7 Tips for Choosing the Right Anti-Harassment Training

Anti-harassment training fosters a productive and safe work environment. Follow these six tips to identify the best vendor and program for your business.

Hand holding pen about to write on a blank piece of paper with other hands in background

Anti-harassment training is a critical component of creating a welcoming and safe work environment. To ensure that this training is done right, many employers turn to external resources rather than develop the materials in-house.

Numerous companies market anti-harassment training. This can make selecting the best program for your organization seem overwhelming. These seven steps will help you identify the provider and program that best suits your workforce.

  • Address All Legal Requirements
  • Select the Appropriate Delivery Method
  • Research Providers
  • Offer Training that is Engaging
  • Elevate Your Training with Broader Themes
  • Consider the Ability to Customize and Modify
  • Request Employee Feedback

1. Address All Legal Requirements

The foundation of anti-harassment training is anti-discrimination and anti-harassment laws. Federal law establishes a minimum standard. However, training programs tackling these issues must also address state, local, and municipal requirements that extend beyond Federal law, such as recognizing all protected categories for the jurisdictions in which you operate (e.g., New York City law protects domestic violence victims).

Interestingly, Federal law does not require that employers provide anti-harassment training, and only a limited number of states and local governments mandate it. Most jurisdictions are either silent on the issue – leaving it up to an employer’s discretion – or simply encourage training.

Regardless of any government-imposed requirement, anti-harassment training is a best practice, central to building a welcoming, productive work environment, and can be a component of a strong legal defense strategy. If you are unsure if your training is legally sufficient, consult with legal counsel.

a. Locales that Mandate Training

Depending on how many individuals a business employs, some businesses in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Illinois, New York, and New York City legally require anti-harassment training. If you have employees in these locations, you should review the relevant statutes and regulations to determine how and if they apply to your situation.

In many jurisdictions, you can satisfy the training requirement by utilizing a government-provided model training program. The advantages to using government-provided training include:

  • A guarantee that all legal requirements are met
  • Cost savings – they are freely available on the relevant agency’s website
  • Time savings – the program is ready for immediate implementation
  • Employers are not responsible for updating and maintaining the accuracy of the training

One significant drawback of government-developed training is that it lacks the flexibility for customization. When relying on a state’s generic training offering, you cannot address issues unique to your industry or organization-specific policies. You also lose the opportunity to use the training to reinforce your culture, values, and internal policies.

2. Select the Appropriate Delivery Method

You can educate your employees about anti-harassment laws, policies, and organizational expectations in various ways:

  • In-person seminars with live trainers
  • Webinars
  • Online courses
  • Blended formats using a mix of in-person and technology-driven instruction

There are pros and cons to each method. For example, if most of your employees work remotely, an in-person training session might require travel, extensive time away from work, collateral costs to the organization, and employee inconvenience.

On the other hand, online training or webinars may not be the best option if the majority of your employees do not have business-issued devices. These employees may not have access to reliable devices or internet connectivity.

Selecting the best delivery method for your organization will depend upon your work environment, employee population, and budget.

3. Research Providers

Referrals from colleagues and others in your network are a great way to identify firms that can address your needs and that might work well with. Internet searches can also reveal high-level players in this space and is a good first step to learning about individual vendor offerings. Independent research upfront will allow you to make comparisons, create a short-list of whom to contact and identify pivotal topics to discuss during engagement conversations.

Another consideration is the type of firm. Some external partners focus solely on workplace training. Others are full-service HR consultants that can provide stand-alone training services or wrap your training needs into broader HR initiatives.

Whether you select in-person or technology-driven training solutions, vetting the provider and the program is vital to a good working relationship with the vendor and ensuring your employees receive effective, up-to-date, and legally compliant information.

4. Offer Training that is Engaging

For your training efforts to be a success, your employees must learn and feel that they have acquired important information. Most anti-harassment training material is based on laws written for lawyers and judges. So, the material must be presented in an easily understood and engaging way.

Employees will lose interest quickly if the training is weighed down by legal jargon and monotonous. Although the topic is serious, training does not need to be boring.

When employees take an active role in the learning process, their engagement and information retention levels increase. Ask employees to answer questions, participate in surveys, and play games. In addition to being a best practice, many states mandating training require it to be interactive.

If you have a diverse work population, consider presenting the material in their native language(s) for greater comprehension and involvement. If you are in a state that mandates training, you may be required to provide the training in multiple languages.

5. Elevate Your Training with Broader Themes

In addition to covering the basics, it is best practice to augment your harassment training with diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) discussion and other topics that build a safe and harmonious work environment.

The following should be addressed:

  • Implicit bias
  • Bullying in the workplace
  • Bystander protections, responses, and responsibilities

Discussions about implicit bias explain how preconceived notions have an impact on our outlook and how we interact with and treat others. In many instances, employees may not realize that they hold certain beliefs, but these deeply held impressions often lead to microaggressions that are discriminatory and harassing. Shining light on the fact that everyone holds preconceptions starts the process of taking proactive steps toward acknowledging and changing behavior.

Bullying in the workplace is also a widely recognized workplace concern. Anti-harassment training should raise awareness about the negative effects of bullying behavior and reinforce that even though it may not be illegal, it will not be tolerated.

Your training should also instruct employees on how they should respond to harassing behavior that they witness, even if they are not the target. In some states, this training is required. Regardless of whether it is a legal requirement, employees without supervisory responsibilities should know what avenues are available if they witness inappropriate conduct.

6. Consider the Ability to Customize and Modify

One of the benefits of choosing vendor-provided anti-harassment training is the ability to customize the material. Customization allows an organization to personalize the training package to reinforce its culture, values, and mission statement.

Often this will include messages from top leadership introducing the training and reiterating the organization’s commitment to providing employees with a safe work environment. Some providers may also allow employers to weed out unnecessary facts and focus on information specific to their industry, employee population, or relevant current events.

Keep in mind that anti-harassment training is not a one-time event. Even if you do not operate in a state requiring periodic retraining, offering refresher sessions at set intervals is best practice. With that in mind, you need the ability to revise your training course to maintain employee interest and the material’s relevance.

The law driving anti-harassment training is not static. Legislative activity and court decisions continuously alter this area of the law, and your training materials must be up-to-date. The vendor’s process and the expense you incur for updating the materials should be key considerations when selecting a program.

7. Request Employee Feedback

Although you may believe you selected a high-quality, effective anti-harassment training program, your employees may think differently. Allow them to share what they like and dislike about the training with you and the developer. This information will give you a starting point for revisions. It also demonstrates to your employees that you value their input and listen when they have an opinion on important topics.

The mechanism for gathering feedback should be built into the training. Employees are more likely to give accurate assessments and complete a survey or questionnaire during the training module. Work with your vendor to incorporate feedback mechanisms if they are not part of the offering.

Anti-harassment training is an important building block in creating an inclusive and accepting work culture. By following the tips in this article, you will have a solid foundation upon which to select the training that best suits your organization’s needs.

Jill brings to RealHR Solutions experience as a business owner, executive search consultant and corporate HR professional. She holds a Masters in Industrial Social Work from Fordham University and a B.A. from CUNY City College.