Sexual Harassment Training: EEOC Says “Reboot”

Last month I discussed a controversial new piece in the Guardian which questioned whether sexual harassment training helps prevent such harassment, or makes it worse.

I wondered out loud whether sexual harassment training is effective or, as the Guardian piece suggested, backfires and actually increases harassment — or if the article went too far in its broad conclusion and, in fact, if there is a problem with training, it is in the manner or way the training is conducted – not in training itself.

Frightened embarrassed young businesswoman is harassed by senior

Readers were pretty much in agreement that sexual harassment training is effective – but must be conducted professionally and carefully. And my takeaway was that “After conducting my fair share of harassment trainings, and studying, critiquing and/or sitting in on numerous others, I come down on the side of those academics who believe that harassment training is helpful and productive when done right.”

Now the EEOC’s “Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace” has weighed in on the subject, after 14 months of taking testimony and reviewing the available literature and statistics.

And it seems that the Task Force is troubled by the state of sexual harassment training, and urges a “reboot.”

What Did The EEOC Task Force Find?

The Task Force report noted that decades after sexual harassment was included into Title VII by the Supreme Court, “almost one-third of the roughly 90,000 charges filed with EEOC in FY 2015 included an allegation of harassment.”   Yet according to EEOC Commissioner Lipnic, training to prevent workplace harassment has been ineffective and focused on simply avoiding legal liability.   “In simplest terms, training must change.   That does not mean we are suggesting that training be thrown out; far from it – but training needs to be part of a holistic, committed effort to combat harassment, focused on the specific culture and needs of a particular workplace.”

A “holistic” approach to training was pretty much what my readers recommended.

Recall that Stephanie Davis wrote that “Solid and meaningful training is highly tailored to an organization’s culture and needs, and typically focuses on what is and is not appropriate behavior, the organization’s policy, and understanding how not to be disrespectful and what to do if inappropriate behavior occurs.   In essence, effective training fosters a dialogue about interacting productively and builds the foundation for creating a workplace that is respectful – not assigning the role of victim to women or any other group.”

And Jenny Harrison of the UK said that “a good face-to-face training session is about (1) getting people to reflect and talk to each other, (2) to recognise and respect the range of different perspectives within a working environment, (3) to encourage greater self-awareness and think more about their impact and who might be negatively impacted by their behaviour, (4) to understand that “the line” between what’s “okay” and “not okay” will be different for each person and indeed will shift within the same day depending on mood, circumstances and context, and (5) empowering people who do feel upset/offended to speak up and encourage more open communication.   Finally, good training will highlight the individual and collective accountability for constructive intervention.”

Besides A “Holistic” Approach, What Else?

New types of training was suggested by EEOC Commissioner Feldblum:  “Bystander intervention training can create a sense of collective responsibility on the part of workers and empower them to be engaged bystanders in preventing harassment.  With leadership support, bystander intervention training could be a game changer in the workplace.”

“The report includes detailed recommendations for harassment prevention, including a chart of risk factors that may permit harassment to occur; effective policies and procedures to reduce and eliminate harassment; recommendations for future research and funding; and targeted outreach. In addition, it offers a toolkit of compliance assistance measures for employers and other stakeholders.”


A truck driver who testified before the Task Force “underscor[ed] the fact that bedrock racial harassment, including repetitive use of the “n-word” and the showing of nooses, continues to be far too common a problem.”

You may recall my recent post entitled “Can There Be A Much Worse Case Of Race And National Origin Harassment?”  It was about a settled EEOC case in which A Filipino-American was harassed by a white manager, calling him a “non-white m—-f—-r,” “non-white guy,” “spic,” “n—-r,” “monkey” and “ape.”   I said that “Readers may recognize some of the same language and racial tropes that have been directed at African-American employees in the many cases that I have reported about.   Seems like the only thing missing is the ever-ready-to-be-displayed noose.”

Yes, racial harassment too “continues to be far too common a problem.”


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Richard Cohen

Richard B. Cohen is a partner in the New York City office of FisherBroyles, LLP, a national law firm. Richard Cohen has litigated and arbitrated complex corporate, commercial and employment disputes for more than 35 years, and is a trusted advisor to business owners and in-house counsel both in the United States and internationally. His clients have included Fortune 100 companies, domestic and foreign commercial and investment banks, Pacific-rim corporations and real estate development companies, as well as start-up businesses throughout the United States. Email Richard at [email protected]