Good Training Gone Bad: Oregon Harassment Training Session Leaves Black Mark on EEOC

According to a February 15, 2019 report published by the Statesman Journal, representatives from the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) met with a number of Oregon state legislators in a February 14 three-hour “listening session” requested by the Oregon officials after an EEOC training session left several legislative staffers and other learners with concerns about the approach taken by the EEOC trainers during the session completed the first week of February 2019.

According to the Statesman Journal report, several staffers felt the trainers used overly inappropriate language and failed to take concerns about prior incidents at the State Capitol to heart when conducting the training. Specifically, staff members alleged that the trainer came to the Capitol without prior information about specific incidents that had occurred in that workplace in recent years. Staff also complained the trainer encouraged victims not to report incidents of sexual harassment for fear of developing a reputation as “tattlers” and potentially becoming victims of retaliation.

A certain degree of the material that must be taught and discussed is unquestionably going to be uncomfortable and controversial at times. It is important to remember that federal and state equal employment agencies frequently send their own attorneys to conduct training sessions, whether as a mandatory component of conciliation or as a penalty imposed following an investigation of workplace misconduct. These individuals, while undoubtedly highly skilled attorneys are not always preventative practice professionals with years of experience providing harassment training to organizations of all sizes.

An expert in harassment prevention education would be inclined to audit the culture and history of harassment within an organization to determine whether his or her scenarios and activities are sensitive to the particular issues that organization may seek to prevent and/or rectify. Although the best case scenario is a training program does not offend, as the EEOC would undoubtedly attest to following its recent situation with the Oregon State Legislature, it is impossible to predict when an employee or group of employees will take offense to a given scenario or line of questioning.

All of the issues the EEOC has faced in the past two weeks should not place a black mark on their efforts to ensure that companies and public officials receive training on these important concepts. Likewise, it is impossible to craft a training program aimed at preventing sensitive topics and ensure that the sensibilities and uncomfortability of all employees cannot ever be breached. However, if the allegations that the EEOC trainer suggested that victims of harassment should not report incidents due to fear of being labeled a “tattler” are true, then there are serious concerns with the EEOC’s program and facilitators as a whole that must be addressed internally.

Syntrio takes the utmost care in crafting a continuum of learning that is engaging, thought provoking, sensitive to workplace culture and aimed at ensuring employees are comfortable bringing concerns of any kind to the attention of management and leadership. Syntrio also takes great care to staff experts in employment law that have dedicated careers to the prevention of harassment and discrimination in the workplace. We strive to change your culture for the better and to also provide training that will leave your workforce feeling educated and motivated rather than scared and intimidated.

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