For companies operating in multiple states, developing and maintaining a compliance program that keeps up with the myriad of requirements often proves tricky. You might be set with a strategy that meets one state’s needs only to realize it’s not enough for another state. Or a new law could throw a wrench into your carefully implemented program.
Workplace sexual harassment is a prime example of an area where employee training is essential in order to foster a safe and respectful work environment, and where companies can be subject to a number of different state requirements.
Not knowing a state’s sexual harassment laws is not an excuse for noncompliance. Implementing training across states takes a bit of work, but with due diligence and good training partners, you can build a program that is effective and compliant.
How States’ Sexual Harassment Training Requirements Vary
The differences in states’ sexual harassment laws and requirements can be confounding at times, particularly because some jurisdictions simply follow federal guidelines and others far supersede Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) guidance. Some examples of the variance in state approaches include:
- Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi have no laws on the books expressly prohibiting sexual harassment in the workplace. However, this doesn't mean the behavior is permitted or ignored. For example, Arkansas courts have ruled that the state's Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on gender, covers sexual harassment in the workplace.
- Many states prohibit sexual harassment as part of their anti-discrimination laws but don’t require training.
- Massachusetts requires organizations to have a sexual harassment policy but does not require them to offer training—even though it’s highly encouraged.
- Several states recommend training but don’t mandate it. However, similar to EEOC actions, the lack of training against official guidance can factor into enforcement, investigations, and penalties.
- Some states—California, Delaware, Connecticut, Maine, New York, and likely Illinois under a bill that’s just awaiting the governor’s signature—require supervisors and employees to take sexual harassment training. This requirement can vary from only an initial training (Connecticut and Maine) to being periodic (annually in New York and Illinois; every two years; in Delaware and California). Connecticut and California have even imposed time requirements on the length of the training.
One Program, Many States
Developing a workplace harassment program and policy that adheres to standards wherever you operate is challenging. Different employees might require different training based on role, location, corporate needs, and so on. However, meeting the challenges is necessary not only to follow the complicated web of laws, but also to build a culture of safety and, in turn, a stronger, more civil organization.
Assembling a training program that's consistent with the established minimum requirements and guidance across multiple states may take a substantial investment of time and resources. Working with a trusted training partner can reduce that burden; ultimately, this effort pays off in the long run by simplifying the process for your team, your fellow employees, and your organization— and ensures you are set up for compliance success.
The Changing Landscape
Illinois’ pending sexual harassment training law, which Governor J.B. Pritzker is expected to sign, came about quickly, having been introduced this past winter. The new legislation is a perfect example of how laws and guidance are continually changing—and may have even picked up the pace since #MeToo. Keeping up with the changes requires plenty of due diligence; partnering with a top-flight training vendor can also help you stay on top of the latest developments and best practices from the EEOC and DOJ.
The best compliance training providers are experts in anticipating, interpreting, and integrating new laws, guidelines, and trends into their courses. A partner that backs their training up with performance data provides even greater insights and inspires confidence that the instruction and scenarios from training are relevant both to state requirements and the employees taking the courses. You may be dealing with an array of laws, but with a great vendor, you’ll know the quality of the compliance training will be consistent—and excellent.