Does Staff Training Prevent Harassment?

July 15, 2016
Two pairs of hands clasped together.

I recently read an article on the Society for Human Resource Management website called No Evidence That Training Prevents Harassment, Finds EEOC Task Force by Christina Folz.

In part, the article states that “the biggest finding of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC’s) Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace may be what it failed to find—namely, any evidence that the past 30 years of corporate training has had any effect on preventing workplace harassment.”

As a professional trainer, I always find it important to consult the original source of research before rendering my opinion. I’ve spent considerable time reviewing the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace. This study was conducted by the US Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and was published in June 2016.

I do not find any clear statement in this study stating that there is no evidence that training prevents harassment. I therefore feel that the title—and some of the content—in the Folz article may mislead readers.

I instead find that EEOC states in this study that “empirical data does not permit us to make declarative statements about whether training, standing alone, is or is not an effective tool in preventing harassment.”

EEOC goes on to conclude that “training is an essential component of an anti-harassment effort. However, to be effective in stopping harassment, such training cannot stand alone but rather must be part of a holistic effort undertaken by the employer to prevent harassment. In addition, the training must have specific goals and must contain certain components to achieve those goals.”

I firmly agree with these findings in this EEOC study.

EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to discriminate against a person because the person complained about discrimination, filed a charge of discrimination, or participated in an employment discrimination investigation or lawsuit.

Most US employers with at least 15 employees are subject EEOC laws (20 employees in age discrimination cases). Most US labor unions and employment agencies are also covered. The laws apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits.

In 1980, EEOC issued guidelines suggesting methods for preventing sexual harassment. As a result, many employers started to offer training as one of those methods. Such training provided employers with an incentive to demonstrate that they had taken appropriate steps to prevent harassment.

CPI does not provide compliance training specific to US Federal EEOC requirements. However, CPI offers our Workplace Bullying Topic Module, which addresses many types of psychological harassment in the workplace. We agree that standalone training is only one piece of a holistic puzzle in preventing and responding to any type of workplace harassment.

Bullying occurs in the workplace related to discrimination, harassment, and intimidation. Bullying can also occur as a unique and distinct problem on its own. We believe that employees and organizations at all levels benefit from interactive, skill-based training in order to build and maintain workplaces that are respectful and both physically and emotionally safe.

In the United States, the prevention and response to workplace bullying is not clearly covered under federal law unless the behavior is part of other legislatively protected areas such as harassment, discrimination, or intimidation.

Despite this fact, many US organizations do teach CPI’s Workplace Bullying seminar as a proactive step in preventing and responding to workplace bullying. Many Joint Commission accredited health care organizations [PDF] in the US teach the course to help comply with a Joint Commission leadership standard that addresses disruptive and inappropriate behaviors in two of its elements of performance. Many organizations in Ontario teach this course in partially complying with training requirements under Section 32 of the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), Bill 168 Amendments. This law addresses violence and harassment in the workplace.


I encourage you to visit our Workplace Bullying Resources and References page for a wealth of information on raising awareness about workplace bullying. For more information on school bullying, read our blog “What to Say to a Bully,” where experts share thoughts, strategies, and interviews about making our schools safer.

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