Can Better Training Reduce Workplace Harassment?

August 23, 2016 at 9:37 am Leave a comment

In a previous life,  I was working in the legislature when New York became one of the first states to mandate the schools do more to not only respond to but prevent school yard bullying.  I was skeptical that Government could do anything about bullying.  After all, some kids are just jerks.

A generation later  bullying hasn’t been eliminated but  it’s no longer acceptable for school administrators to sit idly by as students get taunted and teased. Kids are much more sensitive to the fact that other kids are being mistreated and are much more likely to tell a teacher or administrator than they would have been a generation ago.   I was wrong.  New policies and new approaches made a difference.

What’s the tie-in? In June  the chairs of a task force appointed by the EEOC   to investigate work force harassment issued a report with several recommendations.  Bond Shoeneck & King suggested in their blog yesterday that HR people should give it a read:  They have a point.  Although the report is designed to prevent harassment, and as such includes recommendations that go beyond existing legal requirements, it has been my experience that today’s recommendations   become tomorrow’s mandates.  Plus,  while you probably won’t agree with all of its conclusions and recommendations, it does have some ideas worth considering.

This brings me back to my bullying discussion. Anyone who doesn’t know for example that sexual harassment  is illegal is beyond help.  The bigger question is what is the best approach to minimizing it? We’ve all sat through those  sessions on preventing harassment replete with nervous snickers from the back of the room and awkward sideways glances.  While they are good to have from a legal perspective,  I was pleasantly surprised that the report’s authors acknowledged that “much   of the training done over the last 30 years has not worked as a prevention tool – it’s been too focused on simply avoiding legal liability. We believe effective training can reduce workplace harassment, and recognize that ineffective training can be unhelpful or even counterproductive. However, even effective training cannot occur in a vacuum – it must be part of a holistic culture of non-harassment that starts at the top.”

One of their suggested improvements intrigues me: “Workplace civility trainings focus on establishing expectations of civility and respect in the workplace, and on providing management and employees the tools they need to meet such expectations. The training usually includes an exploration of workplace norms, including a discussion of what constitutes appropriate and inappropriate behaviors in the workplace. The training also includes a heavily skills-based component; including interpersonal skills training, conflict resolution training, and training on effective supervisory techniques.”

Would this really make a difference? I don’t know but providing a mechanism for employee’s to understand and discuss workplace norms and expectations is worth a shot. Done properly,  employees would better  understand that a harassment free workplace is not simply based on obeying the law but on proactively treating those around you with a baseline of respect and professionalism, expecting the same in return, and not being afraid to intervene when these norms aren’t being followed.

Am I concerned that we may be seeing the scope of harassment claims expanding ever so slightly? You bet.   But it’s clear that there are workplaces where employees and employers just don’t get the message.  If our kids can foster create school environments where bullying is frowned upon than maybe we should expect more of ourselves to foster harassment free environments in the workplace

Entry filed under: HR, Legal Watch. Tags: , .

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Authored By:

Henry Meier, Esq., General Counsel, New York Credit Union Association.

The views Henry expresses are Henry’s alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Association.

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