What Should You Include in Your Sexual Harassment Training Program?

While state requirements create baseline requirements for sexual harassment prevention training, your programs should be comprehensive to make sure their important message gets across.

A woman holds up a hand to say "stop."

How can you make your company’s anti-harassment training more effective?

Training your employees in preventing sexual harassment is an important priority, regardless of whether it’s a legal requirement in the state where you operate. Workplaces that do not have clear and established zero-tolerance policies around sexually inappropriate conduct can be hostile, difficult environments which damage morale. There is potential for employer liability, rapid turnover and a loss of productivity, as unacceptable behavior can create a negative atmosphere that envelops the whole organization.

Focused employee education programs that go beyond minimum requirements and truly address the topic of preventing harassment are valuable tools in preventing such a harmful workplace culture from taking hold. When you’re considering how to create such a program and present it to your employees, you should consider two perspectives. The first is made up of the elements that have to be included in the program due to legal requirements (if any). The second is the added features that make the lessons memorable and impactful.

By seeking out modern training materials designed with today’s employees in mind, you can create the type of program that will keep regulators happy and give your workers the tools they need to proactively stop sexual harassment in the workplace.

Required Features: How to Comply with State Law

Sexual harassment training is a required part of employee education in six states, with eLearning Industry explaining that a seventh, Washington, mandates these courses for employees in a selection of industries: hospitality, retail, motel security and property service. The six states with more widely applicable training requirements are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine and New York. Generally speaking, these are newly enacted laws.

On top of the fact that only some states have specific training requirements, the picture is further complicated by the fact that each set of rules is unique. For instance, while micro-employers tend to be excluded from training requirements, the minimum employee counts differ by state. The Workforce blog reported that while Connecticut mandates training for companies that employ three or more people, the minimum number is five in California, 15 in Illinois and Maine and 50 in Delaware. New York requires training for everyone at every workplace, including interns serving more than 80 hours over the course of more than 90 days in a calendar year.

Some states call for specific types of training. New York offers a model course that all employers should base their education on, for instance. Other states such as Maine do not have such ironclad rules, simply positing that workers should be trained within a year of hire with records retained for three years. Interactive features are sometimes required. As eLearning Industry reported, Maine and Delaware’s laws require supervisors to take interactive assessments such as quizzes, while Workforce noted that all New York training must have interactive elements.

Complying with state law is relatively simple in states such as New York and Illinois that offer model programs showing off the minimum requirements. In the other states, there are generally straightforward requirements about the frequency of training, record keeping and the format materials must take. With that said, meeting these goals is simply a starting point. Designing courses to be compelling and memorable tends to go beyond what is mandated by the local government. This goes doubly for states that do not demand training; even in these states, employers must create a safe and hospitable workplace, and high-quality, anti-harassment training is part of that effort.

A map of the U.S. made up of state names.Requirements differ significantly by state.

Extra Elements: How to Make Your Training Programs More Effective

Whether your company is starting from solid regulations such as New York’s model-program mandate or is creating a harassment prevention program from scratch, you can apply employee education best practices to help the lessons inform your company culture. When zero tolerance for harassment is a normalized part of the workplace, with clear consequences for people who violate the rules and easily understood processes for reporting incidents, the whole organization stands to benefit.

The Society for Human Resource Management explained one of the major impediments to effective training comes from employee expectations. Going into anti-harassment training sessions, participants often assume they won’t actually learn anything useful. The supposition that the classes will bore the participants, or will simply make them uncomfortable, is widespread and may prevent your offerings from having their intended impact. The way to overcome this issue, according to the SHRM, is for the human resources department to change the way training is administered. This could involve breaking the program up into small units rather than having one massive dump of information.

Motivation can be an important factor in keeping employees engaged with the training. Jason Meyer, CEO of consultancy LeadGood, LLC, told Software Advice it pays to explain how a training program isn’t just about legal compliance, but rather that the company is interested in creating more ethical and supportive core values. When businesses only perform harassment training out of obligation and say as much to their employees, it can be hard for anyone to feel adequate involvement and motivation.

Honest communication about the nature of the course is also important. Meyer said it’s best to set expectations and do as much as possible to make the coursework easy to digest, minimizing boredom and downtime and giving participants all the information they need. Today’s training programs may include examples and interactive quizzes alongside material presented through videos. Starting a program by stating how long it is and what workers will have to complete enables them to not feel stuck in the courses. There is a clear beginning and end, and while it might not all be actively exciting, it is important.

A male employee harasses a female colleague.Workplaces of all kinds need programs in place designed to prevent harassment.

Modern Training Tools: What to Look for in Video Training Programs

Today’s organizations are moving toward an increasing reliance on digital training methods, as these are affordable and repeatable, and especially useful for businesses that operate multiple offices or have a large proportion of remote workers. Even before companies were forced to embrace work-from-home methods, video-based online training was on the rise. Now, this method is indispensable across all subjects, harassment prevention included. By searching through a well-stocked training library, you can find courses that suit your business’s exact needs.

Online sexual harassment training courses take on particular situations. Some include separate supervisor and employee modules to ensure each party knows their responsibilities regarding filing and acting upon harassment complaints. Other courses are designed to comply with sexual harassment laws which call for companies to meet or exceed the baselines established in the states’ model courses. Still more online offerings are designed to stop sexual harassment in various workplaces, such as offices or industrial settings.

Whichever digital courses are the best fit for your organization, you can put in extra effort to create strong messaging for your staff and create a program to stop sexual harassment before it starts.

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