In a New York Times article, “Sexual Harassment Training Doesn’t Work. But Some Things Do”, author Claire Cain Miller explored the ineffectiveness of traditional sexual harassment training in the workplace. Despite sexual harassment prevention policies and programs, women continue to be objectified, sexualized, insulted, teased, and not taken seriously in their respective industries. But, as Miller points out, there are certain aspects of training that have shown to be more productive than others, which may be the key to combatting harassment in the workplace.
Ontario Law Regarding Sexual Harassment
The Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits any form of sexual discrimination or harassment in the workplace. Employers have a legal duty to prevent and respond to workplace sexual harassment.
Under the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act, all employers must have an official harassment policy and review it every year. The policy must include procedures for reporting incidents, ensuring confidentiality, as well as establishing investigative techniques and disciplinary procedures. All employees must undergo workplace sexual harassment training appropriate to their workplace.
But as Miller explains, teaching someone about sexual harassment is not enough.
Why Traditional Training Doesn’t Always Work
The purpose of corporate training is to prevent workplace harassment from happening in the first place. In general, employers teach their employees the definition of harassment and other basics, like how to report an incident to HR. The New York Times article explains that this method of training has a tendency to make people feel uncomfortable, which can lead to defensive jokes or employees mentally checking out altogether.
So, how can employers improve their training? The answer, according to Miller, is to promote a positive and respectable workplace culture for women and to give them the same power, authority and opportunities as their male counterparts. By bolstering equality in the workplace, there is less room for inappropriate behaviour to occur in the first place.
So, how does one foster this culture that prevents workplace harassment from even happening? Here are a few ideas:
Put More Women in Leadership Positions
Research makes it clear that sexual harassment is far more prevalent when there are more men in positions of authority as compared to women. Where there is an imbalance of power in the workplace, women are more vulnerable to the risk of sexual harassment. Putting women in positions of authority and leadership mitigates this risk.
Make it Easy to Report Harassment
It’s hard to say just how many women are sexually harassed in the workplace because many events go unrecorded or the female employees end up quitting their job instead of filing a complaint. Some fear retaliation. Others fear they will not be believed or taken seriously, so they simply do not report.
In order to encourage employees to report a sexual harassment incident, employers can try a few different tactics. They can create procedures to ensure several personnel receive these types of complaints, making it easier for victims to find more than one person they trust to report the incident. Reporting a very sensitive incident to a stranger is often uncomfortable and can deter someone from coming forward.
Employers can provide complainants with the option to voluntarily use an information escrow, which allows a complainant to have submit a time-stamped report, which is held in a confidential encrypted system and is not shared unless and until another complainant comes forward against the same perpetrator. As many are reluctant to file a complaint alone, this system allows them to wait until others come forward, alleviating concerns that they will not be believed or will suffer retaliation.
Frequent and Vigorous Training
Unlearning decades of locker-room “guy talk” isn’t going to happen in a single one-hour session or a computer-based training module. To change one’s behaviour takes time and a more interactive approach. Miller’s findings suggest that a four-hour session is the ideal training period, and that exercises should be modified to suit the industry. Workplace harassment will look different at a bar than it will at a hospital, so it’s important to give all employees the correct tools for identifying these incidents. Training often keeps it relevant and shows the company’s level of commitment to putting an end to inappropriate behaviour.
Use of Expert Investigators
Employees must have confidence that harassment complaints will be investigated thoroughly, fairly and objectively. The employer has this obligation to both the complainant and the respondent. If the investigation is mishandled or appears biased, this can impact not only the persons involved, but others who may lose confidence in the employer’s ability to adequately respond to incidents of workplace harassment.
The job of conducting the investigation should not be assigned to just anyone. Recommended best practice is to outsource the investigation to a neutral third-party investigator with expertise in conducting sexual harassment investigations. Otherwise, if the investigation is conducted in-house, the person handling the investigation must not only be neutral, but also appear neutral and must have adequate training on how to conduct workplace investigations.
Are You a Victim of Workplace Sexual Harassment?
If you’ve experienced sexual harassment at work and you do not know how to proceed—contact the expert employment lawyers at Pak Smith Employment Lawyers. We have successfully represented many employees in the Greater Toronto Area obtain restitution for their sexual harassment claims.