Does Harassment Training Actually Provoke Lawsuits?

Some managers believe that if they train in how to recognize harassment, unaware employees will start to see it and sue. A new study tells if they’re right.

Are you a graduate of the “Ostrich School of Management?”

It’s easy to figure out which managers are. They’re the ones who think that if they take no notice of a workplace problem, then the problem will not exist.

There are many such managers when it comes to the subject of sexual harassment. They firmly believe in the rationale of don’t ask, don’t tell, and especially, don’t train. Because if you teach employees to recognize harassment, they’ll soon be seeing it—and suing you over it.

Caren M. Goldberg, a management professor at the American University’s Kogod School of Business, recently designed a study to test this reasoning. Her theory going into the study, as reported on our subscription website, HR.BLR.com, postulated that not only does harassment training not lead to lawsuits, it’s actually protective should a lawsuit ensue.

If harassment or other wrongdoing is charged, you’ll need to do an investigation. Learn to do it effectively and legally in a special August 16 audio conference. Read more.

“Some organizations have avoided implementing harassment training programs for fear that providing it might increase lawsuits from otherwise unaware victims,” Goldberg said. “But if an employer is sued, proof that training was offered may be one of the best defenses.”

Goldberg’s study involved 243 graduate students who held jobs but had never taken harassment training. She asked them to imagine themselves in harassment situations and then asked how many would respond with a lawsuit versus lesser remedies.

Goldberg then conducted harassment training with half the group. The other half was kept in the dark about what behaviors are actionable and what their rights were. Then, 3 months later, she again tested the group on how many would head for a lawyer’s office if harassed.

The result: No difference. The desire to jump into court seemed to be generated more by personal factors than by the degree of training.

“This study indicates that the presumed downside [of harassment training] is much ado about nothing,” concluded Goldberg. “These findings will hopefully provide reassurance to employers undecided about training.”

What to Train

Suppose then, you’ve decided on training. What are the key concepts to impart to employees?

We found a concise summary in the BLR monthly newsletter, HR Manager’s Legal Reporter. Here are some of the key concepts employees need to be aware of:

1) Harassment comes in two forms: behavioral and environmental. Behavioral harassment means unwelcome touching, gesturing or leering, or promising and/or delivering workplace consequences or rewards in exchange for sexual favors. Environmental harassment comes as jokes, posters, or other expressions of sexuality in the workplace that disturb the victim’s work or state of mind.

Train your whole staff on investigation procedures for one low fee at the upcoming August 16 special audio conference. Click for more details.

2) Harassment exists if it is perceived as such in the mind of the victim. Protests from harassers that their actions were unintentional or just in fun are never acceptable excuses. That’s why it’s so important to train on where the boundaries are, or potential harassers may never know they’ve crossed one.

3) Harassment can come not only from managers and co-workers but also from customers, vendors, or other workplace visitors. The employer can be held responsible for what happens in the workplace, no matter who is involved.

4) What consequences should be meted out, once it has occurred? That depends on its nature and severity, its pattern and frequency, and the totality of the situation.

If harassment happens and is reported, it’s vitally important that you investigate the complaint. The reason: Courts may perceive ignoring harassment as a greater sin than not training in it. Investigations, however, are a tricky business. BLR will be conducting a special audio conference on how to do it right on August 16. Look for more information on this, and investigations in general, in tomorrow’s Daily Advisor.

Audio Conference
When harassment or other workplace wrongdoing is charged, you must investigate. Don’t get sued for doing it. Learn the procedures to take and precautions to observe from two top experts in this very special audio conference. One low fee trains all. Satisfaction assured.
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