Making Sexual Harassment Prevention Training Effective

Training_course_130905-N-XF571-016_SMSexual harassment training has become a rite of passage for new supervisors in certain states. For example, for California employers, supervisors must attend training every two years. Various other states have sexual harassment prevention requirements for private and public employers.

But what makes training effective and not just another workplace requirement to muddle through?

How can organizations derive true value from investing in sexual harassment prevention training?

Say What You Mean, Mean What You Say

Training has to matter in order to be effective.

If an organization does not value the subject matter that is being taught, but is engaging in training simply to check off a “to do” list, the employees will catch on.

When conducting any training sessions, but especially those that serve to prevent discrimination, harassment or retaliation, it is important to reassure employees that the organization values a workplace free from unlawful behavior.

Make a powerful statement at the outset that sets the tone for the session and keep it simple: “We do not tolerate harassment of any kind in this workplace.”

Follow the Rules

Certain jurisdictions have specific requirements regarding sexual harassment prevention. These obligations differ by state. Different rules exist for public or private employers. Absent government regulations, whether at the state or local level, implementing a sexual harassment prevention policy (and reinforcing it with training) may limit employer liability by providing additional court defenses.

Follow applicable rules by taking discrete, simple actions:

  • Do you live in a state that requires training? Provide it.
  • Are there additional requirements other than training?
    • For example, is there a poster available? Post it.
    • Are there model notices? Provide them to employees.
    • Does the organization have a sexual harassment policy? Enforce it.

Regular refreshers will keep the rules top-of-mind and increase overall compliance.

Expand Your Reach

Consider expanding the audience for sexual harassment prevention training: it does not have to be a supervisors-only program.

Including a greater amount of employees for training than the minimum required number sends a clear message: the organization values a workplace free from harassment and will work to educate all employees on this important goal.

In assessing training needs, always keep in mind wage and hour requirements for training sessions (especially for nonexempt employees) and business needs (e.g., customer service requirements, employee schedules). Although training comes at a cost, it may be money well spent if it minimizes liability risks.

Engage Your Audience

Making the presentation interactive is not only good practice, but it also may be required in your state. California specifically requires that the training be “interactive” and “effective.” This combination requires the use of either:

  • A traditional classroom training with an in-person trainer;
  • E-learning, which is individualized, interactive and computer-based training with access to a trainer for Q&A sessions;
  • Real-time webinars with a Q&A session; or
  • Other training that includes the use of technology in conjunction with classroom, webinar or e-learning training.

The key to all of these sessions is the attendee’s opportunity to engage the presenter. Without at least a nominal opportunity to participate in the discussion, the lessons tend not to sink in.

Keep up to Date

Discrimination and harassment protections vary by state and may change with every legislative session. An employer must keep up with the changes in order to remain fully compliant.

For example, California expanded its sexual harassment prevention training requirements by adding an abusive conduct component for trainings held in 2015 or later. This means that in addition to the required components of federal and state law, employers must undertake a discussion on bullying within the context of harassment in order to remain timely, compliant and effective.


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