In 2005, when first responders arrived in New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, they did not hit the ground running. Some of that was attributed to mismanagement and other bureaucratic delays, but one fact was not lost on the media: doctors, nurses, EMT’s and firefighters had to sit through sexual harassment training before they could start the business of saving lives.
Employee training has always been a good management practice, but what started this trend? In the fall of 2004, California once again led the way by passing a law requiring mandatory sexual harassment training. Assembly Bill 1825 implemented sexual harassment training requirements for California businesses and public entities with at least 50 employees. The goal of the statute was to bolster California’s anti-discrimination law – Fair Employment and Housing Act. At the time, the bill’s author Sarah Reyes believed that passage of the statute was necessary because 22 percent of all cases filed with the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) were sexual harassment cases. In 2013, sexual harassment cases comprised approximately 24% percent of all cases filed with DFEH.
The California statute requires that training take place for supervisors within six months of being hired and every two years thereafter. The training, 2 hours in length, must include information and practical guidance regarding federal and state laws concerning the prohibition against and the prevention and correction of sexual harassment and the remedies available to victims of sexual harassment.
Although sexual harassment training is not required under federal law, EEOC guidelines http://www.eeoc.gov/policy/docs/harassment.html and federal court decisions make it clear that sexual harassment training is critical to an employer’s defense or to avoid punitive damages in the event of a lawsuit. In addition, employers with multilingual work forces should strongly consider providing training in the primary language spoken by their supervisors to ensure that they understand their legal responsibilities and potential liabilities.