Yes, harassment prevention training is critical - as well as required in a growing number of states and municipalities - but it's important that we aren't so focused on making sure employees can define the legal terms of "quid pro quo" and "hostile work environment" that we lose sight of the fact that harassment and discrimination is highly nuanced and often engrained in workplace culture.
Individual employees play a critical role in the prevention of workplace discrimination, harassment, and the creation-over-time- of hostile work environments. Employees throughout your organization are in a position to see and hear workplace communications that, without intervention, could develop into harassment. Knowledgeable, proactive employers engage their supervisors and employees at every level and start the conversation early in the employment process - and reinforce the messaging with harassment prevention compliance training as an opportunity to bring the subject top-of-mind and keep the conversation going throughout the employment life cycle.
Compliance training alone will not get the job done. We need to focus on bystander intervention and building an overall culture of respect. It is the employees who witness inappropriate conduct that can make the biggest difference - as long as they know how to react, who to involve, and that there will be no retaliation for speaking up on behalf of a colleague.
Are your supervisors and employees able to identify appropriate and inappropriate workplace behaviors? Do they know what to do when they see or hear them? Are your employees actively helping you to create a positive, respectful work environment? Ensuring that you are able to answer each of these questions in the affirmative is core to building a culture that is free of harassment and discrimination.
Having equal employment opportunity and anti-harassment policies in place is not enough to prevent an issue - and it is not enough to prevent a complaint reaching the EEOC. Organizations that lack a culture of respect are adding costs to their bottom line. Disrespectful and hostile environment have higher absenteeism rates, lower employee morale, they suffer from a lack of employee engagement, lose out on high-quality employee referrals, experience higher than average turnover, and lose customers and clients as a result of their poisonous environments. In addition to having compliance policies in place, employers must develop open lines of communication, and a workplace culture that encourages employees to step up on behalf of their co-workers.
Start with engaging harassment prevention training that includes bystander intervention. Build a strategic plan to combat workplace harassment and discrimination from there.