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Would your harassment training pass legal muster? 5 fixes

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Employment Law,Human Resources

Issue: In harassment and discrimination lawsuits, courts examine whether your training is effective, frequent or formal enough.

Risk: Simply having a training program in place won't necessarily provide cover from a lawsuit.

Action: Apply these five tips to bolster your training program.

More courts are putting anti-harassment and discrimination training programs under the microscope.

Until recently, the courts have concerned themselves with probing the basic elements of anti-harassment training: Do you train all employees, not just supervisors? Does your training cover all forms of harassment and discrimination, not just sex? And does the trainer have the qualifications to provide legally accurate training?

Now, though, employee lawyers are using more creative weapons to attack the competence of employer training. Expect attorneys to look for gaps where they can question its effectiveness.

Here are five ways to prevent such attacks and bolster your training:

1. Avoid knee-jerk training. Train on a regular basis, not simply in response to allegations, says Maria Danaher, head of the employment and labor law group at Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote in Pittsburgh. Danaher recommends training new hires right away, then training employees at least every other year.

2. Don't dumb it down. Employers with inaccuracies in their training materials are easy targets. Check that you've clearly explained complex terms, such as "unlawful discrimination," without oversimplifying them.

Don't make categorical statements that certain conduct is "harassment" unless you're 100 percent certain it is.

Investigate before you draw any conclusions. Jumping the gun could come back to haunt you.

3. Customize it. Attorneys may argue that your "off-the-shelf" training program isn't effective if the policies don't apply to your organization.

Customize videos or Internet training with industry- or company-specific information and policies. Include examples of acceptable and unacceptable conduct that hit home with your employees.

Bottom line: Make sure all policies are applicable to your industry, region and company size.

4. Know what works. Do your homework to know what sort of training is considered top-notch.

Training experts currently consider blended training, which mixes classroom training with videos or other media, as the best option. Trainees' active participation is also vital. If you use another training style, you risk having it challenged in court as sub-par.

5. Take roll. Your training may come under fire unless you can prove that everyone receives it.

"Have some system of proving attendance and participation," says Danaher. "That shows that the training is required, not just suggested, and that everyone attends."

Free report:

Sample sexual harassment policy

Our E-visory report, "Preventing Sexual Harassment: A Business Guide," includes a sample sexual-harassment policy, plus additional tips on avoiding liability. Pick up a free copy at www.hrspecialist.net/extra.

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