Time Is Money: Examining the Length of Harassment Training Courses

Harassment training costs money, both in employee time and actual dollars spent. Because of the significant resources that must be expended to train a workforce on the prevention of workplace harassment employers are understandably looking for the most “bang for the buck” on their investment. While efficiency in training is absolutely critical, there comes a point where a core harassment course is simply too brief to educate a workforce on the important concepts that encompass the world of harassment prevention. So where is the “happy medium?”

Five states (and the District of Columbia) currently require at least some employees to be trained on the prevention of harassment in the workplace. Of those five states, only California and Connecticut have statutorily mandated minimum training requirements, both requiring a minimum of two hours of training for managers. California recently enacted a law requiring non-supervisory employees to also be trained, but the state requires just one hour of training for non-managers on the same topics as the two hours of training required for managers. The other four jurisdictions requiring training (New York, Delaware, Maine and D.C.) did not set a minimum within their law, but New York infers in its guidance (and verified in response to a question on the subject) that 60+ minutes is the minimum amount of time required to train employees on the topics it considers mandatory for training to be in compliance with the law.

The previous statement is curious given the “FAQ” answer the New York Department of Human Rights (“NYDHR”) gives in response to the question “is there a minimum number of training hours employees must complete each year?” New York State answered that question with a seemingly unambiguous (yet very qualified) “[n]o. As long as they receive training that meets or exceeds the minimum standards.” In order to determine what those minimum standards are, it is necessary to examine the NYDHR’s model training script that was released when that state’s law went into effect. While the script outlines the necessary topics for minimum training, the interactivity requirement in the state’s law certainly adds significant time over just reading through the 23 page script.

A representative from New York State responded to a telephone inquiry on the subject in January 2019 that the minimum training program was written and intended for an approximately 60 to 90 minute delivery time. Therefore, while the state set no minimum time within its law, it not only requires training that meets the minimum standards set forth in the law, but the State itself was unable to develop a program that lasts less than 60 minutes (and more likely longer).

California and Connecticut surely did not develop their statutory one- (California non-supervisors) and two-hour minimum time requirements without conducting significant research into the amount of time it would take to effectively and comprehensively train employees on these important subjects. While the skeptical employer may argue that those requirements were first developed 20 (Connecticut) and 12 (California) years ago, New York followed up with creating a course that was designed to take between 60-90 minutes. Therefore, it is clear from state Human Rights Department conclusions that an hour is the minimum amount of time a core harassment prevention course should be designed to take, and it is possible that state fair employment agencies subscribe to a “more is better” approach.

What to Look For When Selecting Your Training Methods

The aforementioned information should be taken into account when considering the use of an exclusive micro-learning platform or other short-form harassment prevention approach to your organization’s needs. While your state may not have a training requirement, it is certainly important to fulfill this important need as part of the duty your organization has to maintain a culture free of harassment. Even if the well-being of your employees and corporate culture take a back seat to preventing and defending lawsuits (which is not a recommended approach, yet one that we have heard over the years as a reality for some employers) the more than $1 billion annual harassment verdict and settlement costs routinely estimated over the last several years should be enough to convince the most skeptical of training customer that this is a subject well worth investing the proper time and dollars into doing correctly.

While there is no way to quantify what amount of training “works,” in over 12 years of experience providing hundreds of in-person and online training programs to companies of all sizes it has become clear that one hour is the minimum amount of time needed to effectively illustrate the concepts contained in such a broad and complicated topic as the prevention of workplace harassment. While one hour may seem brief, an expert trainer skilled in keeping the audience’s attention can effectively teach these concepts and provide ample time for the interactivity and learner engagement that is so critical to making the educational concepts stick. Anything less is truly doing the workforce a disservice, and nothing more than an attempt to “check the box” without providing an actual learning opportunity.

The most effective approach to training (as reinforced by the states that have developed their own mandatory minimum training scripts and set time limits) is a long-form core training course followed up by a learning continuum consisting of short form training that emphasizes particular concepts and issues. Such an approach builds the foundation necessary for continued learning and is without a doubt the most effective means of improving corporate culture and empowering your employees to work together to prevent incidents of harassment from occurring going forward.

Since 2007, Jonathan has practiced labor and employment law, with a focus on litigation, individual plaintiff and class action discrimination, harassment, and other employment-specific cases as well as focusing his practice toward advising employers on preventive practice. Jonathan has presented over 100 live employment discrimination and harassment prevention training courses across all 50 states.

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