The Benefits, and Obligations, of Unlawful Harassment Training

There is no question – employment risks in the workplace abound. In addition to increased employment litigation, the EEOC received a boost in funding and personnel to address the increase in employee claims. Despite an increased awareness and concern by employers to comply with the law, problems still exist and the EEOC is more vigilant than ever in addressing all the complaints it receives.

In 1998, the United States Supreme Court ruled on two landmark cases which ultimately placed a great deal of emphasis on the need for education and training in the workplace. The court emphasized that a legitimate defense against liability or damages would occur providing the company can prove, by a large amount of evidence, two factors:

  1. The company exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct any harassing behavior;
  2. The plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer or to avoid harm otherwise.

These decisions began to spell out the steps an employer and an employee must take to remedy harassing situations at work.

Taking a proactive approach

Many companies have policies and provide them to their staff upon hire or orientation.  The concern is that they don’t take the time to explain the policy or the avenues available to an individual if they wish to make a complaint.  In addition, managers are woefully unaware of their actual duties and responsibilities, relative to accepting and responding to complaints.

Managers and companies can no longer take a passive approach.  Telling an employee about a policy is insufficient.  Management must become proactive in educating all employees, reinforcing an open-door policy and responding immediately to all inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

EEOC and Training

The EEOC is a federal agency that investigates claims of discrimination and harassment.  It has stated that it expects employers to train workers, and they will require evidence and documentation of this training if a complaint is filed with the agency. According to the EEOC Guidelines, “prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace from occurring.  They should clearly communicate to employees that sexual harassment will not be tolerated.  They can do so by providing sexual harassment training to their employees and by establishing an effective complaint or grievance process and taking immediate and appropriate action when an employee complains.”

The Benefits of Training

There is a direct relation between the training of supervisors and managers, and a reduction in complaints.  The more people who are aware of the standards expected of them at work, the less likely there is for bullying, harassment or ignorant behavior.  Training helps us understand what professional behavior is and why it is so important to support it. It clearly defines the boundaries of what legal behavior is, and what activities cross the line and break the law. Training is intended to help people understand these boundaries, to make a distinction between behaviors inside and outside the workplace, and to lay the expectations of professional and acceptable behavior at work.