When an Active Shooter Event Hits Home

The recent active shooter event on May 31 in Virginia Beach hit home for me. That’s my hometown. Two of the twelve victims attended the same high school as me at the same time—I had been friends with one.

We regularly now hear about active shooters—in schools, in churches, at shopping malls, in the workplace.  Hopefully, as the frequency of these events seems to increase, we won’t become numb to their significance or begin to view them as commonplace.  But to the hundreds of individuals who experience them—or the many other family and friends affected - they will surely not be numb to the pain these events cause.

As news stories continue to mount of active-shooter events and bystander deaths, such an event will soon hit home for practically everyone—whether it relates to someone’s relative, friend, former coworkers, child, or their own workplace. Given this trend, we’ll need to get accustomed to either remaining unguarded and unprepared or, instead, building the skills and confidence that, if needed, we can do something to protect ourselves and others.

In the US in 2017, 729 people were killed in active-shooter events. These events accounted for only about 5% of homicides by gun violence.1 Conversely, each year, US fire departments respond to roughly 3,400 office fires, which lead to lead to an average of four deaths and 44 injuries per year.2 Yet every workplace has a fire emergency program, including fire drills and fire extinguisher testing. While the situations are not quite equivalent, we might ask how many more fire deaths would occur if employees were not trained on reporting and evacuation procedures.

Like fire and other emergencies, we can become prepared for active shooter events. This is a lesson from two recent incidents where, separately, two students rushed school shooters, either disabling the shooter or taking him down long enough for others to escape—apparently saving the lives of many classmates. Unfortunately, each student lost his life in the process.3 But how many lives did each save? How much worse could it have been had the student not rushed the shooter?

In the Virginia Beach incident, one of the unharmed employees indicated that the City’s active shooter training led one coworker to direct others to barricade themselves in an office, which she indicated saved their lives.

You can read the full article here: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/virginia-beach-shooting-survivors-say-active-shooter-training-helped-save-lives/

If preparation is key to surviving the continuing onslaught of active shooters, then what should training look like? The US Department of Homeland Security, along with the US Federal Emergency Management Agency and FBI, advocate a popular framework: Run, Hide, Fight.

Further, strong preparation can involve the following:

  •         Provide training that gives the learner confidence in their ability to respond to an event
  •         Encourage coworkers and departments to coordinate a shared plan
  •         Provide managers with guidance about how they can help to lead during an event
  •         Reinforce the training message so that the skills (and confidence in these skills) do not wane
  •         Provide an employee with a way to self-refresh/reinforce the training when needed

Finally, because active-shooter events have so crowded the news cycle, we continue to hear about the stress and anxiety that individuals experience due to the news and “heavy-handed” training. Employers should consider training that minimizes the stress and anxiety while building confidence in the learner that they can be prepared and take rational actions in a chaotic situation.

Syntrio’s new Workplace Intruder: Smart Preparation for Personal Safety training program helps workplaces and their employees best prepare for the possibility of an active shooter. This training uses an approach that de-emphasizes attention on shooters and guns to lessen learner stress and anxiety while building their capability and confidence in their ability to respond during such an event.

1 “The terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting,” Washington Post, October 1, 2017, (and ongoing updates).
2 “U.S. Structure Fires in Office Properties,” National Fire Protection Association, August 2013.
3 “List of mass shootings in the United States in 2019,” University of North Carolina at Charlotte, April 30, 2019; STEM School Highlands Ranch, Colorado, May 7, 2019; Wikipedia.

Illinois Sexual Harassment Training will now be Required: What does an Employer do?

Last week the Illinois General Assembly approved legislation that would require all employers in that state to conduct mandatory sexual harassment training. If signed into law by Illinois Governor Pritzker, this law would take effect on July 1, 2020 and would be the most comprehensive of its kind in the country. Given the substantial implications for employers (and the extremely high likelihood that it will be signed into law) it is imperative that employers prepare for and implement a harassment training program now, so that they can be ahead of the curve once the training is required soon after the July 1, 2020 effective date of the law.

Illinois is Likely Follow the New York Legislative Path


In April 2018 New York enacted legislation that is similar in scope to the law just passed by the Illinois General Assembly. The New York law had an effective date of October 9, 2019 and an original requirement that employers complete the training by January 1, 2019. That requirement was later modified to October 9, 2019. As you see with the Illinois law having an effective date of July 1, 2020, it can be expected that training will need to be complete sometime within the 2020 calendar year.


New York released a list of FAQ and modified its law several times leading up to the release of the model training program it issued in late August 2019. You can expect Illinois to do the same, and given the Illinois Department of Human Rights history, you can expect somewhat more clarification as to what needs to be contained in your training program given there is less conflict between municipalities and the state than there was in New York last year.


What we know for sure is Illinois will require employers to provide training on an annual basis, and the Illinois Department of Human Rights will be keeping a close watch on what type of training employers are providing. This means it is a good idea to get started on the process now, rather than waiting for the law to go into effect and scrambling to comply with the law on a retroactive basis. You will be providing your employees with training on an annual basis going forward, so why wait another year?


Provide Training in Summer 2019


The new Illinois law requires employers to annually train their employees on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. It also requires employers to provide an explanation of what constitutes harassment under Illinois State law, provide examples of harassment, summarize state and federal laws (and remedies for) sexual harassment, and summarize the responsibilities of employers in recognizing, investigating, preventing and taking corrective measures to prevent harassment.


There is no need to wait for the Illinois Department of Human Rights to release the model training program to get a jump on providing your employees with sexual harassment training. While there will be greater clarification in the requirements of the training by the time the law goes into effect, providing training now, when the news is fresh, shows your employees that your organization is serious about not just compliance with the law, but also with eliminating a culture where harassment is tolerated by setting the training trend in your industry rather than merely following the law when it goes into effect. Syntrio is ready to train your employees on the prevention of sexual harassment in Illinois and we can help.


Syntrio’s Model is Effective


Even if you are not prepared to launch a full-scale Illinois training program in advance of the new law’s effective date, we can still work with you using our industry-leading learning continuum that has set the standard for effective harassment training nationwide. Syntrio has over 20 years experience working with states with mandatory training laws, and we believe in our model.

Whether you choose to provide your employees our Illinois sexual harassment training course now or at the time the law goes into effect you can be assured you are providing your workforce the most comprehensive and engaging training available on the market. Syntrio develops its sexual harassment courseware based on a “hub model” wherein approximately 70% of its content and scenarios are consistent across jurisdiction, yet a full third of the content is customized to the nuances of each state’s law, culture, fit and feel. Should you have employees in multiple jurisdictions they will all feel as though they have taken the same course, yet you can trust that you will be in full compliance with the law in each mandatory training state, which is not something that can be said by our competitors using a “one size fits all” model.


Syntrio encourages your organization to get a head start on training your Illinois workforce on the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. We are prepared to discuss a plan with your leaders that will not only comply with the new law but position your organization as a true champion of equal opportunity rights.

The Department of Justice’s Gift That Keeps on Giving – Part 2

The newly updated 2019 DOJ Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs criteria offer some valuable advances to how prosecutors should look at an organization’s compliance efforts.


First, it warrants noting that these updated criteria were issued by the DOJ’s Criminal Division; the 2017 criteria were issued by the Fraud Division, which is just one part of the Criminal Division.  So, the updated criteria apply to a larger pool of prosecutors and broader range of criminal offenses.


Second, the new criteria introduce three leading questions, in which all criteria are placed:

  1. Is the corporation’s compliance program well designed?
  2. Is the program being applied earnestly and in good faith? In other words, is the program being implemented effectively?
  3. Does the corporation’s compliance program work in practice?


This structure reinforces the point that “paper programs” with no substance and follow-through supporting them will not pass the test. DOJ wants to see programs with “teeth,” those that not only are well designed but also are well applied with tangible results.


Third, prosecutors will evaluate a compliance program as to its effectiveness when the relevant offense occurred and at the time of charging or other resolution. This assessment will weigh on the decision to prosecute or otherwise resolve the offense, any financial penalty, and any further compliance requirements. So, while a business should take proactive steps to build an effective compliance program, it still has some opportunity to build or reinforce these efforts after prosecutors begin to investigate. Though, why a company would bother to wait until this late in the game remains a mystery given all the benefits that come from avoiding an investigation, or an offense in the first place.


Fourth, the updated criteria are just over twice as long as the 2017 criteria (18 pages versus 8 pages), so they cover more criteria and in greater depth, providing prosecutors with more precise guidance and businesses with greater insight into how the DOJ views effective compliance.


Instead of listing each criteria separately as it did in 2017, the updated guidance places each criteria under a major heading. This emphasizes the importance of the design, implementation and follow-through of a compliance program. Here is the new structure of these criteria:


  1. Is the corporation’s compliance program well designed?
    1. Risk assessment
    2. Policies and procedures
    3. Training and communications
    4. Confidential reporting structure and investigation process
    5. Third party management
    6. Mergers and acquisitions


  1. Is the program being applied earnestly and in good faith? In other words, is the program being implemented effectively?
    1. Commitment by senior and middle management
    2. Autonomy and resources
    3. Incentives and disciplinary measures


  1. Does the corporation’s compliance program work in practice?
    1. Continuous improvement, periodic testing, and review
    2. Investigation of misconduct
    3. Analysis and remediation of any underlying misconduct


Immediately, we can see the similarity with the criteria for an effective compliance and ethics program under the US Sentencing Guidelines.


Without running through a line-by-line analysis of the differences between the 2017 and 2019 criteria (which anyone can perform using a MS Word document comparison function), suffice it to say that

  • The substance of the 2017 criteria are preserved.
  • Certain additional items are added to the 2019 criteria that expand on each topic.
  • Greater commentary is provided regarding each topic to help organizations understand the DOJ’s purpose for the topic and which helps to clarify its intent.


In the end, these updated criteria offer organizations a compelling roadmap for designing, instituting and maintaining an ethics and compliance program. Leadership need not stew over what the DOJ wants to see—they’re telling it more explicitly than before. So, if an organization wants to place itself in the best possible position should it be investigated, charged with an offense, have its executives charged, or be prosecuted, this is the gift.


While certain executives will believe they never have to worry about these risks, it’s worth pointing out that, as these criteria become more fully adopted by businesses and other organizations, it raises the bar for effective ethics and compliance management.


Part 3 will address the new Criteria’s implications for organizations’ compliance training and communications efforts.

Why Is Soft Skills Training Optional?

The Situation

In my twenty-plus years in the training industry, I’ve worked both as an employee or in-house consultant purchasing training and as a vendor offering off-the-shelf and customized training. Topics such as compliance, regulatory changes, and health and safety are understandably often mandated training. Yet, the suite of interpersonal and personal competencies, typically known as “soft skills,” too often collects the digital version of dust on organizations’ learning management systems. Then, after time passes, training professionals and senior management recognize that critical soft skills remain lacking despite the availability of these optional courses, leaving them in no mood to upgrade or even continue this library due to employees’ seeming lack and interest and low use.


Simultaneously, according to one large survey, 92% of executives say that soft skills are equally important or more important than technical skills. And 89% of executives say that it is difficult to find people with soft skills. In the same survey, 44% of these same executives responded that the biggest skills gap among employees involves soft skills.


But the Research Says . . .

Employees with strong soft skills benefit companies. For example, research from Boston University, Harvard University, and the Ross School of Business at University of Michigan reveal that training employees in self-awareness and other soft skills produces a 256% return on investment. Conversely, employees with poor soft skills can actually cost organizations time and money due to problems resulting from poor communication, performance management, and leadership. With such strong evidence backing the need for soft skills training and proficiency, why aren’t more companies genuinely focused on improving these critical skills? This contradiction occurs time and again. A recent Adecco survey finds, “Of the executives who believe there is a skills gap, 89% say that apprenticeships and training programs could help. But 42% say that in-house training programs would be too expensive.”  


What’s Behind the Disconnect?

Frankly, what executive, shareholder, and other stakeholder wouldn’t welcome a 256% ROI? So, what’s clouding leadership’s thinking? One issue is not addressing the soft skills gap holistically. For instance, according to a Learning House report, “Despite pointing the finger at colleges and universities for not helping to address the skills gap, almost half of employers (43%) are not extending their hand in collaboration to these institutions to help ensure the necessary skills are being addressed.”


The same report finds that 74% of companies only invest $500 per employee on training and development in the workplace, regardless of topic.


Sometimes, leadership holds employees responsible for not taking optional soft skills training. However, research by the staffing company Randstad finds that 66% of US employees between 18 and 34 years old say they need to strengthen their interpersonal skills — where is the organizational support?


Some organizations fantasize that one-time training suffices. How many of us learned to ride a bike the first time we tried? Or mastered tying our shoes or kicking a soccer ball on the first attempt? Even more to the point, how many of us developed the technical skills that serve as the backbone of our professional experience after one course? Yet we expect individuals to demonstrate mastery of critical soft skills competencies after a single training session?


One’s confidence about new knowledge and skills doesn’t happen overnight. To wit, not enough organizations invest in and commit to a comprehensive training program involving effective soft skills courseware, role plays, supplemental learning materials, various delivery modalities, different learning styles, and so on.


How Organizations Can Close the Soft Skills Gap

First, organizations should make soft skills training a priority and requirement. They need to prove that they’re devoted to personal and professional development so that their employees succeed. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report, 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development. Further, 56% of employees would spend more time learning if their manager directed them to take a specific course to improve their professional skills.


Companies can also augment soft skills training programs with strategies like building a coaching and mentoring program, retention training, prescriptive learning paths tailored to specific job roles, and including soft skills assessments in hiring and performance reviews.


Bottom line: Investing in and fully supporting soft skills training may seem like an unnecessary expense and afterthought, but actually it can become one of the best initiatives an organization takes to remain competitive in our global economy.

New York Seeks to Expand Sexual Harassment Laws

In 2018, New York enacted sweeping legislation requiring employers to train nearly all employees that work in that State. While it is likely employers are still scrambling to meet these new requirements, the 2019 legislative session shows no signs of New York slowing down its efforts to eradicate offensive behavior from its workplaces.


Lawmakers within New York seek to pass ten bills that would dramatically expand employee protections from sexual and other harassment. Most importantly, the State seeks to alter its constitution to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of everything from sex to national origin and everything in between. Such a change would alter the landscape of legal interpretation of New York harassment law, and provide yet another avenue for victims to argue that their claim was indeed illegal harassment. Constitutional protections can simplify some of the complicated statutory provisions that make up this area of law.


Along this same line, New York’s legislature seeks to remove the requirement that misconduct meet the current “severe and pervasive” standard. Currently, except in extreme circumstances, for conduct to be considered illegal harassment it must be both severe and “pervasive.” The pervasive component requires misconduct to occur on a repeated and ongoing basis, something that is a sticking point in many harassment lawsuits, and leaves many trials ending in verdicts for the defense. Should this change occur, the standard would be streamlined, and even single incidents of offensive behavior could create liability for employers.


New York also seeks to clean up statutory language to ensure harassment is officially considered a form of discrimination, hold employers liable for the misconduct of all non-employees, and extend the time employees have to file a complaint with the New York Division of Human Rights. Such legal and procedural changes would certainly have an impact on the ability of employers to have greater access to remedies for harassment, and would undoubtedly increase the number of harassment lawsuits filed within New York.


Undoubtedly, employers operating within New York have been given reason to pause and examine their policies and procedures regarding workplace harassment in the last two years. The news that the State legislature seeks to expand protections for employees in this space even further should be the impetus for your organization to take a full-scale audit of its practices to ensure compliance with State and local laws is met. Failing to do so could leave your organization behind the curve as laws within the Empire state continue to expand.