When one person’s bad behavior has a negative effect on an entire organizational culture, it’s time to implement some workplace harassment training. Unchecked harassment, even when it’s minor, can poison the atmosphere in the workplace, making people unhappy at their jobs and more willing to either leave the company or engage in bad behavior themselves.
Victims of harassment aren’t the only ones affected by the behavior. Harassment of any type sets the stage for a bad work environment, says Robin Shea, partner in the employment law firm Constangy Brooks & Smith, LLP. “If you hear people referring to people of certain races in a derogatory way, it just creates a work environment that isn’t good and causes witnesses to believe that that’s acceptable behavior in the workplace,” she says. “Or it makes them dread coming to work every day because they don’t want to have to listen to it.” A poisonous atmosphere creates an unhappy workplace.
“Generally people who sue are people who are unhappy with their jobs,” says Shea. “So the more you do that type of thing and create that type of environment, the more vulnerable you’re going to be to that kind of lawsuit.”
The Value of Training
A robust training program, implemented consistently, can neutralize a poisoned atmosphere and foster a culture of respect. Harassment training is one of the most basic ways to protect your company and your employees from the effects of a hostile workplace. It can also protect you from lawsuits.
“For management level I usually recommend fairly intense training, that might be two or two-and-a-half hours, that discusses not only what behavior to avoid but also how to handle complaints appropriately,” says Shea.
Stress the seriousness of harassment, the fact that the behavior can result in termination, and the importance of reporting it, says Shea. “Let them know we don’t tolerate this behavior and we want you to come forward if you see it going on or hear about it. Even if we investigated and found out there wasn’t anything to it, we are still going to be grateful to you for coming forward.”
Main Training Points
Shea outlines three points that should be included in training for all employees, including managers:
- What behavior can get you into trouble
- What the company position is on harassment
- What to do if you are a witness or a victim of harassment
“That last part also includes a very strong statement that we will not take action against you for making a complaint of harassment, even if it turns out to be wrong,” she adds.
Managers should also be trained in handling harassment complaints.
Use Common Sense
Training should include some discussion of the implications of jokes. “Certain types of jokes should just be considered forbidden,” she says. “And I don’t mean you should always fire someone who tells a dirty joke at work… If somebody slips up and tells some joke with a bit of sexual content, I think you have to exercise your judgment … I don’t believe in a zero-tolerance policy.”
Shea also warns against making employees and supervisors feel that they can never tell a joke or use humor in the workplace. “Just stay away from the forbidden topics,” she says. “Please, by all means, have a sense of humor and express it at work.” She advocates encouraging employees to discuss minor comments and jokes with one another if they find something offensive, before making a complaint. “Don’t turn everything into a court case.”
It might look like plain old common sense, but laying it all out in a training session makes it policy too.