Is Sexual Harassment Training Morally Blind?

California was among the first states to mandate employers to train supervisors and employees on sexual harassment, but a January 11, 2012, article entitled, “The Moral Blindness of Sexual Harassment Training” on the Institute on Religion and Public Life’s First Things blog called into question the effectiveness of such programs. “There is little convincing evidence that training, at least in its current form, is producing a consistent downward trend in sexual harassment cases,” First Things said.

The article claimed that “several of the more popular sexual harassment training programs actually unwittingly encourage borderline conduct that falls just short of sexual harassment” by “utilizing one or more of three flawed methodologies”:

  • A majority of training programs place great emphasis upon forcing the participant to distinguish boorish conduct from illegal conduct
  • Programs focus on mitigation of liability rather than on prevention
  • Sexual harassment training programs fail because they lose sight of what should be their primary goal: to create better workplaces, not to insulate employers from the consequences of intolerable workplaces

The article suggests that employers need to “mandate civility” in the workplace and “discipline or termination for incivility should be as common as it is for tardiness.” The criticisms have some validity, although the suggested solution would certainly be bound for some fairly liberal interpretations. While enforcing a code of “civility” might in theory decrease the number of “hostile working” environment complaints, it is hard to imagine that such a code might affect quid pro quo sexual harassment claims similarly.

What more do you think can be done to reduce these types of harassment? What is your opinion of sexual harassment training programs in California?

Law Offices of Kesluk, Silverstein & Jacob – Los Angeles employment attorneys

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