Sexual Harassment Training: 9 Steps to a Safer Workplace
Recent news has all but confirmed that sexual harassment training is failing to end harassment at work. And in the wake of #MeToo, harassers and their negligent companies are paying the price.
Its prevalence (more than half of all workers have experienced some form of sexual harassment) and damaging effects on productivity, morale and culture mean we need to take sexual harassment more seriously. Education, training and prevention are too important for business owners to let them fall by the wayside.
Gone are the days of playing a video once and placing a checkmark in the “Sexual Harassment Training” box. Here are nine ways business owners can implement effective, strong sexual harassment training to foster a safe, sexual-harassment-free workplace for their employees and customers.
Improve your training sessions by handing out a copy of the sexual harassment policy. Don't have a detailed policy yet? Download this template to create your own.
What works best for one industry might not work for another, which is why sexual harassment training comes in many adaptable forms.
This workplace sexual harassment training video is a great starting point for all employees, from interns to managers. It contains basic information about sexual harassment, warning signs, investigation tips and how to create a successful prevention strategy.
The most common training methods are in-person training sessions, e-learning modules and live webinars.
In-person training sessions are more expensive than other methods and can be difficult, logistically, to arrange. As for the benefits, a real-live trainer captures and holds staff attention better. The lessons can be easily tailored to fit your company’s culture by answering questions in real-time and requesting staff participation. Traditional organizations, such as banks and government departments, benefit most from in-person training sessions.
E-learning modules are self-guided multimedia courses. They’re usually a mix of PowerPoint slides, videos and quizzes. E-learning modules are typically the best option for businesses with many remote employees or businesses with offices around the world. However, online learning can be less engaging than other forms and is sometimes skipped over.
Live webinars are a great compromise. While they are more costly than e-learning modules, they’re cheaper than in-person sessions. Webinars are convenient for employees who work remotely but it can be difficult to find a time and day that fits everyone’s schedule.
Pre-recorded webinars can also be helpful. We offer a wide range of pre-recorded webinars, including a few on sexual harassment:
- Sexual Harassment and Retaliation in the Workplace in the Wake of #MeToo and #TimesUp
- Best Practices for Conducting Sexual Harassment Investigations
Custom-Made vs Pre-Made
Businesses with qualified trainers (in California that includes employment law attorneys, law school professors and HR consultants) can create their own training sessions. For those without a qualified trainer, there are a number of companies that sell sexual harassment training.
In addition to typical all-staff training, most companies provide additional specialized training for managers and supervisors.
Those in leadership roles are often the first line of defense against sexual harassment at work. A victim of sexual harassment might ask their manager for help to navigate the legal system. A witness might ask their supervisor how to submit an anonymous tip. They need to know the answers to these questions.
When a victim comes forward, you should know which details to capture. This Sexual Harassment Complaint Form template can guide you.
Managers and supervisors need to know how to manage workplace culture to prevent incidents and how to intervene or respond if necessary. They should know what microaggressions are, how power dynamics work and how to recognize unconscious bias.
Failing to train leaders also demonstrates that the company isn’t willing to go beyond the bare minimum to support victims and prevent future incidents. This will have a negative impact on employee morale and the workplace atmosphere.
Refusing to train supervisors and managers is not only harmful to workplace culture, but it can be very expensive. In California, seven out of the ten most expensive sexual harassment settlements in recent years have involved agencies that failed to train supervisors.
Initial sexual harassment training from the 1980s and 1990s was victim-focused and often featured a female harassment victim, speaking directly to the camera, advising what to do if you find yourself in her position.
But, a study from 2017 found that sexual harassment training that only focuses on the harasser or victim is often rejected by the typical worker since they cannot relate.
Bystander intervention training focuses on everyone, not just the harassers and the victims. It describes the important role of the bystander and creates a sense of collective responsibility to step in and stop the harassment.
Even the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) encourages bystander training for all employees. Dedicate a reasonable amount of training time to share practical tips for victims or bystanders of sexual harassment. Bystander intervention training should:
- Educate all employees to spot symptoms of harassment
- Promote and encourage the role of active bystander
- Create a sense of collective responsibility for prevention
- Provide practical advice for standing up to troubling behavior
Workplace civility training is a new learning topic designed to establish standards for respect at work. Civility training explains how to communicate respectfully, give and receive constructive feedback, discuss diversity and resolve conflict.
Research on workplace civility training is sparse, but early findings are promising. Businesses are encouraged to fuse sexual harassment training with civility training for a more effective outcome.
Inclusion-based civility training will help to debunk the relatively new belief that women at work should be feared. Lawyer Jonathan Segal expressed concern about this message “that women are almost black widow spiders waiting to catch their prey and a man should not be alone with a woman unless he has a guardian to protect him".
Employers are rightfully becoming more concerned about men avoiding women at work. Recent statistics have shown that a significant number of men:
- avoid mentoring or socializing with female colleagues
- feel uncomfortable about doing common workplace activities with women
- are more likely to avoid one-on-one meetings with women than with other men
Inclusion-based civility training discusses inclusion, equality, equity and equal opportunity. It provides employees with the knowledge and skills to communicate with everyone in the workplace in a respectful, clear manner.
Whether you’ve opted for in-person or online training, break up long sessions into meaningful chunks. These chunks or “microlessons” can consist of:
- A video on the definition and practical examples of sexual harassment
- A slideshow about the impact of sexual harassment
- A role-playing skit about power dynamics and why sexual harassment occurs
- An online learning module about workplace culture and inclusivity
- An interactive game about bystander intervention and victim support
Using microlessons can be a fun option because of the different media and approaches you can take, but they’re also a more effective way to learn and teach.
First, it can be difficult for employees to stay engaged if they’re forced to sit through an eight-hour session on harassment laws. No matter how interesting you try to make it, it’s unrealistic to believe that employees will retain much more than the first and last hour.
Second, whether the employee is paying attention the entire time or not, the average person’s working memory is limited. Smaller “microlessons” guarantee that employees will retain more information.
Third, microlessons make it easier to repeat key ideas. When the same messaging is tossed into blended learning sessions on different days, it’s more discreet than repeating key concepts over and over in one day-long session.
It matters less that the lessons are custom made for your company and matters more that trainees are able to identify with the training. If the trainees can’t identify with the situation or have zero emotional attachment to it, they’re more likely to tune it out.
Awkward, unrealistic off-the-shelf videos center around the office water-cooler and cubicles. In reality, most workplace sexual harassment in the US doesn’t happen in a typical office. It’s most frequent in restaurants, hotels, retail stores and the manufacturing industry.
An office-focused video won’t appeal much to the 20-somethings who work in a gastropub. The stereotypical examples featuring a young, female victim won’t resonate well with a warehouse full of men.
Some easy things you can do to tailor training to your company’s industry or unique situation is to start with a message from the CEO. Or, even better, sprinkle in discussions with the CEO between microlessons.
If it’s possible, have tests or skits be specific to your company or industry. Make sure processes and procedures are detailed and align correctly with your organizational structure. If you don’t have an HR director, don’t direct victims there.
There are currently five states with their own laws for workplace sexual harassment: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine and New York. California’s state laws require sexual harassment training in all workplaces with more than five employees. The law states that:
- all staff members must complete one hour of training every two years
- supervisors must complete two hours of training every two years
- even seasonal and temporary workers must complete training
Despite these regulations, California’s government agencies are failing to comply with state law. A recent study found that nearly 1,800 supervisors did not complete sexual harassment training. Larger agencies, like the Department of Corrections, failed to train hundreds of supervisors. Several smaller agencies didn’t train any.
This goes to show that state and federal laws are failing to ensure employees are completing sexual harassment training. It’s up to the executives and business owners to hold themselves and their employees accountable.
Look at sexual harassment training the same way you’d look at other skills and competencies. An effective training tool with biennial reminders and due dates is a great way to make sure training doesn’t fall through the cracks and get forgotten.
In the late 1990s, two high-profile Supreme Court cases shone a light on the issue of workplace sexual harassment. Today, sexual harassment is widely recognized as a serious workplace issue and more than two-thirds of companies offer some form of prevention training.
This is all great news, except for the fact that some training videos being used today are the same ones made and used decades ago. Many of today's training modules focus on laws, liability and compliance. Many still use out-of-date, misogynistic examples of harassing behaviors.
Experts recommend sessions that promote a safe, healthy and inclusive workplaces for all. They suggest using a fresh approach that teaches staff how to react if they experience or witness workplace sexual harassment.
It’s great that businesses have implemented prevention training, but it’s just as important to keep it relevant and fresh. Sexual harassment training is too significant to be out-of-date and impractical.
Like all other training, policies or programs, the final and most important piece of advice is to monitor its effectiveness. Companies that don’t keep incident and investigation data can never be sure whether their sexual harassment training is working.
Use incident tracking tools and investigation management software to keep a close eye on the number of incidents being reported, the nature of those incidents and the outcomes. Not only can this information confirm that your training is effective, but it can also help you identify problem areas.
For example, if incident tracking data shows that most reported incidents involve unfair gender stereotyping, the next step will be obvious. Any workplace with common issues like that would need to make sure their sexual harassment training focuses more on inclusivity, equality and diversity than on other areas.
If you’re not sure how to get started with incident tracking and investigation case management software, check out the new eBook: Conducting Effective Harassment Investigations with Case Management Software. It’ll tell you how case management software works, how it fits into your current processes and how it can improve the overall workplace.