Sexual Harassment Training in California—Keeping it Relevant

Mandatory sexual harassment training, has increased awareness of sexual harassment and its harms, but presenting timely, relevant, and engaging training is still necessary.

Since September 30, 2004, Assembly Bill 1825 (now California Government Code §12950.1) has required employers to provide mandatory “classroom or other interactive” sexual harassment training. Initially, this applied only to employers doing business in California with 50 or more employees and was limited to training supervisors. Training is required every two years. The statute was later amended to apply to all employers with five or more employees and now includes two hours of supervisory training and one hour of training for all employees, including part-timers. Training related to “abusive conduct” is also now mandatory. Seasonal and temporary employees now must be trained within an even shorter time frame, within 30 days of hire or within 100 hours worked, whichever is earlier. Note that out-of-state employers with as little as 5 California workers must provide training to their California employees.

The California Civil Rights Department (formerly the Department of Fair Employment and Housing) states the training must:

include information and practical guidance regarding federal and state law concerning the prohibition against, and the prevention and correction of sexual harassment and the remedies available to victims of sexual harassment. The training must also include practical examples of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation, as well as information about preventing abusive conduct and harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

5 ways to keep training relevant

Educating employees to identify, report, and ultimately assist in preventing harassment is, of course, of paramount importance. However, with any repeated training, there is a danger of the “boy that cried wolf” syndrome. So, how do we combat complacency and keep sexual harassment training relevant, important, and interesting? Here are some ideas:

  1. Avoid using outdated prerecorded presentations that Employees may have seen over and over again. Nothing will put employees to sleep faster than a seminar they’ve seen before that looks like it was created in the last century!
  2. Inject some humor. Yes, this is a serious subject, but there are ways to get an important point across that keeps the employees engaged. For example, in explaining to employees that the tone and subject of their discussions may be harassing in one scenario but not in the other, the trainer may use examples such as, “It may be totally appropriate to tell your grandmother that she looks lovely in that blue dress whereas it will be completely inappropriate for an employee to tell another employee that they love the way the blue dress fits–in other words if it’s not something you would say to your grandmother or grandfather, then you probably shouldn’t be saying it at work!”
  3. Give employees practical tips. If another employee is offended by a comment or activity, and the activity is not work-related, just put an end to it. Don’t get into the weeds over whether this is legally harassment. For example, if one employee claims that the other employee is always staring at them from across the room, don’t try to figure out whether this is discriminatory conduct or not; if there is no work-related reason for the positioning of the desk, just spin it around so that it makes it extremely difficult for the situation to reoccur.
  4. Use visual aids. Photographs, cartoons, movie clips–all of these types of visual aids keep employees engaged. Putting up a photo of a disgraced Hollywood movie mogul when discussing abusive conduct helps to keep employees interested and helps them relate the dry definitions to present-day events.
  5. Make the training interactive. Give scripts to the employees and have them role play to lay out specific scenarios and then ask the audience their opinion after they have been instructed on the application of the law.

Mandatory sexual harassment training, along with the “Me Too” movement, has greatly increased awareness of sexual harassment and its harms, but many workers are still subject to harassment, and presenting timely, relevant, and engaging training is the best way to continue the work of minimizing if not eliminating sexual harassment in the workplace.