Though all states have laws prohibiting sexual harassment on the job, California, Connecticut, and Maine take the step from reactive to proactive by mandating sexual harassment training for supervisors to prevent sexual harassment before it begins. While the three states training measures are similar, there are also significant differences in the specifics. Californias mandatory sexual harassment law (AB 1825) provides detailed requirements for harassment training requirements far more stringent than those of Connecticut and Maine. AB 1825 calls us to a new level of accountability that will undoubtedly influence sexual harassment laws across the nation, said Stephen Paskoff, president of Employment Learning Innovations, Inc., a workplace training firm based in Atlanta. It puts education on the front burner and acknowledges it as any companys best defense against sexual harassment claims.
While each of the states laws designates which companies must provide harassment training, Maine requires the training at companies of only 15 employees or more. Both California and Connecticut specify that companies employing 50 or more employees conduct the training. In this instance, Maines law is more stringent than the other two states. Maine is also more stringent is designating which employees must complete the training. Both California and Connecticut require training for employees with supervisory authority only, while Maines law requires sexual harassment training for all employees, regardless of their positions.
In many areas, however, Maines mandatory harassment training is more lenient. For instance, Maine does not specify the qualifications of a trainer; individual companies are at liberty to choose trainers. In contrast, California and Connecticut require qualified trainers. Connecticut allows a great deal of latitude by designating trainers as individuals employed by the company or other persons who agree to provide the training. California law, however, includes stringent details describing trainer qualifications. Qualified personnel include the following only:
Human Resources professional
Harassment prevention consultant
Law school or college professor with knowledge and experience in the prevention and/or handling of harassment, discrimination, and retaliation claims
Paskoff said that by raising the bar on trainer qualifications, California sends a clear message to employers: check the box training is no longer acceptable. A paragraph in an employee handbook, a reminder in a newsletter, an obligatory lecture at a department meeting none of these constitute sexual harassment training. Instead, employers must invest their resources in highly trained professionals with both the knowledge and skills to effectively train and assess participants.
In addition to trainer qualifications, Maine is also more lenient in the areas of documentation. Maine requires no documentation of sexual harassment training, while Connecticut simply encourages documentation. In contrast, California requires it. Again California holds its employers and supervisors to a new level of accountability. In addition to basic documentation that includes the names of the participants and trainers, AB 1825 requires an employer to give each supervisor a copy of its anti-harassment policy and to obtain documentation from each supervisor acknowledging receipt of the policy. The company must then maintain the documentation for two years.
One distinguishing element among the three states harassment training laws is Californias requirements regarding teaching methodology. These requirements set a uniquely high standard. The methodology must include the following elements:
Questions that assess learning
Discussion questions that actively engage participants in the learning process
Questions that assess learning success
Hypothetical situations and scenarios that are true-to-life
Memorable strategies for reporting and preventing sexual harassment
Opportunities for participants to ask questions and receive prompt answers
While both California and Connecticut state that the mandated training must be interactive, Californias training law goes to great lengths to describe exactly what constitutes an interactive approach. AB 1825 forces employers to do more than just pass on information to employees and hope they remember it. Instead, Californias training participants have every opportunity to understand the concepts and absorb them into their own professional values. In addition, companies bear the responsibility of choosing materials that fulfill the methodology criteria and using trainers who can effectively administer it.
As for course content, the three laws have the following content in common:
Definition of sexual harassment
State and federal statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment
Types of conduct which constitute sexual harassment
Employers obligation to investigate
Remedies available to victims
AB 1825, however, also mandates the following course content:
Limited confidentiality of the complaint process
What to do if a supervisor is personally accused of harassment
How to use the essentials of an anti-harassment policy if a complaint is filed
Fully detailed anti-harassment policy provided by each employer
Supervisors acknowledgment of receipt of the policy
The additional requirements in the California law focus directly on supervisors. Once supervisors complete the training and acknowledge receipt of an anti-harassment policy, they are fully accountable for knowing and applying the policies correctly. If a sexual harassment complaint arises, they can neither plead ignorance of the law nor accuse the employer of failure to provide policy. These measures empower employees who file sexual harassment lawsuits, thus laying the groundwork for successful prosecution of offenders.
The sexual harassment training measures are positive tools, but their real effectiveness lies in their reinforcement efforts. Paskoff said, Whereas Connecticut and Maine only require supervisors to undergo sexual harassment training once, Californias AB 1825 recognizes that the most effective learning comes from education that is continuously repeated and enforced until it is fully integrated into the day-to-day work life. To that end, Californias sexual harassment training requires supervisors to repeat the training every two years.