Should Your Private School Offer Sexual Harassment Training?

Should Your Private School Offer Sexual Harassment Training?
Should Your Private School Offer Sexual Harassment Training?

Business and Operations

Many school officials have questions when it comes to sexual harassment training. With the recent headlines and news reports, some school leaders feel that it’s something they need to offer to all employees. However, others might be unsure about discussing the topic in their schools.

But before you de-prioritize this training in favor of the many other items on your to-do list, consider two important reasons to include harassment training in your professional development initiatives.

Like many issues, there are two sides when it comes to harassment training. The first is an issue of legality and the second is school culture.

Am I legally required to offer harassment training?

There are five states that legally require sexual harassment training.

  • Connecticut requires training for supervisors at least once during their tenure.
  • Maine requires training for all employees at least once during their tenure.
  • California requires training for supervisors every two years.
  • New York requires annual training all employees.
  • Delaware requires training for all employees every two years.

Colorado, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont highly encourage training. And the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) states that employers in all states should periodically “provide [harassment prevention] training to all employees to ensure they understand their rights and responsibilities.”

That said, even if training isn’t required in your state, we still recommend all schools provide harassment training to all employees at least once during their tenure.

At the federal level, courts have decided that if an employer does not provide harassment training, they cannot use an affirmative defense if they are sued. This means they cannot claim in court that they have done everything in their power to educate their employees and correct harassment issues.

If the employer doesn’t provide harassment training, it’s considered that they haven't truly done all that they can do to protect all employees’ rights—including the right to work in a harassment-free environment. This significantly limits the school’s legal protection if they are ever sued.

What role does our school culture play?

Building an overall culture of respect can be your school’s primary source of protection against harassment issues. This means continually reinforcing that your school community is one where everyone is treated with dignity and respect. Education and awareness are critical aspects of this strategy.

It’s important to talk with employees about expectations that the school and the law have regarding the proper boundaries of employee interactions.

If employees feel safe and protected, they are more likely to come forward to report isolated incidents. This type of “open door policy” can help employees feel comfortable discussing concerns and issues, whether it concerns themselves, a colleague, or a student.

ISM believes that harassment training reinforces a school's commitment to sharing important information fairly and openly. Harassment training can serve as the beginning of an ongoing dialogue with employees regarding social and employment-related issues.

As with most other employee-related practices, clear communication can help your school avoid misunderstanding, controversy, and legal and financial risk when it comes to harassment.

Additional ISM Resources:
The Source for Business and Operations Vol. 6 No. 7 Five Steps in Responding to Sexual Harassment Claims
The Source for Business and Operations Vol. 16 No. 9 A Risk Assessment Self-Exam

Additional ISM resources for members:
I&P Vol. 43 No. 3 Sexual Orientation and Harassment: Policies to Establish a Safe Environment

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