United States: Anti-Sexual Harassment Training: What Works and What Doesn't

Last Updated: November 23 2017
Article by Ariel G. Sullivan

In mid-November, Saturday Night Live paid homage to beleaguered Human Resources professionals across the nation by introducing us to "Claire from HR" during Weekend Update. If you haven't seen the sketch yet, click here. Claire (played by Cecily Strong) arrives to provide a brief anti-sexual harassment training – a "little HR quiz" just to "make sure we're all on the same page" – to co-anchor Colin Jost. After revealing that she hasn't slept in three days – it's been a "crazy week" in HR – Claire begins her tenth training of the day with the topic of workplace romances:

What is the appropriate way to handle a workplace relationship?
A. inform someone at HR
B. lock her in a room and make her look at it.
C. bully her out of the entire industry.

Colin answers "A," much to Claire's relief. The training then descends further into parody, culminating with the use of a male doll in a suit to demonstrate where a certain body part should be kept during work (noting that there are "no wrong answers here, just super-wrong answers"). The late night anti-sexual harassment training is obviously hyperbole, intended to draw laughs at the notion that people in the workplace could be so blatantly ignorant – about how to conduct themselves and treat others – that they would answer any of the questions wrong.

In reality, most harassment in the workplace occurs in more subtle ways, requiring a nuanced approach to training employees how to prevent, detect, and respond to it. Given the recent outpouring of (mostly) women and men coming forward to share their experiences of sexual harassment in the workplace, it is more important than ever for higher education institutions to reevaluate and rethink their approach to training. In doing so, colleges and universities should consider the following:

  • Live Training vs. Online training: For many colleges and universities, online training software provides an efficient, cost-effective way to ensure that all employees receive training on an annual or at least "regular" basis. Employees click through a series of questions for about an hour in the comfort of their own work space, perhaps while distracted with other work. Upon satisfactory completion, employees may even receive a certificate confirming that they have been trained in how to identify and respond to harassment in the workplace. The shortcoming of this training method is that employees are sitting alone behind their computers and not interacting with one another. At its core, harassment is an issue of human interaction, whether face-to-face, by phone, or in writing. Online modules may be helpful to familiarize employees with the college or university's policies regarding harassment, and to supplement other training methods from time to time, but should not be used in lieu of live, interactive training, especially in the case of managers and supervisors.
  • Interactive Discussion vs. Multiple Choice Q&A: Multiple choice questions are useful for "breaking the ice" with employees during training and getting them to participate. But as anyone in HR knows, most real-life situations involving harassment in the workplace are not as simple as "A, B, C or D." Take Claire's first question above, for example. Colin readily answered "A," given that choices "B" and "C" were completely outlandish; but is disclosure to HR necessarily required in every instance of a romantic encounter between employees? The answer may depend on the nature of the encounter, duration of the relationship, and the respective positions of the parties involved, such as their level in the hierarchy and whether they work in the same department. Training should provide employees with the opportunity to talk through the different variables that may be involved in a situation, and the impact that any related college or university policies may have on the analysis. (Now is a good time to consider implementing a Consensual/Romantic Relationships Policy if you don't have one).
  • Get Comfortable With Sexual Lingo:  Training on the subject matter of sexual harassment will inevitably include the use of words and phrases that may be uncomfortable for employees to hear and use among each other. In order to facilitate a meaningful training with real-life scenarios, the trainer cannot be someone who easily blushes or stammers at the names of private parts or sexual acts (or someone who needs to pump hand sanitizer directly into his/her mouth after asking a question, like Claire from HR). A good trainer must make employees feel comfortable with the uncomfortable.
  • Give Trigger Warnings:  Some employers may grumble about this one, but if you are planning to provide a comprehensive sexual harassment training (which you should), consider providing a trigger warning in advance. While not legally required, the burden of providing a simple trigger warning is low, demonstrates sensitivity, and empowers victims to feel like they have a choice about whether to participate in a portion of a training that may be particularly upsetting to them.
  • Emphasize that Retaliation is Prohibited: Many individuals are now publicly sharing painful stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, but a common thread is that the incidents occurred years ago and the individuals have moved on with their careers. Most victims of sexual harassment – even if they hashtag "me too" on their social media accounts – remain in the shadows in their current workplace out of fear of retaliation or "career suicide." The victim may ultimately leave, but the perpetrator remains, and nothing is ever done to stop it. Talented employees leave. Productivity and morale suffer. The only way to break this cycle is to remind employees during every training that they will not be retaliated against for coming forward on behalf of themselves or others, and encourage them to report any concerns to HR.

While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to anti-harassment training, and they are not a panacea, there are tangible improvements that colleges and universities can make to provide more meaningful programs centered around interactive participation by employees, that take into account the unique aspects of their organizational culture, size, and hierarchy. The time has come for employers to make a harassment-free work environment a priority as opposed to a back-burner issue.

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
 
In association with
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
Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:
  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.
  • Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.
    If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here
    If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here

    Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

    Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

    Use of www.mondaq.com

    You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). 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 & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

    Disclaimer

    Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd 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 or performance of information available from this server.

    The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

    Registration

    Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

    • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
    • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
    • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

    Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

    Information Collection and Use

    We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

    We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

    Mondaq News Alerts

    In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

    Cookies

    A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

    Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

    Log Files

    We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

    Links

    This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

    Surveys & Contests

    From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

    Mail-A-Friend

    If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

    Emails

    From time to time Mondaq may send you emails promoting Mondaq services including new services. You may opt out of receiving such emails by clicking below.

    *** If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of services offered by Mondaq you may opt out by clicking here .

    Security

    This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

    Correcting/Updating Personal Information

    If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

    Notification of Changes

    If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

    How to contact Mondaq

    You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

    If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.

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