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Rethinking Workplace Harassment Training

By Sarah Crawford

Too often, workplace harassment training follows a dated approach that focuses on legal standards. When training is offered, many employers offer “check-the-box” training intended to limit liability for harassment.

While it is important for managers to understand their legal obligations and for employees to understand their legal rights, new approaches to training provide more effective solutions. Yes, managers and employees must understand policies and procedures, but real change starts with organizations and individuals taking concrete, effective steps to create a culture of respect and civility that can prevent small issues from becoming big problems. 

I recently co-authored a report with Sharyn Tejani of the National Women’s Law Center, What Works at Work: Promising Practices to Prevent and Respond to Sexual Harassment in Low Paid Jobs. The report highlighted recommendations shared by workers, organizers, litigators, advocates, and social scientists who attended a two-day convening hosted by the National Women’s Law Center and the Urban Institute. The presenters and participants examined practices shown to be effective by research or through on-the-ground experience for preventing and addressing workplace sexual harassment. 

A key focus of the convening was how to better train employees and managers to prevent and respond to harassment. The presenters and participants offered a number of recommendations to rethink harassment training:

  • Training should be interactive through activities, role-playing, discussions, and demonstrations. Problem-solving and skills-building exercises can address how to identify harassment and retaliation, promote effective communication, provide constructive criticism, speak up and confront a harasser, and support individuals who come forward.
  • Training should come from a trusted messenger, who may be an outside expert, a knowledgeable supervisor, or a peer. 
  • Training should be tailored to the needs of the workforce, considering the culture and how harassment manifests. Involving workers in planning and conducting the training can help to tailor training to specific needs.
  • Training must be accessible, considering the languages that are spoken by employees, literacy levels, access to technology, and the physical location. 
  • Training can teach skills to empower bystanders to disrupt harassment. Active bystanders can intervene in the situation, reach out to an individual who faces harassment, or approach a supervisor.
  • Training should be evaluated through surveys, tests, or discussions to adapt to better meet the needs of the workforce.  
  • Training should be regular. Just as with any other subject of training in the workplace, employees should be trained, observed, critiqued, and retrained. 

As to this final point, employers should not put training on hold while many employees are working remotely and connecting online due to COVID-19. Interactive, web-based programs allow employees to actively participate in training by video through live discussions and online chat functions. 

By implementing these recommendations, training can adapt to better promote safe and respectful workplaces.  

Working IDEAL offers customized online training on issues including harassment, discrimination, retaliation, diversity, equity, and inclusion. Contact us here to learn more about the services we offer.