Training is a vital component of an employer’s efforts to maintain a workplace free of harassment and discrimination. Without training, employees may not know the company’s stance on harassment and discrimination (hopefully, that the company will not tolerate it) and may not know how to report harassment or discrimination (particularly if they did not read the employee handbook).
Here are six tips to help South Florida employers create a harassment and discrimination-free workplace:
- Obtain executive buy-in. Prevention of harassment and discrimination starts with corporate culture, and establishing the proper culture starts at the top. Senior management must, by words and actions, demonstrate that equality is paramount and that harassing and discriminatory conduct will not be tolerated. Executives must lead by example, which means refraining from sexual (or otherwise inappropriate) banter, jokes, comments, and touching.
- When feasible, conduct live, in-person training (where the presenter has the attendees’ attention) instead of computer or web-based training (where employees may be listening with half an ear while simultaneously performing other tasks in the confines of their offices or cubicles).
- Recognize that training is an ongoing process. You are not going to change an individual’s behavior in a thirty minute session, so it is not enough to offer one-time training during onboarding. Instead, conduct periodic training sessions to reinforce principles of inclusion and equal employment opportunity.
- Train “bystanders” who witness harassment or discrimination to intervene (“Hey, that joke was inappropriate”) when inappropriate conduct is observed. A bystander also can address the conduct privately with the perpetrator (“You’re aware that joke was inappropriate, right?”) or with the victim (“Are you ok with what John said?”).
- Most training focuses on what employees can’t do (“don’t touch,” “don’t tell dirty jokes”). Spend time training supervisors on what they should do, such as praising colleagues’ work and recognizing contributions. Doing so helps create a positive work environment.
- Promote equality through personnel actions. Look around you. Do you have women and minorities in management positions? Send the desired message through your actions and personnel decisions.
Every company should strive to eliminate harassment and discrimination and create an environment in which all employees feel welcome. The means to achieve that goal will differ by organization. Consult with your employment attorney to discuss the best recipe for success in your organization.
Andrew Rodman is a shareholder and member of the Board of Directors at the law firm Stearns Weaver Miller. His practice is devoted to labor and employment law.