The U.S. Supreme Court has articulated its mandate to employers: Not only is a policy prohibitingharassment and discrimination in the workplace required, but the policy must be clearly and effectivelycommunicated to company managers and employees so that they both understand it and can apply it inpractice.
Faragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries Inc. v. Ellerth, for example, held thatemployers can avoid liability for harassment by demonstrating that they took reasonable steps toprevent and correct harassment and that the employee who alleged harassment failed to takeadvantage of the available preventive and corrective measures.
These cases make it clear that companies should reevaluate their approach to presenting informationregarding harassment and discrimination. Providing proper training is vital to setting workplacecultural and legal standards, reducing claims, and eliminating punitive damage awards.
But there is a serious problem with most employment and workplace compliance training. Withoutrealizing that the most important outcome is an impact on behavior, companies may simply pass outmaterials about discrimination, sexual harassment, or employment issues to employees; others conducta single orientation session or give their employees limited exposure to information or trainingmaterials without any link to corporate culture, expectations, or standards.
Some companies focus on the law and attempt to make "legal experts" of their employees andmanagers rather than presenting training in a way that managers and employees understand and areable to apply in practice. These organizations are essentially assuming they have "inoculated"themselves legally -? essentially saying, "Since we? ve done something, we are free of liability."However, in the current legal environment, the failure to view training as a business issue rather thanmerely a compliance burden can have far-reaching implications and leave companies vulnerable notonly to significant financial risk but also to business consequences, including loss of productivity andpoor employee morale.
Just think of Texaco, which settled race discrimination claims for $176 million. This organization hasnow recognized the need for high-level attention to employment law and to treat issues of civility,legality, and behavior as boardroom-level issues from which their training flows. Unfortunately thisunderstanding came at a very high price.