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The EVERFI team of dedicated in-house attorneys want you to have a clear understanding of which states require harassment training. They ensure that our courses meet regulations across the United States so you have a trusted and reliable source for your compliance needs. They also closely track pending legislation to ensure we are prepared to meet and exceed the legal requirements wherever you do business.
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What is Sexual Harassment at work?
The #MeToo movement, brought to the forefront something that, unfortunately, many people were already well aware of—sexual harassment in the workplace. It’s an all-too-common occurrence that organizations and their HR leaders have fought long and hard to overcome.
Still, instances of sexual harassment at work are not uncommon. In fact, employers paid a record $68.2 million in 2019 to settle claims of harassment made through the EEOC.
Types of Harassment – What is Legally Considered Harassment
Sexual harassment is one of the most insidious forms of harassment, but it is not the only kind. While organizations will want to define what they consider to be harassment and offer examples of the types of behaviors that could constitute harassment, they can also turn to guidance related to what is legally considered to be harassment.
You may be surprised to learn that not all types of harassment are considered to be unlawful harassment. The annoying behavior of a coworker who sends a curt reply to an email, or a boss who raised his or her voice one time when offering constructive criticism might make you uncomfortable, but do not fall under the legal definition of harassment.
According to the EEOC, “Harassment is unwelcome conduct that is based on a protected class.” The behavior becomes unlawful, the EEOC says when:
- An employee is required to endure the behavior as a condition of work
- The conduct is so severe that it creates an environment that reasonable people would consider to be intimidating, hostile or abusive.
What is Considered Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment is any unwelcome sexual advance or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, offensive, or hostile work environment. Importantly, the determination of what may constitute harassment often lies with the person being harassed. While one colleague may find an off-color joke amusing, another may find it offensive—even harassing.
While no form of sexual harassment at work is acceptable, there are some types of behaviors that are generally considered to be sexual harassment:
- Verbal harassment like making derogatory comments, using slurs or telling inappropriate jokes
- Verbal sexual language, jokes, advances or propositions
- Verbal abuse of a sexual nature which could include graphic verbal commentaries about an individual’s body, sexually degrading words used to describe an individual, suggestive or obscene letters, notes or invitations
- Demeaning comments about customers or coworkers that are of a sexual nature
- Any type of quid pro quo sexual contact in order to remain employed
- Leering, making sexual gestures, displaying of suggestive objects or pictures, cartoons or posters
- Touching, assault, impeding or blocking movements
- Offering employment benefits in exchange for sexual favors
- Making or threatening reprisals after a negative response to sexual advances
Because definitions and personal perceptions of what is, or isn’t, sexual harassment may vary, employers and their HR leaders have an important role to play in terms of educating staff about what the organization considers to be sexual harassment, enlisting employees as allies in an effort to remove any form of sexual harassment from the workplace, and taking swift action to address any claims of harassment that may emerge.
Some forms of sexual harassment are obvious, but others might not immediately come to mind, are also legally be considered sexual harassment. For instance:
- Neither the victim or the harasser need be of the opposite sex and either could be a man or a woman.
- The person being directly sexually harassed is not the only person who may be subject to harassment; bystanders observing, or impacted by, the behavior could also be victims.
- The behavior must be unwelcome—in a situation where two employees are talking about a risqué movie they both liked, neither would be the victim of harassment.
- The behavior does not have to occur at work, or in the workplace to be legally considered sexual harassment.
Here is a comprehensive list of the elements of a situation that would meet the legal definition of sexual harassment.
More than 1,200 organizations trust EVERFI to deliver online sexual harassment training.
What Is the Impact of Sexual Harassment At Work?
What are business leaders, HR professionals and managers concerned about in the workplace? To state it broadly, achieving business goals, maintaining employee satisfaction and engagement, meeting and exceeding the expectations of customers and clients.
There are many factors that can negatively impact those achievements. Sexual harassment is among them. Sexual harassment can impact the workplace in a number of ways:
- Employee health. Research has shown that women, in particular, who experience sexual harassment had almost three times more risk of developing symptoms of depression.
- Employee productivity. A Deloitte study indicates that the productivity loss form sexual harassment can be as much as $2.62 billion.
- Employee mental health. Both for victims of sexual harassment and those who may be impacted by it, the mental health toll can be significant.
- Employee retention. Employees experiencing harassment in the workplace often call in sick, may perform poorly while on the job and, ultimately, are at higher risk for leaving the job to escape the harassment. The costs of turnover, as we know, can be significant.
Sexual harassment at work also results in very real, very tangible, and very significant monetary impacts.
According to the EEOC, sexual harassment claims have resulted in a significant increase in monetary benefits (not including benefits obtained through litigation) from 2010 ($41.2) to 2019 ($68.2). These numbers are particularly startling when considering that the actual number of claims have decreased from a high of 7944 in 2010, to 7514 in 2019 (with no year surpassing 2010 numbers).
Experts believe that they actually fail to reflect the actual incidents of sexual harassment in workplaces around the country. One of the big reasons for this is the fear of potential retaliation which keeps people from coming forward with complaints.
Considering the very real negative impacts of sexual harassment on productivity, employee satisfaction, absenteeism and turnover, customer service and product quality, organizations are not must know if harassment is occurring.
Research conducted by HR.com and sponsored by EVERFI.
An alarming number of HR professionals report that their organization’s workplace culture is toxic and that negative behaviors are common. In fact, the majority of survey respondents said that their workplaces are negative and toxic or, at best, neutral.
Does Sexual Harassment Training Prevent Harassment?
Companies have been conducting sexual harassment training for decades now. Yet, according to the EEOC, the number of sexual harassment claims filed annual has remained relatively stable for the past 10 years, with 12,695 in 2010 and 12,739 in 2019. Why?
One assuring reason for steady claims is that companies’ exhortations to employees to report incidents of harassment seem to be working to some degree. Still, we know that there are still many employees who do not report these incidents due to fear of backlash or retaliation.
One disheartening reason: Traditional sexual harassment training has simply not had a positive effect. As SHRM reports: “The biggest finding of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace may be what it failed to find—namely, any evidence that the past 30-years of corporate training has had any effective on preventing workplace harassment.”
That is a sobering statement and one that cuts deep for HR and L&D leaders who have complied with regulations requiring annual harassment training. Many have also instituted additional, non-required training efforts to help stem the tide of sexual harassment. And yet, too often, these efforts fail to yield the desired results.
Effective sexual harassment training can prevent harassment. Dr. Shannon Rawski in a presentation of , “Your Sexual Harassment Training May Be Doing More Harm Than Good,” offer insights into what organizations can do to increase the effectiveness of their sexual harassment training.
A well-designed sexual harassment training program can be a solid first step towards eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace or—at a minimum—minimizing damages if harassment occurs. The goal? To align your entire workforce against harassment and enlist their help and support in driving it out of the organization. A harassment-free workplace is built based on a strong culture of mutual respect that is modeled from the top of the organization down to the front lines.
Benefits of Sexual Harassment Training
The #MeToo movement which has brought to light some egregious examples of harassment still occurring despite years of efforts to train, educate and inform employees.
Increased awareness seems to be impacting the likelihood that employees will report misconduct. According to a Bentley University survey, reporting by those who had witnessed misconduct has grown by 64 percent in 2013 to 69 percent in 2017. That’s impressive growth, considering that many employees report that they are hesitant to report misconduct because they fear retaliation.
Another benefit of sexual harassment training is the opportunity to engage employees in the process of eliminating sexual harassment by positioning them not as perpetrators or victims, but as active advocates or bystanders.
When sexual harassment training is done well, when the focus is not solely on legal issues and compliance, but on the big benefits of building a supportive culture, real results can be attained.
Effective sexual harassment training can:
- Help employees understand what sexual harassment is through the use of specific definitions and examples
- Inform employees about the desired corporate culture—one that emphasizes mutual respect
- Move beyond a singular focus on compliance and legalese to help employees understand how a culture of mutual respect can positively impact productivity, engagement, employee satisfaction and loyalty
- Encourage employees to step forward to report incidents of harassment that they have been impacted by, or that they have observed
- Create trust, improve communication and ensure a workplace where employees feel safe and supported
Workplace cultures that prevent harassment are cultures where employees—all employees—feel a sense of freedom in discussing the subject. When they don’t feel comfortable, the issue goes underground
Sexual harassment training programs are critically important, both from a compliance standpoint and to continually reinforce the positive culture you are working to develop and maintain. These programs can provide benefits to your organization, its employees, customers, clients, vendors and others. But, if we want different results (and we do) we need to dramatically change our approach to sexual harassment training to realize the benefits it can provide.
Running Sexual Harassment Training Programs
One of the top complaints made to the EEOC is harassment and close to half of these are sexual harassment claims. It’s important for employers to continue to educate and inform employees about their harassment-related policies and the types of behaviors that are, and are not, appropriate in the workplace. Unfortunately, though, many of the efforts to do this in the past have simply not been effective. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that much of the training that has been provided may even be counter-productive.
Policies, hotlines and compliance training may be necessary, even required for most organizations. Yet they’ve proven to be neither sufficient nor effective. What is? A training program that is focused on prevention, rather than just compliance.
In fact, what experts are now pointing to as the most important thing organizations can do to combat harassment is to change their corporate cultures. It’s a strategy recommended by the EEOC which says that this strategy has “the greatest impact on allowing harassment to flourish, or conversely, in preventing harassment.”
Culture matters. A focus on positively impacting culture—rather than on ensuring legal compliance has been shown to resonate more effectively with employees.
What are some best-practice steps your organization can take to prevent sexual harassment through a well-designed and effectively delivered training effort?
- Make it clear that sexual harassment prevention is a company priority
- Make sure employees and management understand what sexual harassment is
- Keep sexual harassment training positive
- Lighten up on the legalese
- Enlist employees in ensuring a harassment-free workplace
- Enlist employees as social influencers
- Take swift and decisive action as issues arise
Can You Run Sexual Harassment Training Online?
Companies around the country are required to do sexual harassment training based on federal, state and local laws and regulations. In addition to meeting these requirements, though, effective sexual harassment training can help to create an environment that minimizes risk to employees—and employers.
Despite a longtime focus on training, many of these efforts have failed to actually stem the tide of sexual harassment and associated claims. In fact, there’s evidence to suggest that, in some cases, this training may even be counter-productive, resulting in more incidents of sexual harassment than less.
Employers and their HR and L&D professionals have a wide range of options when it comes to choosing the best type of training to offer to their employees, specifically online vs. offline. As many organizations have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, many business activities run more effectively in a virtual environment—training is one of them!
The benefits of offering online training:
- Convenience. Online training means that employees are able to participate in training efforts when it’s most convenient to them. Sometimes a live event is just not practical. Online training is convenient and accessible.
- Flexibility. Supervisors and managers often value the ability to enroll employees in online training because of the flexibility it provides. In many cases, entire groups of employees simply can’t be away from their jobs at the same time. Online training allows convenient scheduling to accommodate any schedules.
- Reuse. We know that “one and done” training simply doesn’t have the impact that ongoing communication and reinforcement can have in terms of positively impacting a culture of mutual respect. Online training means that companies, and their managers and supervisors, can reinforce key points over time.
More than 1,200 organizations trust EVERFI to deliver online harassment training.
Sexual Harassment Training Laws
Sexual harassment training laws have been in place for several years and have changed over time to address changing laws as well as the changing needs of organizations and their employees. Over the past few years, though, these laws have been changing more rapidly, spurred by enhanced awareness of the ongoing prevalence of sexual harassment created by the #MeToo movement.
New laws have emerged to ensure that companies are offering training regularly and to critical populations like supervisors and managers. A number of these changes occurred in 2019; 2020 is likely to bring additional changes. It’s important for organizations to remain aware, and compliant with, these recommendations both to avoid legal liability and to protect employees by offering a harassment-free environment.
California, a state that generally leads the pack when it comes to workplace laws and regulations of all kinds, has indicated that it will institute a number of new laws in 2020. Where California goes, others tend to follow. Here’s what’s happening in the state now, according to The National Law Review.
- AB9, also known as the SHARE (Stop Harassment and Reporting Extension) extends the deadline for filing workplace harassment-related retaliation from one to three years.
- AB547 specifically focuses on training in the janitorial industry.
- AB749 voids the “no rehire” provisions in any settlement agreements signed on, or after, January 1, 2020, with some exceptions.
- SB530 extends mandatory deadlines for sexual harassment training for employers with seasonal and temporary employees, and employees hired for less than six months, to January 1, 2021.
Illinois is another state that is anticipating a number of changes in 2020. It’s very important for organizations to stay up-to-date on the training and compliance requirements impacting them in any locations where they have employees.
Still, despite the widespread focus on sexual harassment training laws, traditional training is simply not enough. Yes, employers must remain compliant. But they must do more. Training laws lay the groundwork and establish minimum expectations for employers. Savvy employers know, though, that their sexual harassment training must go beyond simply a focus on compliance to positively impact the culture.
Sexual Harassment Training Resources
Staying up-to-date and compliant with the myriad of laws and regulations related to sexual harassment training at a national, state and local level can be overwhelming for many employers—especially when they operate in multiple locations that have a wide range of differences in terms of what’s required.
But simply being up-to-date on the requirements is just a first step. Companies and their HR and L&D leaders must also ensure that they are remaining compliant with these regulations. To really have an impact on reducing sexual harassment, companies need to address compliance requirements, yes, but they must also work to build a corporate culture that is based on mutual respect. Doing this requires ongoing efforts, over time, that represent more than simply accommodating requirements for providing certain types of training certain times a year.
EVERFI can help. We have a variety of sexual harassment training resources that can help you ensure not only compliance, but effectiveness in building a strong culture of mutual respect—a culture that serves to minimize the negative impact of sexual harassment on your workforce.
- As state and local governments around the country take steps to raise awareness and minimize the impacts of sexual harassment amid ongoing #MeToo messaging, it’s important to stay up-to-date and the laws addressing your geographic areas of operation.
- How has the #MeToo movement actually changed sexual harassment policies? Here we take a look to help you understand implications for your organization and your employees.
- There are some aspects of sexual harassment compliance that employers, HR leaders and managers may not be fully aware of. Case in point: sexual harassment outside of work and how employers, supervisors and managers may have liability here.
- Sexual harassment training isn’t important simply to satisfy compliance requirements. Sexual harassment can affect the workplace in many negative, and highly measurable, ways. Here we take a look.
- If your managers balk at the need for sexual harassment training, it may be helpful to educate them about why this training—and ongoing communication—is important not only to the organization and its employees, but also for them.
- Restaurant owners and operators face some unique risks related to sexual harassment. Here we take a look at some ways restaurants can combat sexual harassment effectively.
- Sexual orientation has been an area of increased focus over the past few years, with organizations coming to understand that this is an area of discrimination that requires attention. Here’s a look at how to prevent sexual orientation discrimination in your workplace.
- Sexism can show up in subtle ways. But, however subtle, sexism is still an important area for concern and education. A look at how to prevent subtle sexism from affecting your workplace.
- Different generations view sexual harassment differently. Millennials, for instance, the fastest-growing and soon-to-be largest segment of the workforce, have different views than their older colleagues.
Of course, one of the most important areas of interest and concern for organizations of all types and sizes is how to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. Our practical guide offers insights and best practices for addressing this pervasive and perpetually troublesome issue.
EVERFI designs interactive online courses that educate employees on important skills to prevent harassment—protecting your people and your bottom line.