Alphabet, Google’s parent company, is currently investigating how the company has handled sexual harassment and misconduct. In Jan. 2019, an employee at one of Ford’s plants sued the company for sexual and racial harassment. Even more recently, ousted chief executive officer Deborah Dugan filed a lawsuit with the Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (host of the Grammy Awards), alleging that she was fired in retaliation for raising allegations of sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
Sexual harassment has become an all too common narrative in today’s work environment, as organizations fail to create respectful workplaces for employees. As a result, more states are doubling down on sexual harassment prevention training requirements for employers. Recently, these states include New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois and Maine. Let’s evaluate these new training requirements and determine how learning and development (L&D) can best implement them.
As of Oct. 2018, New York state law requires all employers to provide annual sexual harassment prevention training to employees across organizational levels. The state offers a free training program for employers to use, but organizations may opt to outsource the training or create their own program for a customized training experience. However, the training must adhere to a minimum set of state-mandated standards to be compliant. The deadline for employers to implement the initial round of training passed on Oct. 9, 2019.
Brigitte Gawenda Kimichik, JD, a recently retired commercial real estate finance attorney and author of “Play Nice: Playground Rules for Respect in the Workplace,” says these requirements are “definitely the approach” for combatting harassment in the workplace. If organizations don’t train employees “up and down,” it’s more likely that harassment and/or other uncivil behavior will occur.
Neha Trivedi, CPTM, human resources director of integrated talent management at Alight Solutions, agrees that New York state’s training requirements are necessary. “Regardless of [their] role within the organization, all employees should be trained on what is and isn’t appropriate behavior in the workplace,” Trivedi says.
SB 778, which Governor Gavin Newsom signed in Aug. 2019, requires California employers with five or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees by Jan. 2021. New hires must receive the training within six months of hire, and new supervisors within six months of receiving a promotion.
To be compliant, supervisors must receive two hours of training and nonsupervisory employees must receive one hour of training by the set date and every two years afterward. Temporary or seasonal employees, or those working less than six months, must complete sexual harassment prevention training within 30 days of being hired or by their 100th hour worked (whichever occurs first).
Now that supervisors must receive two hours of training, Kevin Kish, director of California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing, says, “The challenge for trainers in California is not to add content for supervisors but to cut content for a one-hour version while still complying with statutory and regulatory requirements for what the training must contain.”
California-based employers may outsource their sexual harassment prevention training or use California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing’s online course, which Kish says will become available sometime this year.
Public Act 19-16, “An Act Combatting Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment” (commonly referred to as the Time’s Up Act), was passed in Jul. 2019 and requires Connecticut employers with three or more employees to provide organization-wide sexual harassment training and employers with fewer than three employees to train supervisors. Employees hired before Oct. 1, 2019 must receive the training by Oct. 2020, and employees hired on or after Oct. 1, 2019 must receive the training within six months of hire. Supervisors must receive the training within six months of assuming their supervisory role.
Connecticut requires that sexual harassment prevention includes information on “federal and state statutory provisions covering sexual harassment and remedies available to victims of sexual harassment,” according to the National Law Review, and employers must provide supplemental training at least every 10 years. In accordance with the Time’s Up Act, the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) has developed a compliant training course that is free for employers to use.
As of Jan. 1, 2019, Delaware law requires employers with 50 or more employees to deliver organization-wide sexual harassment training; the deadline for all employees to receive this training was Jan. 1, 2020 or within one year of hire. After receiving the initial training, organizations must retrain employees every two years. There are no training requirements for employees with less than six months of continuous employment.
While there is no minimum training time required by law, Delaware-based law firm Young Conaway recommends training non-supervisory employees for at least one and a half hours and supervisors for at least two hours.
Under Illinois’ 2019 Workplace Transparency Act, employers based in the state must provide annual sexual harassment training to all employees. It also calls for changes to arbitration agreements and prohibits certain confidentiality and non-disparagement clauses. The Illinois Department of Human Rights (IDHR) developed a compliant sexual harassment training course that employers can use for free.
The Maine Human Rights Act (MHRA) requires Maine employers with 15 or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training to all employees within one year of being hired as well as additional training to supervisors within a year of assuming that position.
Although these requirements have been in place for a number of years, Maine made some changes to the law in Sept. 2019. With these changes, Maine employers now must follow a checklist outlined by the Maine Department of Labor (MDOL) when developing a sexual harassment prevention program. They must also keep a record of all employees who have received the training for at least three years.
Best Practices for Organization-wide Sexual Harassment Training
With these recent laws in place, many training departments now have to deliver organization-wide sexual harassment prevention training, which presents numerous challenges. For example, should organizations require leaders to complete additional training on top of what the state requires? For Gawenda Kimichik, the answer to this question is yes. When leaders are dedicated to eradicating harassment, their mindset often “trickles down” organizational levels, she says. Further, sexual harassment often stems from a “power imbalance,” with an employee in a position of power harassing a lower-level, “more vulnerable” employee.
EmblemHealth, a New York-based nonprofit health insurance company, has adapted to New York state’s new training requirements in numerous ways, including updating its corporate policy, standards of conduct handbook and sexual harassment training requirements, says Greg Rider, CHC, CHLP, corporate compliance director at EmblemHealth. It currently has two versions of its sexual harassment prevention course — one for managers and one for employees across all other organizational levels. The course for managers addresses what to do when an employee reports harassment. “They need to be able to follow up on the next steps from those reports and follow the proper protocol,” Rider says. “It also requires the managers and leaders to be role models for proper behavior.”
In addition to training both managers and employees on sexual harassment prevention, learning leaders should regularly distribute learning materials on topics such as bystander intervention and reporting mechanisms to keep employees informed. Further, as more states recognize that L&D is uniquely positioned to combat sexual harassment in the workplace, learning leaders should look out for new training requirements by keeping up with labor and employment laws.
A Necessary Solution to a Widespread Problem
Some L&D leaders may view these new training requirements as one more task for their to-do list. However, Rider encourages them to think differently. Rather than fight against state or federal training requirements, learning leaders should recognize there’s “good reason” that states are mandating such training, he says. Ultimately, sexual harassment prevention training ensures that employees know what is and isn’t acceptable behavior in the workplace. It teaches them how to make their workplaces safe and, in the end, “that’s what it’s all about.”