For the past few months the issue of sexual harassment continues to lead many news articles and capture the focus of many management writers not to mention legal seminars. Now many states and even municipalities are working on passing legislation to create new regulations for employers to follow.
Earlier this week, the New York City Council passed several bills all to help prevent workplace sexual harassment. These bills include required posters, protections for independent contractors, increasing the statute of limitations for sexual harassment claims, among other requirements. One important bill requires all private employees with at least 15 employees to conduct annual anti-sexual harassment training for all employees.
Although some states require various state agencies and some educational districts to provide sexual harassment prevention training to supervisors and in some cases all employees, most will only encourage private employers to do so. One state that does require private employers to provide sexual harassment prevention training is Connecticut.
The current Connecticut regulation regarding training stipulates that:
- All employers with 50 or more employees are required to provide training to supervisory employees – only supervisory employees are required to attend training
- Training must be conducted within six months of assuming the supervisory responsibility
- Training must be at least two hours in length
- Training must be conducted in a classroom and consist of:
- Federal and state sexual harassment regulations
- Definitions of the types of sexual harassment
- Discuss conduct that can rise to the level of sexual harassment
- Discuss and describe the potential remedies
- Discuss strategies for sexual harassment prevention
- Advising the criminal and civil penalties of committing sexual harassment
- Employers are encouraged but not required to provide training to supervisors who have previously attended approved training.
These regulations may be changing as a bill passed the Connecticut Judiciary Committee recently. The bill would update the current regulations by:
- Reducing the number of employees requirement from 50 to three
- Requiring all employees to be trained, not just supervisors
Regardless of the regulations in Connecticut or any state and municipality, what are best practices for employers to follow to ensure that employees are protected in the workplace?
My Top Five Best Practice Picks
- Have an Anti-Harassment policy in your employee handbook and disseminate it throughout the organization at least annually. Include that retaliation for bringing forth a complaint will not be condoned.
- Train all employees on what sexual harassment is, how to recognize it, what to do if it occurs and what will happen if an investigation is conducted. Conduct training annually.
- Ensure that employees have a safe and unbiased complaint channel to use. Don’t require that employees can only lodge a complaint with their supervisor.
- Train supervisors on the organization’s expectations of them, and their specific role in preventing sexual harassment. Include that the work environment is a professional environment, and unprofessional behavior is not allowed.
- Investigate any and all claims and complaints immediately.
Among many strategies in preventing workplace sexual harassment, training is critical. Training not only will meet statutory requirements but will assist all employees in understanding what behavior is expected in the workplace. Employers shouldn’t wait until a regulation requires them to provide training, they should include this training as a best practice going forward.