How harassment training can turn around and bite you

by on March 12, 2014 · 0 Comment POSTED IN: HR Cafe

Of course, harassment prevention is a key piece of your training programs for employees and managers. You can’t afford the legal and financial consequences of failing to train your people about what harassment is, how to react if it does take place, and how you will respond if a complaint is made.

The last thing you want, however, is for your harassment training to make matters worse! And that can happen if you’re not careful in devising and delivering it.

Here are five harassment training risks you need to watch for:

1) Role playing gets out of hand. Some training providers/sites suggest that role playing is an effective way to communicate the emotions that arise when somebody feels they’re being harassed. This may be so, but if the role playing gets too lifelike or “over the top,” the training itself can start to feel like harassment. The last thing you want is employees complaining that they were harassed during harassment prevention training.

2) Somebody tries to be funny. Fairly or unfairly, some employees see harassment training as dry, boring and/or repetitive. To break through these attitudes, a trainer may try to present the material in a compelling or unusual way. That’s fine as far as it goes, but one thing a harassment trainer must not do is go for humor. Harassment is no laughing matter. Similarly, if trainees start to whoop it up during a session, the trainer must quickly put the kibosh on. If an employee ever does sue for harassment, and it comes out that harassment training was treated as a joke, the plaintiff’s lawyers may have last laugh.

3) Pass/fail grades are assigned. Yes, it’s important to make sure employees and/or managers absorb the material, and yes, testing is one way to ensure that this happens. But if you assign some system of grades — pass/fail, numbers, letters, etc. — and leave it at that, a plaintiff’s lawyer could later claim that you knew a given individual who failed the test or did poorly presented a harassment risk. Better: If there is a graded test, have people keep taking it until they achieve a result deemed acceptable.

4) Unrealistic scenarios are presented. Scenario-based materials — true or lifelike stories about specific harassment situations — are one effective way to draw participants into the training. We all react to the human element. But if the scenario is off-base, or fails to jibe with the trainees’ sense of what’s real, it can draw scoffs and disbelief that undermine the overall message and leave participants skeptical about the whole topic of harassment prevention.

5) The bar is set too high. Training that goes overboard in its recommendations — “Don’t talk about relationships or dating at work” — generates the same kind of disbelief and distance as the skewed scenarios in #4.

Conclusion: By all means, give your people harassment prevention training. Just make sure that the training doesn’t create its own set of problems.

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