Our company is growing quickly, and we are writing our first employee handbook. I've drafted a policy prohibiting harassment, and I'm wondering whether our company also has to provide sexual harassment training to employees, managers, or both. Is training a legal requirement?
It depends on how big your company is and where you do business. Currently, only a few states (including California) require companies to provide training about sexual harassment. California and Connecticut require employers with 50 or more employees to train managers, including those newly promoted, about sexual harassment. In Maine, employers with 15 or more employees must provide sexual harassment training to all new employees.
Sexual harassment training might also be required following a legal claim against your company. For example, your company might agree to provide training as part of the settlement of a sexual harassment lawsuit. Or, a court might order your company to provide such training. However, it sounds like these situations don't apply to you.
Assuming you aren't required to provide training, there are still good reasons to do it voluntarily. Training establishes standards of acceptable and appropriate behavior and tells employees what to do if they think they've experienced harassment. It reinforces the message (already sent by your policy) that the company is serious about preventing and correcting violations.
By training supervisors, an employer prepares its frontline responders to watch for, prevent, and address potential problems early and effectively. This will promote a work environment that's comfortable, functional, and legally compliant. It will ensure that your company becomes aware of brewing trouble as soon as possible. And, it will help your company defend itself against certain types of harassment claims.
Some companies resist training because it costs time and money. However, investing in training is a really cost-effective preventive measure. Training protects employees and employers from the greater damage (to emotions, productivity, and the bottom line) that harassment can inflict in the workplace.