Does your organization provide anti-harassment training for employees and managers? One of the main reasons anti-harassment training is important is that employers have an obligation to provide a safe workplace—one that is free of harassment. If an employer does not take proactive steps to ensure such an environment, that employer will find it much more difficult to defend itself in a harassment claim. In fact, the lack of any preventive measures against harassment can be judged as negligence, in some cases.
This requirement comes about as part of providing an harassment-free workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. As enforcer of Title VII, the EEOC promotes prevention as the best way to combat sexual and other harassment in the workplace. Some states also have their own guidelines and regulations that promote or mandate anti-harassment training.
‘Prevention Is the Best Medicine’
What can an employer do to help ensure it is taking all appropriate precautions against harassment in the workplace? One concrete action employers can take is to ensure that anti-harassment training is provided to both employees and managers. The training should include:
- What constitutes harassment (both sexual harassment and other types of harassment)
- What conduct is unacceptable, with examples
- What an employee can do to report harassment of any type; this section of the training should include:
- Who the employee should contact to report harassment, including alternatives in case the point of contact is unavailable or is involved in the alleged harassment
- The fact that reporting harassment is a protected activity (i.e., the employee cannot be fired or otherwise retaliated against for a good-faith report)
- What actions the manager and other employer representatives should take when learning of a potential harassment situation
- The details of the company’s anti-harassment policies
- The potential consequences of being found guilty of harassment—both for the employer and for the employee(s) in question
As part of the training process:
- Employers should require employees and managers to sign a statement confirming that they’ve attended the training and understood what they’ve been told. This can be used as documentation, which the employer can point to as a way to show their commitment to a harassment-free workplace.
- Encourage employees to report inappropriate behavior immediately, and give them multiple ways to do so.
- Use case examples and other examples of conduct to help everyone understand.
Employers need to pay very close attention to this topic because harassment is one of the areas of law where, in some cases, the employer can be held legally responsible for an employee’s actions. This is true when the employee in question is a supervisor or above and the employer knew or should have known about the misconduct and did not take prompt corrective action.
The primary defense against liability in these cases is to clearly show that all appropriate steps were taken to prevent harassment from occurring, that there was no prior knowledge of the harassing conduct, or that immediate corrective action was taken as soon as the employer became aware of the conduct.
About Bridget Miller:
Bridget Miller is a business consultant with a specialized MBA in International Economics and Management, which provides a unique perspective on business challenges. She’s been working in the corporate world for over 15 years, with experience across multiple diverse departments including HR, sales, marketing, IT, commercial development, and training.