I had the pleasure of revisitng the issue of training to avoid or address harassment and discrimination in the workplace at the Lower Bucks Chamber of Commerce ECONference 2018 on May 23, 2018. The questions from participants reminded me that training is a valuable tool not only for risk prevention, but also to improve workplace culture.
Training has become a “check the box” activity: the employer gets to say that it provided training, in the event of a claim. The employees are required to attend in order to keep their jobs, and so they attend and zone out. Employer and employees are going through the motions. The lawyers told them to train, so the employer is training.
Here’s what I’ve learned: the serious offenders, those who engage in serial harassment, inappropriate relationships or even assault, are going to engage in that behavior no matter what training you provide. An employee who lacks the insight to know that certain behaviors are unacceptable (everywhere, really) will not have an epiphany during mandatory employee training. One-on-one training often helps in these situations, but not always, and not fundamentally (that is, the employee will know what to do to stay employed, but will not really care that the behavior was inappropriate).
Employers should provide training – it is good risk management for certain employers. But, perhaps it should be a more sincere activity on both sides: employers should consider more interactive training, smaller groups and individualized training for departments. Employers should engage in self-evaluation of workplace culture prior to planning the training.
Further, if the goal is prevention of harassment, hostile work environment claims or other unacceptable workplace behaviors, generalized training is not always the answer. Instead, employers should remember that culture comes from the top. If officers, supervisors and managers maintain professionalism, it sets the tone. It might be valuable to warn and provide one-on-one training to managers who do not demonstrate professional behavior, but in the end, appropriate workplace behavior should be a qualification for any leadership role.
No lawyer will ever advise an employer not to provide training, but perhaps it is time to be more thoughtful about what training looks like for specific employees. Avoiding litigation cannot be the only goal, or the training will never work. I frequently work with employers to come up with meaningful training plans that comply with the law, and are appropriate for their business.