EEOC: Workforce Sexual Harassment Training 'Must Change'

December 11, 2017 07:30 PM

According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the old way of conducting sexual harassment training isn't as effective as companies may hope.

"If I only tell you how to have a safe workplace on the first day of orientation, the likelihood that we're going to have workplace accidents is probably going to be relatively high," said Kevin Lindsey, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.


RELATED: Lawmakers Propose Quicker, but More Thorough Process for Sexual Harassment Allegations

Lindsey says training needs to shift from a punishment-based approach to a more proactive, holistic approach.

"So yes, we want to start out by letting you know what the law is, but we also want to make sure that you also understand that I value you. You are an important employee," he said of a potential training tactic.

A 2016 EEOC study found roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never talked to a supervisor. 

The study further says training shouldn't be broad or focused on a company's legal liability. Instead, it should be tailored to the specific workforce and workplace.

From the 2016 EEOC study:

Workplace Harassment Too Often Goes Unreported. Common workplace-based responses by those who experience sex-based harassment are to avoid the harasser, deny or downplay the gravity of the situation, or attempt to ignore, forget, or endure the behavior. The least common response to harassment is to take some formal action - either to report the harassment internally or file a formal legal complaint. Roughly three out of four individuals who experienced harassment never even talked to a supervisor, manager, or union representative about the harassing conduct. Employees who experience harassment fail to report the harassing behavior or to file a complaint because they fear disbelief of their claim, inaction on their claim, blame, or social or professional retaliation.

There Is a Compelling Business Case for Stopping and Preventing Harassment. When employers consider the costs of workplace harassment, they often focus on legal costs, and with good reason. Last year, EEOC alone recovered $164.5 million for workers alleging harassment - and these direct costs are just the tip of the iceberg. Workplace harassment first and foremost comes at a steep cost to those who suffer it, as they experience mental, physical, and economic harm. Beyond that, workplace harassment affects all workers, and its true cost includes decreased productivity, increased turnover, and reputational harm. All of this is a drag on performance - and the bottom-line.

"It's recommended that at a minimum you have a four-hour training, and managers need an additional training because they don't know how to deal with it," said consultant, trainer and author Susan Strauss, who regularly serves as an expert witness in workplace sexual harassment cases. "What they're finding is all of these harassment complaints keep coming forward."

"I do anticipate that we're going to see more," said Lindey when asked if complaints filed with the Human Rights department have risen. 

RELATED: Consultant Suggests Ways to Address Sexual Harassment in the Workplace

The EEOC study suggests employers should conduct anonymous climate surveys to assess how big of a problem harassment is in their organization. And that they should offer regular trainings, not just once at the beginning of employment.

In 2016, the EEOC had Gopher football players undergo what's called "Bystander Intervention Training" following allegations of sexual misconduct aimed at certain players on the team.

Most commonly applied on college campuses, the EEOC is now also encouraging employers to use the training to empower coworkers to intervene when they see harassing behavior.


Katherine Johnson

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