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Friday 22 February 2019
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The New Age of Sexual Harassment: Protect Your Employees and Yourself

Gaelin P. Carrig is an associate in the Litigation Department at MacDonald Illig where she concentrates her practice in the areas of insurance defense and personal injury. She is also a member of the Firm’s Commercial/General Litigation Practice Group. Carrig received her Juris Doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

Sexual harassment has been the center of the national conversation for the past year. In the midst of the #MeToo movement and the numerous celebrity sexual-harassment allegations and lawsuits, an issue that for years was on the back burner has been illuminated by our media. Employers should take this past year as a catalyst to scrutinize their sexual- harassment policies and procedures in order to ensure their employees are protected. Employers must also consider the implications that sexual-harassment allegations would have on their organization.

Currently, the most effective and prevalent solution to sexual harassment in the workplace is prevention and training of employees. Prevention should be accomplished by the implementation of sexual-harassment training for all employees.

As the issues surrounding sexual harassment remain in the national spotlight, more legislation relating to sexual-harassment training is likely to be passed. Five states, including California, Delaware, Connecticut, Maine and New York, have already statutorily mandated sexual-harassment training. Delaware, the most recent state to pass such a statute, mirrored the ideas set forth by other states. Delaware’s statute obligates employers with 50 or more employees to provide sexual-harassment training for all employees and supervisors. The Delaware law became effective on January 1, 2019.

Currently, Pennsylvania mandates sexual-harassment training for all state employees. However, as the trend moves towards implementing sexual-harassment training across all realms of employees, Pennsylvania may eventually statutorily mandate training for all employees. Employers should utilize this time to implement or update their sexual-harassment training.

First and foremost, employers should structure sexual-harassment training with the intention of preventing harassment; rather than as a method to protect themselves from liability after the fact.

Consider This
The following are additional steps to take when developing or expanding your employer sexual-harassment training program:

Start with a message from your leader. A short video or in-person speech from your CEO, executive director or other organizational leader can set the tone for the entire training program.

• Don’t use the “law” as the reason for the training. When explaining the reasoning for implementing a training program, refrain from stating “the law says we have to.” Rather, it is important to emphasize that this training is being done in accordance with the core values of the organization.

• Utilize a variety of training methods. Break lengthy training courses into multiple “micro learning” sessions. This helps employees pay attention and retain more of the information, explore different issues related to sexual harassment and implement different learning methods throughout the training program.

• Tailor training to the organization’s unique situation. According to the Center for American Progress, the three industries that filed the most sexual-harassment complaints to the EEOC from 2005 to 2015 were: 1) accommodation and food services, 2) retail, and 3) manufacturing. These industries don’t reflect the typical “office-like” setting that usually goes hand in hand with the image of sexual harassment. Training programs should be specifically tailored to best serve the employer’s industry. For example, assessments and role-playing scenarios should be specific to your organization or industry. Further, an organization’s policies and procedures for remediation when harassment occurs should be detailed and align with its organizational structure.

• Train across the board. Some employers have sexual-harassment training in place for those who have been accused of or are a victim of sexual harassment. However, sexual-harassment training should be implemented to all employees of an organization. The purpose of a training program is to prevent sexual harassment from occurring in the first place, rather than remediating the behavior after the fact.

It is essential for all employers to begin building and implementing a strong sexual-harassment training program. If you have any questions about sexual-harassment training, contact Gaelin Carrig at 814/870-7764 or any member of the MacDonald Illig Labor & Employment Practice Group.