By Emelia Nguyen
Director of Education
The Golden Arches – well known for their savory BigMacs, fountain sodas, and crispy french fries – made headlines earlier this year for something a little less savory. In January of 2023, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) settled a lawsuit with an owner of eighteen McDonald’s franchises across three states to the tune of nearly $2 million. The lawsuit claimed that the owner knew of sexual harassment and still allowed it to continue unabated. This conduct included unwanted touching, offensive comments, intimidation, and unwelcome sexual advances by supervisors, managers, and coworkers. Conditions were so intolerable that workers had no choice but to quit. Read more about this settlement on the EEOC website here.
As seen in the remedies prescribed by the EEOC in this lawsuit, training and education are key pieces in the effort to keep sexual harassment out of the workplace. While training is highly encouraged at the federal level, some states require that training have specific elements for both employees and their supervisors and managers.
States that require Sexual Harassment Prevention Training:
[California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington]
What If My State is Not on this List?
Unfortunately, this does not mean you are in the clear. Training is still encouraged by the EEOC because the lack of training can be seen as a huge liability. According to the EEOC,
“…refraining from taking certain actions recommended here [such as training managerial and non-managerial employees] as promising practices may increase an employer’s liability risk in certain circumstances.” Promising Practices for Preventing Harassment; Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Nov. 21, 2017. https://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/promising-practices-preventing-harassment#_ftn34; accessed on Nov. 5, 2023.
In order to avoid liability and decrease the risk of sexual harassment in the workplace, the EEOC recommends that employers implement four best practices:
- Leadership and Accountability;
- Create a Comprehensive and Effective Harassment Policy;
- Implement an Effective and Accessible Harassment Complaint System; and
- Provide Effective Harassment Training
For the purposes of this article, let’s focus on the fourth point: effective harassment training.
Provide Effective Harassment Training
Policies and systems are only effective if the employees know that they exist. Leaders must emphasize the importance of these training sessions and find resources that are tailored to their specific work environment and employees. We have all sat through training that we knew was not made for us and did not feel realistic or applicable. Training sessions created without the learner and context in mind can cause more harm than good as students tend to “zone out” if they find the course material to be either boring or not applicable.
Specific requirements for particular states can range from length to content and everything in between. Take a look at the infographic for a quick overview of some of the state requirements in regard to Sexual Harassment Prevention training.
How to fulfill your legal requirements and reduce liability:
- Utilize training that is created specifically for your environment and learner type.
- Find a training that caters to multiple learning styles and preferences: reading, video reenactments, audio, etc.
- Create a sexual harassment prevention policy
- Make employees aware of your policies and the resources that are available to them within your organization.
When it comes to creating lasting change, training is only a piece of the larger puzzle. In order to truly create an environment where everyone feels safe, leadership must consider how they are responding to complaints as they occur and the type of work environment they are promoting, whether it be intentionally or unintentionally . What kinds of jokes does your organization tolerate? What is considered OK to post in public spaces? What behaviors are you encouraging or choosing to ignore? Together, we can create environments where everyone feels safe and are free to do their best work.
Current ComplyAuto clients can access our Sexual Harassment Prevention Trainings, through the Workforce Dashboard.
Are you or someone you know experiencing Sexual Harassment? Call the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE (4673) or rainn.org); it’s free, confidential, and available 24/7.