United States: Taking Workplace Training To The Next Level: EEOC Task Force Recommends Live, Interactive Harassment Prevention Training

On June 20, 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission released a 130-page report ("the Report")1 on harassment in the workplace. The Report contains 45 specific recommendations and identifies 12 "risk factors" concerning workplace harassment and its prevention. Notably, the Report devoted the bulk of its recommendations to the need for effective compliance training and related efforts.

Workplace Harassment Remains a Persistent Problem

The Report calls for "a reboot of workplace harassment prevention efforts." The impetus for this initiative is that nearly a third of the approximately 90,000 charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC last year included allegations of workplace harassment. In addition, the Report found that "[r]oughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct."

The primary reason cited for this failure is central to what many compliance training programs often strive to correct and prevent: employees who experience harassment fail to respond to it out of fear of the reactions they may get to a report — disbelief, inaction, receipt of blame, and social and professional retaliation.

Citing a strong business case for harassment prevention efforts (psychological, physical, occupational, and economic harm, among others), the EEOC Report sets forth a three-pronged strategy to decrease workplace harassment: start at the top with "leadership and commitment to a diverse, inclusive, and respectful workplace in which harassment is simply not acceptable"; make "policies, reporting procedures, investigations, and corrective actions ... essential components" of a holistic effort to prevent harassment; and, conduct effective compliance and prevention training.

Prevention Should Include "Situational Awareness" of Risk Factors for Harassment

As a lead-in to its assessment of effective harassment-prevention training efforts, the EEOC Report declared that it "wanted to find ways to help employers and employees prevent such conduct before it rose to the level of illegal harassment." To do so, it crafted an approach it termed "situational awareness" to help employers identify and describe where "fertile ground" may exist for harassment to occur, and to serve as a "roadmap" for employers with activity in these areas or situations to help those employers take proactive steps to prevent harassment in their workplaces. This "situational awareness" effort included the identification of the following trends that have resulted in risk areas that merit employer assessment:

  • Homogeneous workforce. "Harassment is more likely to occur where there is a lack of diversity in the workplace."
  • Workplaces where some employees do not conform to workplace norms.
  • Cultural and language differences in the workplace. "Workplaces that are extremely diverse also pose a risk factor for harassment."
  • Coarsened social discourse outside the workplace. "Events outside a workplace may pose a risk factor that employers need to consider and proactively address."
  • Young workforces. "Workers in their first or second jobs may be less aware of laws and workplace norms."
  • Workplaces with "high value" employees. "Senior management may be reluctant to challenge the behavior of their high-value employees."
  • Workplaces with significant power disparities.
  • Isolated workplaces.
  • Workplaces that tolerate or encourage alcohol consumption.
  • Decentralized workplaces. Workplaces where corporate offices are far removed from front-line employees or first-line supervisors.

The purpose of outlining these areas is to increase employers' awareness of situations that may make their workplace more susceptible to harassment — and thus to allow them to take corresponding, proactive measures to prevent and/or remedy it. Assessment of many of these areas also lends itself to the kind of interactive training discussions the EEOC recommends.

Your Harassment Prevention Training Effort Should Be Viewed as an Essential Component of Your Anti-Harassment Effort

Effective Anti-Harassment Compliance Is Best Presented Live and Interactively

A considerable part of the EEOC Report centers on the role effective compliance training could play in preventing workplace harassment. In a strong endorsement, the EEOC Report singled out live, interactive delivery as the preferred method of providing harassment prevention training. The Report contains a consensus as to what elements comprise successful harassment prevention training — all of which are enhanced by live, interactive delivery:

  • Training that not only helps employers comply with the legal requirements of employment non-discrimination laws, but also describes conduct that, if left unchecked, might rise to the level of illegal harassment.
  • Training that is not canned, "one-size-fits-all" training, but rather tailored to the specific realities of different workplaces.
  • Training in multiple languages, or that provides for different learning styles and levels of education.
  • Training that clarifies what conduct is not harassment and is therefore acceptable in the workplace, reflecting the reality of human experience and common courtesy.
  • Training that educates employees about their rights and responsibilities if they experience — or witness — conduct the employer has stated is not acceptable in the workplace — the "(hopefully) multiple avenues offered by the employer to report unwelcome conduct."
  • Training that describes, in simple terms, how the formal complaint process will proceed.

The Report then identifies the heightened need for training middle-management and first-line supervisors, as the heart of an organization's prevention efforts, to address conduct before it rises to the level of illegal harassment.

The challenges that abound in the above factors lead the Report's authors to detail the method most likely to deliver useful training effectively: live and interactive training, presented by trainers "who are dynamic, engaging, and have full command of the subject matter." Such a person is "most suited" to work through the complex questions participants may have and should be chosen carefully.

New and Different Approaches to Harassment Prevention Training Cited: Bystander Intervention Training and Workplace Civility Training

Recognizing that many factors drive harassment prevention, the Report takes an expansive approach to training methods based less on compliance and more on organizational culture as a key element to reduce exposure to workplace harassment. Two established methods were offered for consideration: Workplace Civility Training and Bystander Intervention Training.

Workplace Civility Training

Instead of focusing on eliminating unwelcome behavior based on legally protected characteristics, this training approach promotes respect and civility as a means of reducing bullying or workplace conflict.

While the U.S. Supreme Court itself is on record as wanting to avoid creating a "civility code" through harassment prevention efforts, the Report notes that incivility is often an antecedent to workplace harassment, and can create a climate of "general derision and disrespect" in which harassing behaviors are tolerated.

Workplace civility trainings focus on establishing expectations of civility and respect in the workplace, and on providing management and employees the tools they need to meet such expectations. As the Report states, "the beauty of workplace civility training is that it is focused on the positive — what employees and managers should do, rather than on what they should not do." Included in this training can be explorations of workplace norms, discussions of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviors in a given workplace, and importantly, a heavily skills-based component that addresses such things as interpersonal skills training, conflict resolution training, and effective supervisory techniques.

Bystander Intervention Training

Traditionally used as a violence prevention strategy or to prevent sexual assault, bystander intervention training also received support by the Report's authors as an effective approach to harassment prevention. The standard components of bystander intervention training consist of at least four strategies identified in the Report, all of which have direct application to harassment prevention methods:

  • Create awareness — Enable bystanders to recognize potentially problematic behaviors.
  • Create a sense of collective responsibility — Motivate bystanders to step in and take action when they observe problematic behaviors.
  • Create a sense of empowerment — Conduct skills-building exercises to provide bystanders with the skills and confidence to intervene as appropriate.
  • Provide resources — Provide bystanders with resources they can call upon and that support their intervention.

Recognizing the potential effectiveness of this kind of training, the Report makes a compelling case for its application to workplace harassment prevention:

"Such training could help employees identify unwelcome and offensive behavior that is based on a co-workers' protected characteristic under employment non-discrimination laws; could create a sense of responsibility on the part of employees to "do something" and not simply stand by; could give employees the skills and confidence to intervene in some manner to stop harassment; and finally, could demonstrate the employer's commitment to empowering employees to act in this manner. Bystander training also affords employers an opportunity to underscore their commitment to non-retaliation by making clear that any employee who "steps up" to combat harassment will be protected from negative repercussions."

As the Report states, training cannot stand alone but rather must be part of a holistic effort undertaken by the employer to prevent harassment that includes elements of leadership and accountability. However, the Report is striking in its substantial emphasis on the unique qualities—and significant impact—represented by effective harassment prevention training methods.

Employer Considerations

Along with several of the recommendations made in the Report, the following list outlines some key considerations that can be given to an organization's decision as to the nature, scope, and conduct of live workplace training from which they could benefit the most:

  • Examine your delivery methods to ensure your prevention training addresses your workplace's unique characteristics and organizational culture.
  • Assess what methods are used to make the training interactive and dynamic.
  • Address "situational awareness" by examining which, if any, of the identified risk factors might exist at your workplace. Assess which ones may apply, then consider the Report's specific strategies to reduce harassment based on the factor(s).
  • Evaluate your trainers: are they sufficiently dynamic and engaging? Do they have full command of the subject matter? If not, the message of prevention may not fully take hold.
  • Develop training messages and delivery models that go "beyond compliance" and include emphasis on workplace civility, respect, and "bystander intervention" as a means to drive home an effective message as part of a company's overall workplace harassment prevention program.
  • Consider starting at the top with an internal focus group tasked with assessing the factors outlined in this Report, and implementing them into your customized training.
  • Consider executive coaching for those who need further instruction in this area, or group executive coaching for key leaders who can assist in creating a harassment-free environment.
  • Offer compliance trainings to employees on a regular basis. These trainings should include the content and follow the structural principles described in the EEOC Report.
  • Dedicate sufficient resources to train middle-management and first-line supervisors on how to respond effectively to harassment that they observe, that is reported to them, or of which they have knowledge or information.
  • Communicate your anti-harassment policy, and in particular details about how to complain of harassment and how to report observed harassment, frequently to employees in a variety of forms and methods.
  • Consider a post-training evaluation of the efficacy of existing training, perhaps by a third party (not the employer or trainer).

Footnote

1 U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace: Report of Co-Chairs Chai R. Feldblum and Victoria A. Lipnic, (Jun. 20, 2016).

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Christopher E. Cobey
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions