Why is My Employer Making Me Take Sexual Harassment Training?

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Written By Adeyemi Adetilewa

HR departments. Does anybody like them? Literally anyone? I’m guessing the answer to that question is no.

It seems like every time an employee turns around, they have to complete new safety training, fill out different paperwork, or watch yet another public safety announcement.

While you might be happy enough to sit around and watch a silly video and get paid for it, you still can’t help but wonder: what’s the point of all this sexual harassment training? Why do I have to do this?

Well, I’m here to tell you why your employer is making you take workplace sexual harassment training.

Legal Requirements

1. Legal Requirements

The fact is, your employer probably doesn’t want to deal with this sort of thing either. Many states, like New York, require all employees of businesses based in the state to take yearly sexual harassment prevention training—even if the employees aren’t based in New York.

If you are a remote worker or part of a large chain, you could be subject to the regulations of multiple areas at once. 

If employers fail to give their employees training every single year and keep detailed records of their training—for, in New York, at least three years—they can be fined $100 for each employee (https://www.google.com/search =penalty+for+ harassment+training).

And since small businesses are required to start offering training when they have 15 employees, that is a minimum of $1,500. For a small business, that is a lot of money. The bigger the business, the more employees, and the more the fine will cost.

If the failure is repeated, a business stands to lose a lot. When enough violations start adding up, the entire company—and the livelihood of everyone in it—is at risk. That’s one reason why you have to sit and watch a video about not saying inappropriate things to your coworkers.

2. Avoiding Lawsuits

If you say something completely inappropriate to a customer or coworker, if you make somebody feel unsafe, you know who can get sued? Because it is not you. It is your employer.

You can get fired, sure, but they are the ones who have to deal with legal fees, settlements, and absolutely terrible publicity.

Making a company’s policy against sexual harassment absolutely crystal clear won’t always prevent a few bad employees from doing really stupid things. But it does protect the business to some extent because they can show that they have a policy against it and they provided the required training to make that perfectly clear. It’s a better defence than they might have otherwise.

3. Actually Preventing Harassment

So far, I’ve just talked about business principles, but it is possible that your employers actually want to create a safer work environment where everyone feels safe and no one is harassed. It’s probably hard to imagine most bosses actually caring very much about their employees, but some of them do!

The training, annoying as it might seem, is useful in this regard as well. It tells those who are tempted to harass their coworkers that such behaviour will not be tolerated. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Even though it is impossible to guess how many incidents have been prevented due to the policy of requiring training on the subject, it is not hard to assume that the figure is not negligible. 

It also offers information to any employee who is harassed, informing them of the processes for reporting both within the company and externally, with the government. This prepares people for whatever future incidents may not be prevented.

Lessons on bystander intervention and on retaliation teach employees how to react and how not to, in the (hopefully nonexistent) situation where harassment occurs.

What to Expect in a Sexual Harassment Training?

What to Expect in a Sexual Harassment Training?

So what is this sexual harassment training going to look like? Most online New York sexual harassment training is about 45 minutes long and required by law to be interactive.

That doesn’t actually mean very much, though. It’ll just be a couple of questions about the content, most likely—nothing very interesting. In fact, based on my experience, the questions you will be asked about the training are likely to question a brain-dead chimpanzee could answer without having watched a single second of the video.

You probably should pay attention, though, so you know how to resolve an incident if one arises. And because being “the one who actually bothers to pay attention” is pretty good for your career.

Unfortunately, it is likely to be pretty boring. But unless you’re pretty lucky, work isn’t usually fun anyway, so you might as well just enjoy your chance to relax and get off your feet while still being paid for your time, instead of wishing for this certain singing, dancing mascot to come to tell you about it instead.

Sure, mandatory sexual harassment prevention training seems like just another annoying HR requirement. But I hope now you understand that there are a lot of good reasons behind the policy.

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