Workplace harassment has always been a serious issue facing companies that want to build a safe environment so employees can earn a living without feeling threatened or ashamed. And increasingly, employees are demanding that safe environment.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reported that visits to its website more than doubled in the year after #MeToo emerged into the national consciousness. Organizations are seeking more information on how to protect themselves and create better, more respectful workplaces.
In the past few years, the EEOC has continued its workplace harassment strategy with outreach and education. As part of their initiative, they have provided guidance that compliance training should focus more on teaching correct behaviors rather than just the letter of the law (which, of course, is still important). In other words, prevention has become more comprehensive.
The EEOC followed up that guidance by releasing its Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment. This document details five core principles for addressing and preventing harassment in the workplace through training. Applying these principles to compliance training bolsters a culture of safety and respect. Adopting prevention best practices isn’t just the smart thing to do—it’s the right thing to do.
Here is a brief review of the five core principles and what compliance staff can do to apply the guidance to their organizations’ own harassment training.
1. Committed and engaged leadership
Harassment prevention must be a top-down initiative. Leadership that visibly supports a culture of civility and safety not only devotes resources toward ensuring best practices are implemented but also sends a message to the organization that harassment prevention is important.
What it means for compliance training: Harassment training for managers and executives is a clear takeaway from this core principle and is already mandatory at many organizations and in some states. The bigger impact may be the emphasis on harassment prevention at all levels of the organization. Leadership must invest priority and values toward an anti-harassment environment—and quality training should be part of that investment.
2. Consistent and demonstrated accountability
Tightly aligned with the previous core principle, accountability provides support for safely reporting incidents—without fear of retaliation. It also takes appropriate action against individuals and departments that violate policy and rewards progress toward a more civil workplace.
What it means for compliance training: Past EEOC guidance discusses a positive cycle that builds accountability and ultimately reduces harassment. Training can contribute to this cycle by teaching correct behaviors as well as reinforcing that it’s OK to speak up and that you will be supported and protected if you do.
Furthermore, training data analytics give organizations a way to measure progress and establish benchmarks that tie into accountability. Weak areas can be identified using these analytics, which should lead to more attention and further training. Individuals and departments are held accountable to improve results, which, in turn, also improves their behavior.
3. Strong and comprehensive harassment policies
Organizations must clearly establish harassment policies. These policies must detail what is unacceptable conduct, outline the systems for reporting violations and the potential consequences to the offending individuals, and guarantee protections to people who report harassment and prohibiting retaliation. Such policy information must be known and accessible—and applicable—to everyone in the company.
What it means for compliance training: Harassment policies may look good on paper, but to truly drive the information home, training offers a powerful and often necessary complement. For starters, it consistently ensures employees are aware of and understand the organization’s policies— it is harder to ensure that employees are fully reading and comprehending policies than it is to track that they’ve completed immersive and adaptive training. Because the policies are spelled out in the training, employees feel empowered to abide by them when making daily decisions.
Finally, effective training can better illustrate the difference between acceptable and prohibited behaviors. Employees are immersed in relevant scenarios, often tailored to their roles (which is recommended specifically in EEOC guidance) and experience real learning, not just rote memorization.
4. Trusted and accessible complaint procedures
When employees feel safe to report harassment without fear of retaliation, they need to know how to effectively and efficiently do so.
What it means for compliance training: Too often, people witness harassment or experience it personally, but don’t know where to turn to file a complaint or to talk about what they’ve seen or heard. Good training can reinforce not only when employees should report harassment but also how to report it and to whom. Furthermore, in many cases, employees know how to file a complaint but fear professional or personal retaliation. An organization can use training to reassure employees that there are protections from retaliation. By incorporating the complaint procedures into training, you can empower employees to take that next step if necessary.
5. Regular, interactive training tailored to the audience and the organization
The EEOC guidance places an emphasis on training, at all levels of the organization, to prevent harassment. The Promising Practices document states, “Regular, interactive, comprehensive training of all employees may help ensure that the workforce understands organizational rules, policies, procedures, and expectations, as well as the consequences of misconduct.”
What it means for compliance training: Everything! The EEOC’s reaffirmation of harassment training as a key best practice should give organizations—especially companies’ leadership—all the impetus they need to make it a priority.
Incorporating “interactive” and “tailored” into the training establishes this priority and sets great training apart from the so-called “check-the-box” compliance training. Relevance and engagement are important to employees not only so they better learn during training but also so they apply that knowledge to their everyday roles.
Organizations unsure how to take their harassment training to the next level suggested by the EEOC guidance can benefit from partnering with a high-quality compliance training provider. The best vendors deliver courses and experiences, tailored to the employee, that promote learning and challenge users. Beneficial partners also facilitate a compliance ecosystem so that learning doesn’t stop when a course is completed. If you truly want to better prevent harassment, effective, real-world training must be in your plans—and you don’t have to do it alone.