In today’s professional landscape, the prevention of sexual harassment is a paramount concern. To ensure legal compliance and foster a respectful workplace, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recommends a strategic approach that addresses six critical areas. Here, we delve into these key components, shedding light on why they matter and how they contribute to a safer, more inclusive work environment.
1. Tailoring Training to Your Industry
Sexual harassment is a pervasive issue across various industries, each with its own unique work environment and dynamics. The EEOC emphasizes that the effectiveness of harassment training increases when tailored to the organization and its specific audience. This approach accounts for the daily experiences, as well as the distinctive characteristics of the work, workforce, and workplace.
Takeaway: Tailoring sexual harassment training to your industry makes it more relatable and memorable. It should encompass realistic on-site scenarios and address the challenges posed by remote or hybrid work environments, where unwelcome behavior can manifest through text messages, emails, video calls, and other online platforms.
2. Providing Different Versions of Training for Employees and Managers
All employees should receive sexual harassment prevention training that explains what constitutes illegal conduct, how to report it, and the consequences of engaging in unacceptable behavior. However, supervisors and managers bear additional responsibilities, including practicing “situational awareness” and responding promptly to complaints.
According to the EEOC, training for managers and supervisors should offer practical methods for handling harassment they observe, that is reported to them, or of which they have knowledge. It should also provide clear instructions on how to report harassing behavior up the chain of command.
Takeaway: Recognizing that employees and managers have different roles and responsibilities, it’s crucial to offer distinct training for each. Supervisor and manager training should emphasize their duties in responding to harassing behavior, even in the absence of a formal complaint.
3. Making Training and Policies Available in Preferred Languages
Diversity is a hallmark of modern workplaces, but it can also pose unique challenges when it comes to preventing harassment. The EEOC points out that employees from different cultural backgrounds may be less aware of laws and workplace norms, potentially affecting their behavior and their ability to identify prohibited conduct. It adds that “workers who do not speak English may not know their rights and may be more subject to exploitation.”
Takeaway: To ensure a comprehensive understanding of anti-harassment policies and training, it is essential to offer materials in all languages spoken in the workplace. When employees can access content in their preferred language, it enhances comprehension and retention.
4. Fostering a Speak-Up Culture
Research by the EEOC reveals that three out of four individuals never report the misconduct to a supervisor, manager or HR representative out of fear or concerns they won’t be believed, their complaints will be dismissed, they will face blame, or they will experience retaliation.
To address this issue, the EEOC emphasizes that anti-harassment training should focus on behaviors that contribute to building a speak-up culture.
This includes bystander intervention training, which can empower employees to safely confront and disrupt harassment, offer support to the target, and report abusive behavior. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) calls bystander-intervention training “a game changer that can have a positive impact on workplace culture by creating a sense of collective responsibility.” Providing techniques to safely confront and disrupt harassment, support the target and report the abuse brings the power of the workforce to bear against harassers.
It also encompasses guidance on avoiding retaliation, the most common offense reported to the EEOC. Retaliation is the most common offense reported to the EEOC, accounting for 56% of all claims. Any negative action by an employee or manager following a harassment claim is potentially retaliation. The EEOC deems retaliation illegal, regardless of whether a misconduct claim is true, if it was made in good faith.
Takeaway: A robust sexual harassment prevention program should instill a culture of accountability by incorporating training on bystander intervention and preventing retaliation.
5. Implementing Behavior-Based Training for Real Change
Effective compliance training aims not only to identify what employees should not do but also to encourage positive actions that contribute to a culture of respect. The EEOC recommends behavior-based anti-harassment training, which allows learners to practice positive actions through interactive scenarios. In this immersive approach, employees can make mistakes and learn to choose the right path in a safe environment.
Takeaway: A behavior-based training approach enables learners to witness the consequences of their decisions, fostering the development of desirable habits and answering the question, “What’s in it for me?”
6. Maintaining Ongoing Awareness and Training Updates
Effective anti-harassment training is an ongoing process. The EEOC advises against conducting training once a year or repeating the same content continuously. Instead, it recommends regular training events that reinforce key information and stay dynamic in style, form, and content.
Takeaway: Consistent, updated training is essential for creating a respectful workplace. Regularly refreshing the training content keeps learners engaged and informed.
In the pursuit of a harassment-free work environment and adherence to legal requirements, organizations must be proactive in their approach to sexual harassment prevention. By addressing these six critical areas outlined by the EEOC, businesses can foster a more inclusive, respectful, and legally compliant workplace.
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