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How and why to train supervisors to prevent sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and its state and local equivalents. Failure to proactively address sexual harassment in the workplace can result not only in costly litigation for an employer, but also in loss of productivity, negative publicity, damage to employee morale, and high turnover rates.

Sexual harassment prevention training is a way for employers to educate employees on sexual harassment laws, minimize the risk of sexual harassment in the workplace, and convey the employer's zero-tolerance policy for this conduct.

Following the #MeToo movement, which began in late 2017, many jurisdictions enacted laws to require sexual harassment prevention training or revised existing laws to expand training coverage. For example, several states including New York, California, Connecticut, and Maine, and major cities including New York City, require employers to train supervisors on sexual harassment prevention. Other states such as Colorado and Massachusetts do not require the training but highly encourage it.

The training requirements vary by jurisdiction but generally must include a definition of sexual harassment, examples of unlawful conduct, reporting procedures, remedies, and strategies to prevent sexual harassment. California, for example, additionally requires trainers to meet certain education and experience criteria. Some jurisdictions also mandate the frequency of the training (for example, on an annual basis).

Conducting anti-harassment training of supervisors is good practice, even if not required by the jurisdiction or jurisdictions in which an employer has employees, because it:

  • Ensures that supervisors understand the law of sexual harassment and that this conduct is not tolerated in the workplace.
  • Avoids or minimizes legal liability which can divert the company's resources and time.
  • Avoids demoralization and employee turnover in the workplace.
  • Avoids negative media attention and other damage to the employer's reputation.
  • Avoids the punitive damages that may be awarded in litigation as a result of failure to provide training.
  • Demonstrates to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and state fair employment practices agencies (FEPAs) that the employer is committed to providing a workplace free from unlawful sexual harassment.
  • Preserves the potential availability of a federal Faragher-Ellerth defense.

Practical Law provides thousands of immediately useful resources for working in-house attorneys, including Sexual Harassment Prevention Training for Supervisors: Presentation Materials, an updated presentation deck ready to be customized to fit your company. You can access that deck with a free trial to Practical Law today.

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