Why We Train
It has been recommended that companies all over the US conduct harassment training on a yearly basis. Utah’s Department of Human Resource Management Rules require that all state employer provide sexual harassment training consistent with the department’s Unlawful Harassment Prevention Training Standards. It is not to cause problems, or put ideas into employee’s heads; but rather to raise awareness as to what is appropriate and inappropriate in the workplace. As the workplace changes, and employee turnover occurs, the yearly benchmark is important to stay up to speed with the times. Improper business communications occur regularly; gossiping, texting, inappropriate emails, discriminatory conversations, offensive body language or looks, bullying, crude jokes and/or humor are all common types of harassment. They occur frequently and most times go un-reported. Hearing a crude joke or receiving a discriminatory emails is becoming more common place. All it takes is one person to become offended, and you and/or your company could be faced with a complaint.
The EEOC is a federal agency that investigates claims of discrimination and harassment. It has stated that it expects employers to train workers, and they will require evidence and documentation of this training if a complaint is filed with the agency. According to EEOC guidelines, prevention is the best tool, combined with an effective complaint or grievance process. An employer can be held legally responsible for the actions of its employees. It seems simple to provide the training upon hire, and again annually, rather that deal with the repercussions of a lengthy and costly lawsuit. It is less expensive to do the following three guidelines than defend yourself from one harassment lawsuit – whether or not you prove to be at fault.
- Implement harassment training
- Create harassment policies
- Foster a no-tolerance workplace
1. Implement Harassment Training
- The more people who are aware of the standards expected of them at work, the less likely bullying, harassment or ignorant behavior manifests itself. Training helps us understand what professional behavior is and why it is so important to support it. It clearly defines the boundaries of what legal behavior is, and what activities cross the line and break the law. Training is intended to help people understand these boundaries, to make a distinction between behaviors inside and outside the workplace, and to lay the expectations of professional and acceptable behavior at work. Conduct annual seminars on the company’s harassment and discrimination policies and enforcement procedures, reminding all employees of what constitutes harassment and discrimination, as well as what happens if an employee violates the policy. Keep these seminars simple: (1) read the policy aloud, (2) explain the complaint and investigation procedures, (3) encourage reporting and (4) answer any questions your employees pose. Document when you conducted the seminars, as well as what you discussed, and require all employees to sign a sheet documenting their attendance.
2. Creating Harassment Policies
- By creating specific harassment policies and providing and documenting harassment training, employers can decrease their chances of litigation. If taken to court, these documents will help prove that employees have been made aware of the company’s stance toward harassment. Make sure your company has a written policy that (1) defines sexual harassment and discrimination, (2) prohibits such conduct, and (3) provides a complaint and investigation procedure. The policy should identify appropriate personnel to whom employees can report harassment and discrimination complaints, and state that the company will promptly investigate any complaints without retaliation. Distribute this policy to each employee upon hiring and to all employees at least once a year. Post the policy in a conspicuous place where employees can easily access it. Make sure each employee signs a receipt of the policy (preferably each time he or she receives a copy), and keep all signed receipts in the employee’s personnel file.
3. Foster a No-Tolerance Workplace
- When all employees are trained and are on board with understanding the policy, the most important aspect of harassment prevention begins; consistency. Create an environment where employees feel comfortable in reporting what they’ve either seen, heard, or read. Keep the conversations private, and help the employee understand that there is zero tolerance for workplace harassment. Investigate all complaints promptly, take appropriate measures to prevent the alleged harassment or discrimination from continuing, and ensure that the complaining employee does not suffer retaliation or other adverse job consequences. Throughout the process, document all aspects of your investigation.
By taking these simple steps each year, employers may be able to avoid liability for harassment and discrimination by their employees. Don’t wait until you know you have a problem: affirmative steps now can prevent significant liability later.