Employers have a responsibility to provide a workplace that is safe and free of harassment for all people. Understandably, many employers have concerns about what happens when a harassment complaint is filed at their business. WhyHR is often called in to investigate and make recommendations for resolving the complaint. Recently, we’ve noticed an uptick in investigations and have seen a very common theme among them: many could have been avoided by providing employees with harassment education.
Sexual harassment is often the first thing people think of, but harassment in the workplace comes in different forms. The reality is that harassment includes both negative actions and speech directed at any protected classes, including race, color, nationality, sexual identity, sexual orientation, pregnancy, veteran status, disability status, or religion.
Any time you have an environment that brings together a group of people, there is potential for conflicting viewpoints that result in harassment. Our experience has shown that harassment training can prevent issues from escalating to the point of harassment
One of the biggest benefits of harassment training is creating a culture in which employees are empowered to speak up about their experiences. Rather than enduring harassment because they don’t want to cause a stir or risk not being believed, employees know what to expect when speaking up. Offering training communicates to employees that your company is serious about preventing harassment and ensuring a smooth process for filing a complaint. Over time, this contributes to a reputation as a safe place to work.
Handling of complaints
Sometimes a manager isn’t clear on what to do when an employee has a concern about harassment. This can lead to the concern being ignored, minimized, or mishandled. Harassment training not only sets the standard for all employees but also trains the managerial staff on the proper procedure for when a complaint is made. Managers will be confident that they are handling the situation properly and bringing in the necessary resources in response.
One of the specific things we see in harassment investigations that can be addressed by training is awareness and expectations. Sometimes, the person harassing a colleague is simply unaware that the behavior is inappropriate in the workplace. Upon understanding the impact of their words or actions on the other person, they are remorseful and unlikely to repeat the behavior.
In training, we like to teach employees that this isn’t their house, and it’s not their rules. Harassment training is not about casting judgment on a particular person’s morals or viewpoints but rather focusing on the fact that there are many types of individuals in the workplace. It must be a place where all can do their job without fears of harassment or discrimination, which requires all employees to be mindful of each other. Harassment training is the avenue for laying out what is and is not appropriate for conversation and behavior in the workplace.
Accountability is an important side benefit of harassment education. In an office that has an open and ongoing conversation about harassment, it is not uncommon for employees to speak up more often in group settings. By directly addressing an insensitive comment, some issues that would have otherwise grown into full-blown harassment can be avoided. Employees are more attuned to being mindful of their own speech and actions, as well as those around them, and instances of harassment decrease.
Providing appropriate and ongoing harassment training can have a big impact on an office. Education can make the difference between a small incident that can be easily managed and one that escalates to the point of a lawsuit or needing to terminate employees.
If you are interested in harassment education offerings for your employees, reach out to the WhyHR team to talk about customizing a training for your team.