Why is harassment training important – And why most programs fail

Why should you, as a business owner, care if your company conducts harassment training for your employees? 

Here’s are five ways harassment at your workplace can hurt your business – 

  1. Between 2010 and 2015, employers paid more than $698 million to settle harassment claims.   
  2. Harassment can hurt the profitability of your company.  
  3. Sexual harassment can cost thousands of dollars in lost productivity. As per a study, nearly $22,500 per employee.
  4. Hostile work environments increase employee absenteeism and turnover. 
  5. It can damage your reputation as a business and as an employer. 

Moreover, harassment causes physical harm, distress and mental anguish to victims. And, it can lead to physical and mental harm to employees who observe such hostilities. Employers have a legal responsibility to provide a workplace where such incidents do not occur. 

Courts can hold employers accountable if they fail to provide a safe workplace to their employees. States have strict laws against workplace harassment. These laws consider harassment training as an important preventive measure against harassment.  

Why is harassment training important?  

The goal of conducting harassment training is to change employee attitudes towards people who work with them. Proper training can help employees feel safe at work. Moreover, it can help all understand the importance of a harassment-free workplace.

Unless employees realize that harassment can destroy the harmony of the entire workforce – they may not change their behavior. Unfortunately, workplace harassment can result in reduced productivity, and loss of profitability for the employers. Besides, such incidents can result in employees neglecting their projects, absenteeism, and employee turnover.

Effective harassment training advises employees on how to react to an incident of harassment. It covers how they should react if they experience harassment themselves, or if they witness an incident. 

Unfortunately, harassment still happens. And, most employees don’t report such incidents. Why?

Why employees don’t report harassment

Here are the two reasons why employees hesitate from reporting harassment.  

  1. Employees are unaware if they can report the incident as harassment, and 
  2. They perceive that employers act insensitively against such complaints. 

Can training deter harassment? – A $100,000 Case

A good example would be a harassment case settled recently by the fourth circuit court. The victim was subjected to ongoing harassment by a colleague. He filed complaints against the incidents with the company management. But, the insensitivity of the company management towards the issue, only escalated the harassment.  

After repeated complaints, the management took actions that were ineffective in deterring the harasser. 

The victim had to choose to leave the job. He suffered from several medical problems, including heart issues. Finally, the victim filed a harassment lawsuit against the employers. The employers were held accountable for failing to protect the employee. They were ordered to pay $100,000 in damages and $200,000 in punitive damages to the employee. 

Note – The fourth circuit court cancelled the punitive damages. 

As per the case analysis published on law.com, the employer was forced to pay the damages as their managers were unable to stop the harassment. Employers can prevent such situations by training their employees properly. If the managers had been trained to handle the situation, the employer could have avoided the loss of $100,000. 

Why do most harassment prevention programs fail?

Unfortunately, some employers train their employees only to please auditors. Their training programs meet the requirements of the law, but fail their employees. The content of the training includes only what the law demands. The timing set only to meet legal requirements. 

Employees don’t take such training seriously. First, such training doesn’t help them understand the threat of harassment to their team. Second, the sessions fail to deter potential harassers from engaging in such acts. In fact, such shallow training can affect employee attitude negatively. 

What should be included in harassment training? 

Your training program should emphasize on your policy against harassment. The training should be strong enough to 

  • Discourage the harassing employees, and 
  • Enforce a sense of security in your workforce 

Your harassment training should send a clear message to all employees. You are committed to provide a safe and harassment-free workplace to all employees. 

Here’s what should be included in the training – 

  • What is harassment
  • How employees can identify harassment
  • How to respond to harassment,
  • How to report such incidents, and
  • What protections does the company offer against harassment

You should prefer to use video and audio clippings over written content as such media can be more influencing than presentations. 

Sensitivity training for managers

The court case cited above, highlighted a lack of sensitivity in the victim’s supervisor and his managers. They were grossly insensitive to the effects of harassment over the victim. Harassment can have damaging personal effects over victims and those who witness it. It can lead to mental health and physical health issues.

Sensitivity training should be a must for managers. 

The training should be such that the learner understands –  

  1. The sensitivity of the issue at hand 
  2. His duty to handle the complaint professionally

Without sensitivity training, managers may fail to understand the severity of the complaint. They may end up taking decisions which are ineffective in deterring the harasser. 

Employee training 

A second reason why harassment training is important is the information that it has for victims. 

Unless you are open about how you handle complaints of harassment, the victim will hesitate in reporting incidents to you. Your training should comfort your employees that every incident, no matter how trivial, is reportable. Besides, if the person is aware of how your complaint system works, he or she can approach the right people directly. 

Moreover, it helps to know which set of behaviors can constitute harassment. Not only would it help bystanders interfere and stop such incidents; it would deter employees from such behaviors at work. 

Team bonding exercises 

Unfortunately, harassment training can also affect employee morale negatively. A sense of hesitation may develop among employees. 

Training programs that concentrate only on harassment, and the downsides of harassment, may end up hurting the morale of your team.

The fear of a sexual harassment complaint, may force some employees to avoid working with female colleagues. Others, unsure of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors, may stop communicating with their team.

Building a gender friendly workplace

You can avoid the above outcomes by selecting a training that aims at promoting a gender-friendly work culture. 

Your training should concentrate upon developing gender-sensitivity among your employees. It should promote behaviors that would not hurt the feelings of their team members. Avoid informational training. Adopt programs that emphasize group sessions. Encourage free discussion. Emphasize on what is unwelcome conduct, and which actions could be perceived as threatening. Harassment training that avoids such a discussion may create unseen boundaries and promote unnecessary tension within your workforce. 

Objectives of an effective harassment training 

Listed below are some objectives that you should consider for your harassment training program. These are the objectives, which would make your training effective and comfortable.  

  1. Help you learners understand that they are the parts of a team, here to work and grow together.
  2. Sensitize your learners to behaviors that the other members of the team consider as threatening.
  3. Share the set of behaviors that your company considers as illegal harassment.
  4. Emphasize upon the company policy against such incidents. 
  5. Share the process that victims should use for reporting harassment
  6. Let employees know that retaliation against a complainant is illegal. 
  7. Inform employees about the federal, state and local protections against harassment. And, how they can approach authorities with a complaint. 

In conclusion

Gender and racial tensions exist in every workplace. It’s the employer’s job to attend to these tensions, and manage them. If handled inappropriately, they escalate into harassment. Employers need to ensure that workers act sensitively when working with people they don’t identify with. What’s acceptable to one, may be considered as harassment by another. And, there are behaviors which are outright inappropriate.

You could get penalized for failing to protect your employees from such behavior. Federal and state laws protect employees from such behavior. Such tensions can be managed with a well-designed, custom harassment training.

A good training develops a sense of responsibility among workers and supervisors. It helps create a workplace that respects the feelings and values of its workforce. And, helps build an unbiased, gender-friendly work culture. 

If you have any queries about harassment training. Or, if you want to share your views on how to promote a gender friendly work culture, please leave your comments in the section below. 

Jessica Holland

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