The Reckoning: Prevention of Workplace Harassment

Yesterday, the big news was about the termination of Matt Lauer based on “a detailed report from a colleague about inappropriate sexual misconduct in the workplace by Matt Lauer” and that NBC has “reason to believe this may not have been an isolated incident”. His co-anchors expressed that they were “heartbroken” for the victim who came forward bravely, and also were struggling to “reconcile [their] love for someone with the revelation that they have behaved badly” (NYT article regarding Matt Lauer termination). This latest incident is another in a seemingly endless series of workplace sexual harassment by employees in senior positions who should have known better. What is an employer to do?

The single best thing an employer can do is to actively create and foster a work environment that is safe and productive for all employees. That starts with the drafting of compliant workplace policies and procedures, extends into their practical implementation and, if needed, enforcement, and is reinforced by regular anti-harassment and sensitivity training. But what does that training look like in this ever-changing workplace, with employees working virtually or at multiple sites, with grueling schedules and efficiency demands?

The U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace Report, dated June, 2016 (see EEOC Task Force Report ) provides clear guidance for employers of all sizes and in all states. In the report, the Task Force detailed their findings, as excerpted below:

  • Training is most effective when tailored to the specific workforce and workplace, and to different cohorts of employees.
  • Effective training cannot occur in a vacuum – it must be part of a holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top.
  • When trained correctly, middle-managers and first-line supervisors in particular can be an employer’s most valuable resource in preventing and stopping harassment.
  • Compliance training that teaches employees what conduct is not acceptable in the workplace should not be a canned, “one-size-fits-all” training. Effective compliance trainings are those that are tailored to the specific realities of different workplaces. Using examples and scenarios that realistically involve situations from the specific worksite, organization, and/or industry makes the compliance training work much better than if the examples are foreign to the workforce.
  • Training should be conducted and reinforced on a regular basis for all employees.
  • Training should be conducted by qualified, live, and interactive trainers. Live trainers who are dynamic, engaging, and have full command of the subject matter are the most likely to deliver effective training. Since one of the goals of compliance training is to provide employees information about the type of conduct the employer finds unacceptable in the workplace, it is important for a trainer to provide examples of such conduct, or have individuals portray scenarios of such conduct, and then be able to answer questions. In addition, compliance training teaches supervisors and managers how to respond to a report or observance of harassment. These can be difficult situations and a live trainer is most suited to work through questions with the participants.

The attorneys and HR professionals at Clark & Gotzler are experienced providers of this EEOC-recommended anti-harassment training for your employees and managers. Our trainings are tailored to your policies, include interactive dialog and role play to illustrate nuanced behaviors, and review common and specific situations to assess what may rise to the level of inappropriate harassment or discrimination. We also deliver additional training specifically directed at managers and supervisors to address their enhanced responsibilities and role in providing a safe workplace. Following EEOC guidance, we recommend this employee and manager training be delivered live and by an experienced trainer. We also recommend that the training occur on a regular basis, perhaps every year, with a signed acknowledgement of understanding and attendance from each attendee to be placed in their personnel file.

Our trainers have designed and delivered anti-harassment training that was reviewed and approved by the EEOC. Some states, including California, have specific statutory training requirements that can be incorporated if needed. Clark & Gotzler trainers have, for example, delivered anti-harassment training to managers in California in compliance with that state’s specific requirements.

Employers should think of this training as an investment in their organization. Decades of academic research and real life experience support the finding that the effects of harassment and discrimination in the workplace take a significant toll on employees and diminish their engagement and productivity. In their full manifestation, investigations into allegations of harassment or discrimination, and related litigation, are tremendously costly in terms of time, energy, and financial resources of any organization. It is best to try to minimize those worst-case scenarios by taking all reasonable steps within your employer power to foster a workplace that is safe and productive for all employees. Remember that being a good and kind employer is your best insurance policy – and highest return investment in your organization’s future.

Please contact any of the attorneys or HR professionals at Clark & Gotzler about scheduling an anti-harassment and discrimination training for your employees and managers.