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One of the most commonly asked questions we hear is, “How does sexual harassment training benefit our business?” Harassment prevention training can impact numerous aspects of a business, including reducing legal liability, improving the company culture, and improving the recruiting of prospective employees.
Above all, it is important to understand that harassment training is not merely a bolt-on solution to a problem. Harassment training will only be effective if it is a foundational pillar of your workplace culture and not simply a coat of paint for your company profile.
Sexual harassment training may reduce your legal liability for your company
One of the more common motivators for implementing anti-harassment training is a desire to protect your company from legal liability. Since the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal government of the United States has placed increased attention and built legal framework around issues such as harassment, prejudice and discrimination. Individual states have also implemented numerous laws, regulations and recommendations regarding the manner in which companies should handle and protect against harassment in the workplace.
The growing legal framework has led to an increase in special interest lobbying and watchdog organizations placing pressure on organizations to implement better harassment policies. More significantly, lawsuits concerning harassment and discrimination have moved to the public and legal forefront, resulting in both significant legal and public relations challenges for companies that choose to ignore ongoing discrimination.
“Structured properly, employee training not only mitigates potential liability and eliminates punitive damage awards,” explains Ellen McLaughlin and Carol Merchasin in the National Law Journal “but also adds value to an organization and can eliminate problems of harassment and discrimination before they become litigation issues.”
Whether training is implemented to meet state requirements or simply to improve company posture toward harassment and discrimination, the net effect is a better position legally, in the event harassment does occur.
Sexual harassment training could improve your company culture
Few things kill a workplace culture like the belief that work is an unsafe place. “If we don’t create those psychologically, and sometimes physically, safe places,” explains Simon Sinek, “what we end up with is a group of people who come to work every day lying, hiding, and faking.”
Employees who don’t feel safe enough to speak out about an issue, will simply leave or keep their head down, and in doing so the unhealthy, unsafe culture is perpetuated. Properly implemented training that both sets a high bar for behavior and respect, as well as empowering peers to support and watch out for one another is a key part in shifting company culture to one of safety and can go a long way to rooting out lingering harassment issues.
Sexual harassment training can improve productivity
In an often-cited study done by the United States Army, the estimated cost of sexual harassment in the U.S. Army in 1988 was over $250,000,000. A large portion of this cost was related to a significant loss of productivity when harassment was present in the work environment. This is no surprise, considering persistent workplace harassment frequently results in divided attention, increased absenteeism, and other avoidance behaviors at work.
Additionally, harassment in the workplace often leads to an increase in employee turnover, and with key people walking out the door in a challenging recruiting environment, companies often find the cost of this phenomenon to be compounding in nature.
Taking sexual harassment training seriously makes your company a more attractive place to work
In the post-pandemic work environment where an increasing number of professionals are taking stock in their career paths, having an attractive corporate culture is a critical asset when recruiting and retaining top talent. “People are looking to work for a company whose values align with their own. By avoiding investing in your company culture you may be missing out on key talent, whilst sacrificing employee retention too”, explains Carly Clyne of There Be Giants.
An organizational reputation can do a great deal of harm or good, depending on the type of culture your company exemplifies. Being honest about where your company culture is headed and being able to demonstrate objective efforts, like harassment training and education, help you position your company as taking on cultural issues proactively and seriously.
Additionally, the presence of a healthy culture tends to reduce employee turnover, which is a key red flag prospective employees will often observe. A place of work that attracts and retains talent is going to more easily attract more of the same, and creating a safe workspace is a crucial component of that retention cycle.
Harassment training: Worth it or not?
Considering the legal, cultural, and human capital impact of training, it seems self-evident that a robust harassment training program is beneficial to your company’s success. If a well-crafted training program is not already on your agenda, it is past time to consider it for the health of your business and, most of all, your employees.
McLaughlin, Merchasin. National Law Journal. https://www.seyfarth.com/dir_docs/publications/AttorneyPubs/McLaughlin.pdf
Faley, Knapp, Kustis, et al. Estimating the Organizational Costs of Sexual Harassment: The Case of the U.S. Army. Journal of Business and Psychology. https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1022987119277
Decker. Sexual harassment in health care: a major productivity problem. The Health Care Supervisor. https://europepmc.org/article/med/10169890