New York Tackles Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: Guidelines for Training Your Workforce

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With the #MeToo movement taking the world by storm and shaking up Hollywood, corporate, and university cultures, the challenge for organizations is how to make sexual harassment in the workplace a thing of the past. But how, exactly? But some states, like New York, are leading the charge by passing a number of new anti-harassment initiatives.

By October 9, 2018, employers in New York will be required to deliver annual sexual harassment training to all employees, contractors, consultants, and suppliers. With the deadline fast approaching, companies in the Big Apple are scrambling to comply. While anti-harassment training isn’t a new thing, what’s different is that New York is the first state to make sexual harassment training mandatory for all employees, regardless of tenure, seniority, and company size. Prior to this mandate, small firms flew under the radar of mandated anti-harassment training.

How painful will mandates like this be for organizations large and small across the country? The good news is that training requirements are similar from state to state. As in New York, state legislation calls for interactive learning but leaves the training design to the discretion of the company rolling out the program. The sky’s the limit with the design, as long as the content includes the following topics:

• Definition of sexual harassment
• Federal and state statutory provisions
• Types of conduct that constitute harassment
• Employer’s obligation to investigate
• Remedies available to victims
• Retaliation and protected activities

Where the training across states differs is in training cadence, audience, and local statutes. So, for example, California requires training for firms with 50 or more employees every two years for supervisors only, whereas Maine requires training for firms with 15 or more employees, upon hiring, and for all employees. Connecticut’s requirements are similar to California’s except training must be conducted for all new hires.

If you’re looking for some helpful guidelines to get you started, here are five simple steps for rolling out a successful anti-harassment program.

#1 Two programs will do the trick

Firms in all 50 states can meet the training requirements by launching just two well-designed courses. This means there’s no need for a major overhaul of sexual harassment curriculum requiring ongoing updates in design and content.

• Two-hour Supervisor Program including content highlighting state-specific statutes for California and Connecticut
• One-hour Employee Program including content highlighting state-specific statutes for California, Connecticut, Maine, and New York

#2 Streamline state-specific content

Your courses should present state-specific content in an easy-to-follow format, such as local laws on punitive measures for harassers and remediation available to victims of sexual harassment. Here are three ways to do this:

1. State-specific PDF facts sheets summarizing local statutes
2. Explore-type interactions enabling learners to review state information that pertains to them
3. A role-profiler that automatically presents information specific to the learner’s home state
The second option is likely the best. Why? Explore-type interactions are the perfect solution for learners who work in and manage teams across many states. The interactive content will enable them to understand the state laws applicable to team members in other states. So, if you are based in Maine and supervise a teammate in Connecticut, even if only virtually, you must be aware of Connecticut’s jurisdiction.

#3 Launch a comprehensive campaign

New York City plans to go beyond state programs, mandating that firms provide regular harassment prevention training by the spring of 2019. This comprehensive approach eases the burden on organizations while taking training beyond a one-time experience, and shaping corporate culture and policy. This includes:

• Harassment prevention posters
• Harassment prevention checklists for new hires
• Record confirming that each employee will adhere to the code

#4 Let your training calendar drive your design

Because training calendar requirements differ from state to state, let your training calendar drive your design. While training materials can be used nationally, consider running state learning campaigns coinciding with the calendar requirements. For example, if your California team is due for its biennial harassment training, run an educational campaign in advance to raise awareness, boost training completion rates, and reinforce learning.

#5 It’s so much more than checking a box

With all the talk of seat time, state codes, and requirements, you’d think that box-checking was the goal of these initiatives. The aim, of course, is to provide a workplace free of harassment, which is better for everyone. Good learning design and interactive assessments to reinforce the learning are key to creating a harassment-free environment. Here are three guidelines for effective compliance training:

1. Treat your learners like adults who want to do the right thing and prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.
2. Be smart and strategic about how you engage your learners’ attention. Use memorable, authentic interactions, rather than gimmicky approaches or cheesy humor.
3. Make the learning relevant to employees by using realistic scenarios that give them the opportunity to critically evaluate workplace harassment and apply their learning. Training should go beyond legislative requirements and lingo, and instead focus on the nuances of compliance if we are to end workplace harassment in a meaningful way.

With a focus on good training design, interactive learning, state specific-content, and a comprehensive educational campaign, your company will be well-positioned to meet mandated anti-harassment training requirements now or when they come to your state. It’s not a question of if, but when, given the trend fueled by the #MeToo movement.
 
 
For more information on sexual harassment training contact Mark Dorosz MDorosz@interactiveservices.com

By Mark Dorosz (VP Compliance Learning Interactive Services)