The Benefits of Sexual Harassment Training

More states are now requiring employers to provide sexual harassment training for supervisors and other employees, with California, Connecticut, and New York leading the way. Even when sexual harassment training is not mandated by state law, however, sexual harassment training offers important benefits for businesses.

The Risk of Sexual Harassment Liability

Important Supreme Court decisions distinguish between sexual harassment committed by employees who are generally authorized to act on behalf of the business, such as managers and certain supervisors, and sexual harassment committed by co-workers. When co-workers sexually harass employees, businesses are usually liable only if the harassment occurred or continued because the business was negligent.

Businesses are negligent when they learn about an act of sexual harassment and fail to take steps to protect the harassed employee. To avoid liability, businesses will usually need to investigate the sexual harassment complaint and to take steps (including employee discipline or termination) to prevent the harassment from continuing or recurring. Sexual harassment training helps supervisors and managers understand their duties when they learn or suspect that sexual harassment has occurred.

Businesses can also be negligent when they fail to take an affirmative approach to prevent sexual harassment. Employers invite lawsuits when they do not make it clear to their employees that they will not tolerate sexual harassment in the workplace.

Related Article: The Risk of Sexual Harassment Liability

Raising a Shield Against Claims of Negligence

Sexual harassment training can act as a shield against charges of negligence in three ways. First, by educating all employees about the kinds of conduct that are not allowed in the workplace, an employer takes a proactive approach to protect employees from sexual harassment. By making clear during the training process that the employer takes sexual harassment seriously, and that the employer has adopted a policy prohibiting sexual harassment. The training will also help the employer protect itself from a claim that it was tolerant of sexual harassment behavior and negligently failed to prevent it.

Second, by emphasizing during training that the employer has a complaint reporting process, and by encouraging sexually harassed employees to follow that process, the employer takes advantage of Supreme Court cases that create a defense to sexual harassment charges. Of course, when an employee follows the reporting process, the employer might still be negligent if it fails to investigate and respond to the complaint in good faith. Training employees about the importance of the complaint process, however, is a critical first step to avoid liability for sexual harassment committed by co-employees.

Third, training managers and supervisors impress upon them the importance of taking sexual harassment complaints seriously. Since businesses can be held responsible for sexual harassment committed by managers and some supervisors even if the business was unaware of the harassment, it is essential that managers and supervisors understand what they can and cannot do. It is strongly recommended that employers provide online sexual harassment training to all employees at least once a year.

Increasing Employee Productivity

Apart from exposing businesses to legal liability, sexual harassment in the workplace makes employees less productive. A 2007 study by three psychologists at the University of Calgary found that sexually harassed employees are less committed to their jobs. Employees who feel valued work harder, while sexually harassed employees are less likely to be productive.

Sexual harassment is also responsible for increased rates of absenteeism. Sexually harassed employees are more likely to use sick leave to recover from the trauma of being harassed. The failure to control sexual harassment, therefore, increases an employer’s sick leave costs, including the expense of replacing harassed employees with temporary workers.

Companies with high rates of sexual harassment are more likely to have high employee turnover. Any time an experienced employee leaves the job, the employer incurs training costs and a loss of efficiency.

Other Benefits of Sexual Harassment Training

Companies benefit from a diverse workforce. When harassment targets employees because of gender or sexual orientation, the harassed employees have an incentive to work elsewhere. The loss of diversity makes businesses vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits. As importantly, businesses lose the value of multiple points of view that allow enterprises to make good decisions. A gender-diverse workforce allows companies to evolve and thrive in a competitive environment.

Failing to control sexual harassment makes it difficult to recruit new employees. Many employees who are not directly affected by harassment are reluctant to join a business that has a bad reputation for protecting its employees.

In addition, sexual harassment harms corporate reputations. Consumers may decide not to do business with a company that is perceived as condoning sexual harassment. Businesses may lose customers as well as employees when they fail to prove to employees and to the public that they are committed to creating a workplace that values all employees, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

Sexual harassment training, coupled with a sexual harassment prevention policy, assures employees that they are valued while setting clear expectations for employee behavior. Requiring employees and managers to participate in sexual harassment training helps businesses minimize the risk of lawsuits, increases employee satisfaction, reduces employee turnover, improves employee productivity, and avoids reputational harm. Whether or not state law requires sexual harassment training, smart businesses regard it as a wise investment.

Ann Nagel

Ann Nagel

Ann Nagel- writer/editor/research analyst regarding Title VII, EEOC matters and Employment Regulations for Career Resources, Inc. Career Resources, Inc. (CRI) is an EEO and Affirmative Action Consultancy who has been serving clients across the nation since 1979