In the wake of the #MeToo movement, a number of states – including New Jersey, New York, and California – have ushered in laws that seek to not only mandate sexual harassment training, but have also put rules in place for what the training must include, who is to be trained and how long the training must be.
The basis behind the laws, which vary significantly in terms of who is applicable and what is required, is to head off sexual harassment before it even has a chance to start. Although the laws mean well, they are another layer of compliance human resources need to worry about.
If the business you work for is located in one of the states with sexual harassment training laws, you must have a program in place for employees that adheres to the specific requirements of your state. However, if your state has yet to usher in such rules, it certainly won’t hurt your business to add a harassment module into your existing training offerings. The HR Pros at a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), are a resource to turn to for help with training.
There are three important considerations for HR managers as they navigate this new sexual harassment training terrain.
If you want to protect your employees – and the financial health of your business – you’re going to need to make sure that not only do you host training but that you update your employee handbook accordingly. Again, if you’ve read here for any degree of time, you know how firmly we believe in writing everything down explicitly in your employee handbook – a book that employees are required to sign to signal not only their understanding of the rules but their agreement to uphold these rules to the best of their abilities. Should a lawsuit ever be filed, it is your employee handbook that will be dissected by the lawyers, who will seek to pick holes in what you wrote and identify loopholes that will let their clients earn a big payout.
With that being said, your employee handbook should be updated to explicitly state what constitutes sexual harassment in the workplace, what specific behaviors are unacceptable, and offer a detailed step-by-step guide for reporting any and all perceived harassing behaviors. The content of what you should include will likely vary based on the industry in which you work, especially when it comes to examples of behaviors, as well as if you are gearing this training to meet state requirements.
As part of some state requirements, you will be required to provide proof that your employees have attended a sexual harassment training. Many companies are achieving this goal by making their training interactive, such as requiring workers to answer questions as they move through online training modules and generating a list after the fact of all the folks who have completed the program.
If you don’t plan to use an online module, you must still retain records. The state of California recommends that you maintain records that include the date of training, names of attendees and trainers, type of training, a sign in attendance sheet, copies of all written materials, copies of all recorded materials such as videos or webinars, copies of all written questions received and of all answers provided to those questions, and copies of any certificates provided, such as a certificate of attendance or training program completion.
To date, there aren’t any states that require you to “turn in” this proof to a government agency, but states with sexual harassment training mandates do require that you keep this “proof” on file. New York, for example, requires that you keep the record for a minimum of three years, but we would recommend you keep it on file for a minimum of five just to be on the safe side with regards to future lawsuits.
Depending on the size of your business, adding a brand-new module to your training repertoire may prove incredibly costly. Not only do you have to develop the content – which can be time consuming in and of itself, you’ll probably also want to have it reviewed by your legal team to make sure it checks all the boxes, either in the form of your state’s sexual harassment training requirements or that it would be able to stand up in court should someone file a claim against your company.
You then have to consider how this information will be rolled out. During the rollout, don’t forget to document any new information and policies with an employee handbook update. When communicating with your employees, will you do slides or handouts?
Further, we all know that while money talks, the commodity of time must also be considered. If you have multiple locations – some of which are geographically distant – you will need to also budget for the fact that you will have your training personnel out on the road for a certain amount of time. What if you, as the HR manager, are also the trainer? Can you clear your schedule to handle this priority? What will you need to push off – and to whom will you delegate it to? Working with a PEO can take this burden off your plate as they can handle the training and certifications.
Knowing ahead of time that getting this training module off the ground and disseminating it to folks is going to have a cost associated to ity can help you make room in your budget – financially and time-wise – and ensure that this isn’t an item that gets cut off your to-do-list. Many states require that this training be rolled out on a semi-regular basis – such as at least once every two years – so be sure to note this going to be an ongoing expense that will need to be accounted for in future budgets.
Already feel overwhelmed thinking about developing and implementing this training program? The professionals at an outsourced human resources company have developed a sexual harassment training module that can be tailored to meet the needs of your business and comply with your state requirements. Further, the company can send out expertly staff trained to deliver the training and serve as a touchstone for all of your (and your workers’) continued questions.