How to Choose Effective Sexual Harassment Training for a Remote Workforce

by / ⠀Career Advice / January 20, 2021

Despite having two vaccines authorized by the CDC, COVID-19 isn’t over. Many companies are opting to have a remote workforce, and yours might be one of them. 

With the ever-changing WFH timeline, you can’t push important employee training to the back burner. In many states, sexual harassment training is now required by law. Even where training is optional, taking steps to prevent harassment is a smart way to limit liability. It’s also a way to make sure your workplace is a respectful, productive environment. 

Up to 85 percent of women report being sexually harassed at work. Not only does this create a toxic work environment, but it costs companies millions in turnover. It also costs companies lost productivity, and settlements. Unfortunately, not all sexual harassment training programs are created equal. Some might even make things worse.

Here’s how to implement effective sexual harassment training for your remote workforce:

1. Know what’s required.

Sexual harassment training requirements vary by state and the number of employees on your payroll. Some states, including California, New York, and Delaware, require private companies to provide harassment training. Other states require training for public employees only. Some states lay out specific requirements for the training curriculum. Others only have a time requirement. Check OnPay’s 2021 guide to view the specific laws for your state.

2. Don’t use outdated training that exacerbates gender stereotypes.

If you’re looking for a sexual harassment training course that’s completely virtual, you’re in luck. There are literally dozens of digital options — even free courses — but not all are equally effective. 

One study suggests that sexual harassment policies do not change explicit gender beliefs. In fact, they might make things worse by activating unequal gender beliefs. Some corporate training materials often portray men as sexually aggressive and women as vulnerable. These videos are problematic because they reinforce gender stereotypes and make employees uncomfortable. 

Videos that act out harassment scenarios can also encourage “anchoring.” Anchoring is when participants focus on content that could be considered harassment without any context. If employees have a narrow idea of what harassment looks like, they may dismiss behavior that doesn’t fit that picture. It’s important that your training materials emphasize that sexual harassment can take many forms.

3. Choose training that empowers bystanders.

Another reason old-school harassment training is ineffective is that it focuses on the victim and perpetrator. No one likes to think of themselves as the “bad guy,” so they assume training doesn’t apply to them. 

More effective training empowers bystanders to intervene. This is especially important when you consider that 75 percent of workplace harassment goes unreported. Bystander training can help stop harassment before it escalates and contribute to a safer workplace. 

In a remote work environment, bystander intervention can look different than it does in an office setting. It might mean speaking up on a Zoom call after an inappropriate comment or encouraging a co-worker to file a complaint.

4. Include training on WFH harassment. 

It may seem counterintuitive, but workplace harassment is possible in a fully remote environment. In fact, with so many video conferencing at home, the boundaries between work and life can start to blur. When these barriers disappear, behaviors may cross the line from professional to inappropriate. 

Harassment can start as a simple joke. Workers may receive unwanted sexual content or inappropriate instant messages. When one woman’s superior started making inappropriate video calls, being stuck at home made it harder to avoid her aggressor. Other women have reported their co-workers making inappropriate jokes in messaging apps. 

Keep in mind that a toxic situation can be amplified by remote-work conditions. Your sexual harassment training should include reminders of what is appropriate at work.

5. Make it interactive.

When your remote workforce is completing their training virtually, it can be challenging to keep them engaged. It’s easy for employees to play a video in the background without paying any attention.

When choosing a program, make sure it includes an interactive element. This could be a simple one-page worksheet with short-answer questions. Asking workers to respond to open-ended questions forces them to think about workplace harassment. It also helps them develop strategies for communicating effectively and stopping harassment.

Last year, the pandemic turned the world upside down. Office birthdays and breakroom snacks have disappeared, but workplace harassment hasn’t gone away. In fact, WFH life might put vulnerable employees at greater risk. You can’t afford to put off employee training this year. In addition, you need to make sure your training is effective. The well-being of your workers may depend on it.

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Editor in Chief of Under30CEO. I have a passion for helping educate the next generation of leaders.

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