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What Training Works When It Comes to Fighting Workplace Sexual Harassment?

— October 14, 2021

Implementing an effective anti-harassment training policy can assist in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace and also support victims who have been harassed and need assistance.

Laws against sexual harassment were created to protect employees from harassment based on their gender by employers, co-workers, and customers. In the United States, employees are protected against unwanted sexual advances in the workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1962. Sexual harassment is a form of sexual discrimination that directly violates this federal law. Therefore, employers should construct a plan to act appropriately when harassment occurs. Anti-harassment policies implemented by companies should be clear, concise, and note that harassment will not be tolerated. 

What is Sexual Harassment in the Workplace?

As defined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, sexual harassment is unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other physical/verbal harassment of sexual nature. Sexual harassment in the workplace involves unwanted sexual advances or conduct that creates an intimidating and hostile work environment for the victim, resulting in poor job performance. Some examples of workplace sexual harassment include:

  • Verbal harassment including making derogatory comments, jokes, or slurs of sexual nature
  • Physical harassment including unwanted touching or assault
  • Unwanted sexual explicit photos, texts, emails, or video calls
  • Threatening an employee after a negative response to sexual advances
  • Offering employment advancement in exchange for sexual favors
  • Verbal abuse including comments about victims body or unwanted sexual notes or invitations

It is important to note that the harasser can be of any gender, and the victim and harasser can be of the same sex. 

Who is Liable for Sexual Harassment?

Employers are required, by law, to take steps to prevent and deal with sexual harassment in the workplace. Even if the employer was unaware of the harassment, they are still liable for any harassment that occurs between employees. If you have been harassed in the workplace, consulting with a sexual harassment attorney could help you determine whether you are qualified for compensation. 

The Trouble with Harassment Training

The goal of anti-sexual harassment training is to help employees define sexual harassment and what it could look like in the workplace. This is important, as it increases awareness on how to recognize sexual harassment in a work environment while also educating employees on the companies process to file a complaint.

Image by Mohamed_Hassan, via
Image by Mohamed_Hassan, via

Although employers are liable for sexual harassment, training for sexual harassment is not required in all 50 states. In fact, only six states require sexual harassment training for all employees. Those six states are California, Illinois, Connecticut, New York, Delaware, and Maine. Other states may require sexual harassment training, but may only be focused on one particular employee group, like interns or state employees. 

Finding Success in Sexual Harassment Training

When implementing sexual harassment training, the most successful preventative plans require involvement of all employees with clear, concise statements of resolution. Anti-harassment training should explain exactly what sexual harassment is and how employers should respond in the event harassment occurs in the workplace. There should be a detailed process in which employees can make complaints while also staying anonymous for their safety. Below are guidelines which employers should follow when developing a sexual harassment training policy. 

  1. Make it clear that workplace sexual harassment has a “zero tolerance policy” at your company.
  2. Develop anti-harassment training policy and openly communicate the policy to all working employees. Communicating this policy to all employees means that sexual harassment will not be tolerated by any employees, including supervisors and managers. 
  3. Create a work environment that involves open communication through office meetings, group discussions, and information seminars.
  4. Confirm that all managers, supervisors, and higher-ups understand their responsibility when it comes to providing a harassment-free work environment.
  5. Create a process for employees to safely and securely report sexual harassment in the workplace.
  6. Take immediate action when a complaint of sexual harassment is filed at your company. 
  7. Keep track of implemented sexual harassment policies and revise policies when necessary. 

It is also important to train employees on what they should be doing through civility training. Civility training is designed to establish what behavior is considered right in the workplace. Civility training can help teach employees to

  • Praise others
  • Listen to complaints and receive constructive feedback
  • Communicate respectfully to one another
  • Resolve conflict
  • Discuss individual differences related to their own background characteristics

Implementing an effective anti-harassment training policy can assist in preventing sexual harassment in the workplace and also support victims who have been harassed and need assistance.

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