Formal sexual harassment training is not required under federal law. However, California and Connecticut require training for supervisors within 6 months of hire/promotion, and Maine requires training for any employer with 15 or more employees. It’s a best practice to train managers and supervisors to recognize and address prohibited behaviors proactively.
There are elearning courses and trainers who can help you complete sexual harassment training for your workforce, but the focus of this article is how to do it yourself for free.
Please note that this article contains general information and we suggest consulting your own legal professional with specific questions about preventing sexual harassment and training your employees, based on your city, state, and company size.
Preventing Sexual Harassment: Training Guide & Best Practices
Conducting sexual harassment training yourself costs less and may include some or all of the following:
- Hosting an “all hands” meeting to review the policy and clarify expectations
- Reviewing the policy 1-on-1 with each new hire as part of your onboarding process
- Discussing sexual harassment laws when employees are promoted to management
- Facilitating an annual training session where employees share examples.
This training guide contains six sections and can be conducted in a 30-60 minute time-frame depending on the number of attendees and amount of discussion allowed during the session.
- What is Sexual Harassment?
- What Behaviors are Prohibited?
- How to Report Policy Violations?
- Open Forum
- Wrap Up
Prior to the training you will want to review the outline below and gather a few items. Consider:
- Printing a copy of your policy for each person to reference during the training
- Providing paper and pen/pencil for participants to jot down notes
- Obtaining a whiteboard/pens
- Preparing a few ‘examples’ of prohibited behavior relevant to your industry
Welcome employees to the session and introduce the topic, Preventing Sexual Harassment.
Then ask employees to introduce themselves if they do not know each other. A simple introduction may include asking each attendee to:
- State their name and job role
- Tell a little about their background prior to joining the company
- Share a favorite pastime or hobby
Tell them the purpose of the training, such as: “Today’s training is designed to review our policy against sexual harassment and help us identify and prevent harassment in the workplace”. And give them an idea of how long the meeting will be, for example you might say: We plan on spending “45 minutes” on this topic today”.
Training Tip! Telling employees what the training will be about and how long it will take, focuses their attention.
Review any administrative items, such as:
- Sign in sheet (recommended)
- Location of restrooms (if the meeting is held in a place they’re not familiar with)
- Learning environment (cell phones on silent, no side conversations, etc.)
Training Tip! Reviewing administrative items as part of your introduction helps prevent distractions during the session.
2. Explain What Sexual Harassment Is
Provide each participant a copy of your policy and tell them you are going to review it as a group. For example you could say: “Our company prohibits employee discrimination of all types, including sexual harassment”.
Training Tip! Write key words/phrases on a white board, poster board, flip chart or chalkboard to keep attendees focused on your most important points.
- Ask participants to share whether they have ever received training on preventing sexual harassment? (Then ask 2-3 of them to share what they learned in prior training)
- Ask all participants to jot down questions they have as you continue the session
Training Tip! Adults learn best by applying new learning to what they already know. Therefore asking them about their experience as it relates to the topic is a great way to help training ‘stick’.
Read the sexual harassment definition from your policy, or ask the participants to read it to themselves. You could state: “Sexual Harassment is defined as any harassment based on a person’s sex, such as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature, including offensive remarks about a person’s gender.”
Training Tip! Never ask an adult to read aloud in a workplace training. It’s inappropriate and can be embarrassing for slow readers who may stumble on words in front of their peers.
3. Describe Prohibited Behaviors
Ask volunteers to share an example of inappropriate behavior they have seen or heard prior to joining your company in a way that doesn’t name names or isn’t too graphic. Allow as many individuals to share their experience as needed to get a sense that the group understands what kind of behaviors are prohibited.
Review your policy statement on prohibited behavior. For example you could say:
“Prohibited behavior includes any behavior that creates a hostile or offensive work environment or that results in an adverse employment decision such as the victim being fired or demoted. Both males and females can be victims of harassment.”
Next provide some examples of prohibited behavior relevant to your business environment (prepare your own examples in advance). Consider:
- Male harassing female (inappropriate comments / compliments on physical attributes)
- Female harassing male (discussing dates and sexual activity)
- Vendor harassing employee (telling off-color jokes of a sexual nature)
- Customer harassing employee (inappropriate touching, standing too close)
- Supervisor harassing employee (promising a sales trip if employee agrees to date)
You may wish to clarify the two legal terms if you have included them in your policy: Quid pro Quo and Hostile Work Environment. Quid Pro Quo is when an employee is promised something work related, such as a promotion, in exchange for sexual favors. The last example above illustrates Quid Pro Quo. Hostile work environment includes things like sexual jokes, sexual compliments, and inappropriate touching.
Then ask employees to share suggestions of behavior they would like to see prohibited and/or eliminated from their work environment. Allow participants to continue sharing until you feel that the group is satisfied you’ve heard their concerns.
Training Tip! Allowing individuals to ‘add to’ the training by sharing their ideas is a great way to ensure buy in of the information being presented. It’s even better if you add their specific examples to your policy document.
4. How to Report Policy Violations
Describe how your business will address violations by reviewing this section of your policy, including situations in which the employee feels harassed by a client or vendor. Reassure attendees that you, the business owner or HR manager, intend to take all complaints seriously, and that sexual harassment will be addressed like any other disciplinary concern.
You could say something like: “Individuals violating this policy will be subject to discipline, up to and including termination.”
- State that all claims will be investigated
- State that both the accuser and the alleged harasser will be interviewed if necessary
- Describe the time frame in which you will investigate claims, i.e. 30/60/90 days
- State that no retaliation is allowed against individuals making a claim
Let your employees know that in the case of inappropriate behavior by a vendor or customer, you will take similar steps to remedy the situation, up to and including ending the client/vendor relationship if the behavior does not stop.
Ask employees to think about the reporting process and consider whether there are any situations where the reporting of concerns might not work based on their work schedule or supervisory relationship. Then verify that attendees know who to contact based on their job.
And remind employees that this isn’t just a female issue. Ensure they understand that you expect all employees to comply. In fact, you could read the relevant section from your policy such as: “All employees, regardless of their gender, are required to report suspected sexual harassment directly to their supervisor, the HR manager or the owner of the company immediately in person, via phone call or mail.”
5. Open Forum
An open forum at the end of the session allows attendees to air concerns or misunderstandings and synthesize what they have heard. It allows you, their trainer, to gauge their comprehension and willingness to abide by the policy on which they have just be trained.
Consider summary questions like these:
- What concerns do you have about what we’ve covered today?
- Is there anything related to this topic that we haven’t discussed?
- What have you learned that you didn’t know or think of before?
- Who can summarize in a few sentences what we’ve covered in this training?
Training Tip! Less talkative team members often have something to add. Consider asking individuals who haven’t contributed to the session thus far a generic question like:
- “Lupe, do you have any additional thoughts?”
- “Chris, do you have any unanswered questions?”
6. Wrap Up
Summarize the session by sharing any next steps, such as:
- Posting the policy
- Having employees sign (or e-sign) and date a document verifying attendance
- Making copies of signed policy forms and filing them electronically or in employee files
- Offering to schedule time with any individual who has specific follow-up questions
Thank employees for participating and dismiss the training.
Don’t Forget to Document that Training Occurred
An easy, but often forgotten step, and one that can be used as part of your defense should a claim end up in court, is to document your training.
- After training, have employees e-sign if you’re using a PEO like JustWorks, or distribute a paper copy of the policy for employees to sign and date
- Keep the signed copy on file electronically or in each employee’s personnel file
- Or get creative:
- Have all employees sign a ‘preventing sexual harassment’ poster
- Capture a photo/video of employees taking a pledge promising ‘no harassment, no discrimination’!
Always Create & Encourage A Culture of Respect
Lastly, consider adopting day-to-day work practices that create a culture of respect, keeping in mind that your behavior matters.
I observed an excellent sexual harassment policy completely undermined by a business owner’s trashy break-room conversation with a peer. He verbally demeaned a stewardess he had encountered on a recent trip. Women at nearby workstations overheard the grotesque manner in which he described her female anatomy. The culture of disrespect started at the top. Fortunately for the business, the owner sold his share to an investor; not however, before several female supervisors quit due to the environment which they stated was “toxic to females”.
Ask yourself, “If the business owner doesn’t take sexual harassment seriously, will the staff?”
Bottom Line: Sexual Harassment Training Guide
Although only required in a few states and often only for supervisors, or employers of a certain size, we recommend, as do many states, that training on how to recognize, prevent and/or report sexual harassment be provided to all employees in your business. Recent EEO cases have shown that courts look favorably on companies that have, in addition to an established policy against sexual harassment, a documented training program to educate employees on the policy. Sexual harassment training demonstrates your business’ commitment to creating a culture of respect. Isn’t that what it’s all about?