The modern workplace began to change in October 2017. That’s when the Harvey Weinstein story broke, spurring the #MeToo movement and new state laws designed to address the pervasive problem of sexual harassment in the workplace. Since 2018, California, New York state and New York City, Connecticut, Maine, Delaware and Illinois have strengthened their anti-harassment laws and expanded training requirements for employers. And with the spotlight on workplace harassment showing no signs of dimming, other states are likely to follow.
For learning and human resources professionals, this trend poses a number of challenges. Among them is how to implement a sexual harassment training program that is comprehensive and manageable — especially for organizations with employees in multiple states; up to date with evolving state laws and training requirements; and relevant and engaging to a 21st Century workforce.
One promising practice for managing a sexual harassment training program for multiple states is the building-block and bucket approach, or the “Triple B” approach. The idea is to start with a foundational harassment prevention training course, which can then be modified to meet different state and local mandates. By dividing different training requirements into buckets, organizations can more efficiently comply with current requirements and be able to handle new ones in the future as more anti-harassment legislation is enacted across the U.S.
Laying the Foundation
An effective harassment prevention training program begins with foundational training that covers the core topics for preventing discrimination and harassment in the workplace. This material is generally derived from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines and includes the essentials, such as a description of illegal harassment, examples of conduct that could rise to the level of illegal harassment if left unchecked, and information on the organization’s anti-harassment policy, reporting systems and investigation process. Everyone in the organization, regardless of their location or level, should be trained on these topics and concepts, as well as the standards and expectations for respectful workplace behavior.
The 3 B’s
After establishing the foundational training course, it’s time to tackle state training requirements. Consider the following three buckets.
States with content requirements: Some states that mandate sexual harassment training have specific content requirements, such as New York state, New York City, Maine, Delaware and Illinois. While most of the required content can be covered in the foundational training material, care must be taken to ensure certain definitions, statements and other state-specific information is incorporated. The new content should be integrated into the training in a way that enhances, rather than dilutes or confuses, the overall messages about preventing sexual harassment and other misconduct.
States with content and seat-time requirements: Other states have specific requirements for training content and course length. California and Connecticut fall into this category: In California, employers with five or more employees must provide two hours of training to supervisors and at least one hour for nonsupervisory employees. Under Connecticut’s new law, which took effect October 1, 2019, organizations with three or more employees must provide two hours of training to all employees, and all employers, regardless of their size, must provide two hours of training to supervisors. Expanding a training course from one hour to two hours is an opportunity to provide enrichment material on related workplace conduct issues. Longer courses also allow for more insights and examples that can deepen learners’ understanding of the different forms of harassment, how it affects individuals and the entire organization, and what they can do to recognize, report and prevent incidents of harassment and other misconduct.
Training managers and first-line supervisors: Regardless of whether or not there are state training requirements, managers and supervisors should receive additional training on their specific responsibilities. In its 2016 report, the EEOC Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace said that mid-level managers and first-line supervisors can be an employer’s most valuable resource in preventing and stopping harassment, and organizations should dedicate resources to train them on how to respond effectively to harassment that is reported to them, they observe or they hear about.
The Triple B approach provides a flexible framework that enables organizations and training partners to deliver a comprehensive harassment prevention training program for employees and managers that stays up to date with the increasing number of state training requirements.
Beyond the Requirements
In addition to planning for new and expanded training requirements, organizations are recognizing that the traditional, check-the-box model of compliance training needs revamping. Training that statically presents content and focuses solely on teaching the law isn’t sending the right message to a diverse, tech-savvy workforce about the organization’s commitment to eliminating harassment. A better approach to training is to focus on behavior and involve learners in the narrative through realistic video scenarios and other elements that challenge their assumptions and decisions.
Effective training should be interactive, mobile-optimized and relevant to employees and their workplace. And beyond the required topics, effective training should include related topics, such as bystander intervention, diversity and inclusion, and unconscious bias.
A Holistic Approach
Training alone is not enough. It should be part of a holistic approach to preventing workplace harassment that begins at the top, with the active support of leadership. The approach should be reinforced by holding people accountable, clearly written policies and regular communication to all employees about the consequences of misconduct and everyone’s responsibility to speak up.
Whichever states your employees work in, a well-designed harassment training program can provide a meaningful learning experience to engage, educate and influence individuals to make the right decisions and take the right actions.