QUESTION: What training strategies should an employer use to avoid harassment and discrimination inthe workplace?

ANSWER: Reaching the goal of appropriate workplace behavior is a concern for many companies andemployees alike. Creating a culture that validates professional conduct can be instrumental in meetingbusiness-wide objectives, financial goals, litigation avoidance and ultimately employee satisfaction.

Prior to the development of harassment training strategy, it is important to define and identify the harassmentissues, as they exist in your company.

The generic definition of harassment and its impact, potential discrimination, is verbal or physical conduct thatdenigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of that person' s (or that person' srelatives' , friends' , or associates') sex, race, skin color, religion, gender, national origin, age or disability, andthat:

  • has the purpose or effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment
  • has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with the individual' s work performance
  • otherwise adversely affects the individual' s employment opportunities
After definition, an effective mechanism of identification of unique company issues is the use of employeefocus groups. The groups, blended by organizational level, functionality and demographics, should identify adiversity of issues from different perspectives. Understanding the opinions and observations of woman,minorities and others will help determine program content, while fostering organization credibility andcommitment to the program.

Overall program effectiveness is driven by:

  • Management support - Demonstrating a true commitment to training is a necessary component to promoteprogram significance. Commitment by management is attained by lending support through participation insessions, championing program objectives in memos and communication and backing the training initiative bymodeling the behavior expected. If management actions are inconsistent with learning objectives the programis doomed for failure.
  • Policy communication - A policy on the company' s philosophy concerning harassment and discriminationshould be communicated in a several ways. E-mail, bulletin board postings, intranet, newsletters andannouncement meetings are some alternatives. The policy should include harassment definitions, remedies,consequences, reporting procedures, grievance process, and anti-retaliation language.
  • Participation - The most effective training sessions involve participants in the teaching and learning process.Encourage or require participation from all levels in the organization and use techniques of role-playing andexperiential learning to involve attendees in learning. The focus of the content should go beyond aninformational perspective. Participants' should be encouraged to demonstrate intervention behavior whenencountering harassment. The role of individual responsibility should be emphasized in all program materials.
  • Measurable objectives and programs evaluation - Regardless of philosophy, content or learning style amethod should exist to monitor effectiveness of the training initiative. Give participants an opportunity topractice what they have learned in the sessions. Practicing can be accomplished through grievance committeeparticipation, team meetings and communication programs. Additional monitoring methods include surveys,reduction in number of harassment incidents and timeliness of problem resolution. A regular procedure tomonitor and update the training agenda should also be established to keep content current with existing law.
Federal law does not require that you set up harassment training programs (although some states do), but lastyear' s Supreme Court decisions in this area indicates that if you don' t, you may be giving up some of yourlegal defenses should your company be sued for sexual harassment. Taking a proactive approach to the issuesof harassment and discrimination is a primary defense and obligation of a progressive employer.

Robert Hoffman is principal/CEO of HR Additional information is available at or call toll free (877)854-0469.

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