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As more victims speak out about their allegations, employers — including NPR — are having to confront the failure of their sexual harassment training and reporting systems.
Even trainers themselves say the system has failed. “We have been checking the box for decades,” says Patricia Wise, an employment attorney who served on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s task force on harassment. “I don’t think people have been very motivated.”
The primary reason most harassment training fails is that both managers and workers regard it as a pro forma exercise aimed at limiting the employer’s legal liability.
Being focused on legality is problematic because, for example, the letter of the law prohibits “severe or pervasive” harassment when, in fact, Wise notes, there are plenty of examples that might not meet that standard but clearly should not be tolerated in the workplace.
It does not help that most online training courses are stilted and not engaging, Wise says. Instead, Wise recommends face-to-face role-play classes. But companies are doing this less often because online courses are cheaper, easier, and take less time.
“Employees really can zone out and not even pay attention to the training,” she says.
In its report on harassment last year, the EEOC admitted flat out that the last three decades of sexual harassment training haven’t worked. Also, Wise says, effectiveness is hard to measure, and companies have little incentive to study it.
“If a researcher comes to your workplace to evaluate your training, and the result is that your training is entirely ineffective, you’ve basically just developed evidence against yourself,” she says.
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- Transcript: Trainers Lawyers Say Sexual Harassment Training Fails.pdf