New California sexual harassment law requires small businesses to take action
Forty-hour work weeks are a thing of the past for most working Americans.
In 2017, the average full-time employee working Monday through Friday put in more than 8.5 hours per day, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. And when more people spend more time at work, sexual harassment can become more prevalent.
Workplace cultures where inappropriate behavior occurs and/or goes unpunished is no longer tolerated as status quo. That's why activists and sympathetic lawmakers across the country are advocating for more sexual harassment awareness training, and to make these exercises more frequent and thorough.
California State Bill 1343, which lays out new workplace sexual harassment prevention training requirements for companies headquartered in the state, is a manifestation of that advocacy. Passed last year, the bill lowered the minimum number of employees required for a company to provide sexual harassment prevention training from 50 to five.
Moreover, it extended the participant requirements from just employees in supervisory roles to all employees.
The bill requires training to be 'interactive,' and states online training is sufficient, but as anyone who has sat through two hours of even well-produced online training knows, the experience usually ends up being less rewarding and enlightening and more just an annoyance you have to get through. Online training is technically 'interactive,' so many are asking if online training is a sufficient way to change mindsets or increase awareness about a serious subject like workplace harassment. Here the definition of 'interactive' is so broad that results aren't likely to be effective.
Even with the more expansive requirements of SB 1343, it is up to the businesses to create more engaged workplace cultures, and, ultimately, end workplace sexual harassment and bullying. In the light of the #MeToo movement, the public and employees are placing far greater emphasis on companies' values and actions regarding harassment.
Since the beginning of the movement, dozens of high-profile companies and business leaders have been brought down by news about sexual harassment misconduct, whether that's because of the personal actions of those in power or failing to correct flawed workplace cultures. As awareness continues to mount, there will be consequences for businesses that fail to keep up with the higher standards increasingly expected of them.
Against this background, opting for the bare-minimum webinar is a false economy. It's not just that the interactive classroom setting has been proven to lead to better knowledge retention, increased learning and more engaged positive experiences.
It's also because such a sensitive topic, one that involves the actual relationships between the employees, the interactivity between participants during training can be the key to creating the heightened awareness, safety to speak out, and empathy and support among employees that defines a healthy workplace culture.
In addition to the training, and even more importantly, creation of zero tolerance policies backed by strong leadership is key. CEOs must lead with integrity, honesty, transparency and positive interactions with staff – they must lead by example. If leaders show up differently, their behavior will resonate throughout the organization. Leadership must demonstrate and mentor to create change, because change starts from the top.
For those small to mid-size organizations that cannot afford to hire strong human resources professionals to help create this shift in culture alongside leadership, then outsourcing HR and sexual harassment awareness training is a good option.
With outsourced HR services, companies can bring in subject matter experts — people who would normally command large salaries — for consulting projects, interim support and training. The alternative to holding a training at a company site is to send an employee to a public training for increased breadth and exposure, while engaging with people from other companies.
As your business considers how to respond to California's new sexual harassment prevention training requirements, don't settle for the letter of the law. Jumpstart the in-person, interactive and ongoing conversations employees need to have for happy, healthy work lives.
It's not just training. From developing effective management skills to aligning employees with company strategy to regulatory compliance, organizations need a robust HR function to succeed.
Jill Pappenheimer is a partner in the HR consulting practice at BPM. She brings over 25 years of experience in HR, working for a variety of companies ranging from large financial institutions to small entrepreneurial teams. Reach her at JPappenheimer@bpmcpa.com.