As #MeToo Movement Matures, Effective Harassment Training Remains Critical

By:  Melissa Tetreau, Bodman PLC

 

            On Monday, February 24, 2020, Harvey Weinstein’s conviction on charges of a criminal sex act and rape in the third degree moved the #MeToo movement squarely into the phase of accountability.  It’s a phase the EEOC already has been vigorously focused on by holding employers accountable for maintaining a respectful and civil workplace culture through outreach, training, and enforcement efforts.

            Accountability for workplace culture is also an aspect of the #MeToo movement that a  number of state and local governments are tackling by passing laws requiring employers to conduct periodic sexual harassment trainings. While Michigan has no such law for private employers, regular training is still one of the most important tools (in addition to an effective anti-discrimination and harassment policy) that a company can use to prevent harassment. However, there are some important differences between effective training and ineffective training:

  1. Effective training has buy-in from senior leadership.

Preventing workplace harassment goes hand-in-hand with creating and maintaining a culture of respect and inclusivity. Oftentimes, that culture is set in large part by senior leadership. If leaders are not supportive of training, the training itself can only be so effective.

Buy-in from leadership also includes attendance by leadership at the training. Not only is it important that every member of the workforce is properly trained, but demonstrating that senior leaders find harassment training important enough to attend sends a powerful message. When leaders are (oftentimes legitimately) too busy to attend the training, it instead tells employees that the training is simply one other item on the company’s to-do list.

  1. Effective training focuses on policy violations, not violations of law.

HR Professionals understand that there is often a difference between a violation of the company’s anti-harassment policy and unlawful, “severe or pervasive,” harassment. However, the last thing the company wants to do is imply that it will tolerate unacceptable behavior as long as it is not unlawful. In addition, the concepts of “severe or pervasive” can be abstract and unhelpful to employees who are trying to understand what crosses the line.

  1. Effective training separates supervisors and managers from the rank and file.

Employers (and the courts) hold supervisors and managers to a higher standard than their hourly employees. All harassment training should, at a minimum, identify inappropriate behaviors and inform employees of their obligation to report such conduct. Supervisor training should go further. This training should teach management how to identify and proactively respond to inappropriate behavior, how to respond to employee complaints, and how to funnel those complaints to HR. Otherwise, the company runs the risk of a supervisor making a bad situation worse.

Of course, there are many other factors that go into a successful harassment training. The most important thing is holding the training in the first place. If you need assistance with training, reach out to an experienced employment attorney, such as the author.

Melissa Tetreau is a member of the Detroit SHRM Legal Affairs Committee and an attorney with the law firm of Bodman PLC.  She can be reached at MTetreau@bodmanlaw.com.

Detroit SHRM encourages members to share these articles with others, inside and outside their organization, as long as its name and logo, and the author’s information, is included in the re-post of the article.  February 2020.