Tips for Effective Discrimination and Harassment Training




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Okay… you’ve reviewed your employee handbook and updated your anti-discrimination and harassment policies.  What now?

Your revised policies are only as good as (1) their publication, and (2) your supervisors’ and employees’ ability to understand them.  In order to ensure both, training your employees is necessary, and in some states, required.[1]  Here are a few tips to ensure that you successfully implement a strong and effective anti-discrimination and harassment policy:

Train to Your Policy

First and foremost, with a strong anti-discrimination and harassment policy in hand, it is important that you escape the pitfall of one-size-fits-all training.   You have taken the time (and perhaps undergone significant expense) in developing a policy that is tailored to your company, your management, and the way your company does business.  While it is important that your training is facilitated by a qualified trainer, you should work with the trainer to create training that speaks directly to the audience.  Ensure a training session that centers on your policy, your workers, and your business.

Make the Training Interactive

We’ve seen this play out before on dozens of movies and TV shows.  A presenter stands in front of a room full of employees, describing “hostile work environment” in a monotone voice.  The camera pans to the employees, who, to a person, are struggling to stay awake.   This is surely not an effective exercise in training employees.

To keep employees engaged, develop questions, encourage Q and A.  Highlight scenarios that allow employees to chime in with their thoughts.   The key to keeping your audience engaged is to solicit their input.

Provide Specific Examples of Unacceptable Behaviors

Following up on the point above, come up with specific examples that are tailored to your workplace. Do you operate a restaurant? If so, don’t use an example that describes two employees working at a construction site. To keep your audience engaged, and to ensure that they leave the training with the necessary knowledge and take-aways, develop and use examples that your audience can relate to. If you operate a restaurant, come up with real-world examples that might happen in your workplace.  Emphasize what is permissible and what is not permissible under your policy, by using concrete examples that refer back to the policy itself.

Instill Confidence

When training your employees, it’s important that senior management is not only present, but is engaged and active in the session. This will send the message to your employees that not only is senior management knowledgeable about the contents of the company’s policies and procedures, but that they are committed to the implementation and enforcement of them.

Further to this point, your training should emphasize to all employees that management will not retaliate against them for making good-faith complaints under the policy.

Train Your Supervisors

In addition to the training you provide to your employees, you should conduct additional, separate training sessions with managers and supervisors on how to investigate, address, correct, and prevent issues of discrimination and harassment. Train your managers on being proactive – if management observes inappropriate or unlawful conduct, it should not require an employee complaint for a manager to take action.  The EEOC refers to this as bystander intervention training.   As the saying goes, “if you see something, say something.”  Even if the ultimate responsibility to investigating complaints falls with HR or senior management, all supervisors should be equipped with the fundamental tools to recognize, address, and correct issues that arise.

Don’t Be Afraid to Train

Some employers are hesitant to put on a training session for their employees on discrimination and harassment.  They’re worried that the training session itself will lead to a heavy influx of complaints from employees, after the training is complete.   My answer to that is simple – wouldn’t you rather your employees bring their concerns to you, empowering your company to investigate, address, and resolve them?   Absolutely.  At the end of the day, you want to know if there is an issue out there.  It’s the ones that simmer under the surface, either unreported or uninvestigated, that should keep you up at night.

Of course, the tips above are a non-exhaustive list of things that will help to make your anti-discrimination and harassment training more effective and fruitful.   You should always consult with a professional trainer, or an attorney, before you go live.

[1] This post is intended to provide general advice on conducting effective anti-discrimination and harassment training.  Some states, such as California, Connecticut, New York and Maine, require certain types of training for certain employees.  You should always check state law for the requirements for content, timing, and scope of training before implementing a training regimen.

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