassment training are not breaking the law, federal mandatory guidelines from the U.S. Supreme Court and EEOC encourage them to do it.
“A lot of folks [ask], ‘What happens if I don’t do it? Am I breaking the law?’ And you’re not,” Atkins said. “However, if you find yourself in litigation and the subject of a claim for discrimination, you will pay through the nose for [not doing the training].”
Three states — California, Connecticut and Maine — statutorily require organizations to provide harassment prevention training. But the end result of not complying with these laws, according to Atkins, is the same as the federal level because there are no penalties associated with the state laws.
California’s Assembly Bill 1825 is the most well-known law, and it’s also the most detailed. As a result, many organizations are noncompliant and don’t even realize it.
“I’ll give you a really simple example: Training using videotapes or DVDs is flat out not allowed under the regulations,” Atkins said.
Additionally, if you provide training by e-learning, you must guarantee that users spend a minimum of two hours in the training.
“That’s a very unusual type of request [for] an e-learning program because e-learning is generally self-paced,” Atkins said. “Under these regulations, you have to be able to definitively prove that, at a minimum, each supervisor who took the training spent two hours in it. From a technical standpoint, programs [need] to have a very well-designed timer that doesn’t ruin the learning experience [or] artificially stretch out content.”
If you’re a multi-state employer with offices in California, the worst mistake you can make is to provide robust training in California that meets the letter of the law and then “roll the dice everywhere else,” Atkins said.
“To provide something fantastic in California [and] nothing in another state is not only inconsistent, [but] it [also] sends a terrible message to your employees,” she explained. “I can tell you as a lawyer, which is my background, if I were trying that case, I would have a field day.”
Atkins recommends that organizations have well-designed harassment prevention programs that are deployed at least every other year. “You need an entertaining, well-thought-out, interactive program for your employees,” she said. “It should be based on actual case law and real events.
“[If] you do something that’s rudimentary, you’re not taking advantage of the behavioral impact you can have [in] doing the training, [and] that’s going to be the biggest return on investment.”Filed under: Technology