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.

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
Font Size:
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
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
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.


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.


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