Live or Memorex: Why In-Person Sexual Harassment Training is Still the Better Alternative

A commercial from a number of years ago had the catch phrase “Is it live or is it Memorex?” During these commercials, viewers were asked to guess whether the singing was actually being done by a live performer or whether it was simply a tape of a performance. The hook for the commercial was that the tape was every bit as good as the original. That old commercial comes to mind when I am asked (with some regularity) why I believe in-person anti-harassment training is better and far more valuable than training available over the Internet or through computer programs.

In my view, in-person harassment training continues to be the preferable alternative, for a number of reasons.

  1. Having a knowledgeable attorney conduct the training is a powerful way to convey the organization’s commitment to a zero tolerance policy for harassment.
  2. Live training is interactive and results in listeners having their questions answered. During workshops, for example, I routinely use video clips that depict possible harassment scenarios and then discuss them with the attendees. I then make various changes to the fact patterns suggested in the video clips so that the attendees can get a broader, real world sense of how and when complaints of harassment can occur, and how and why understanding individuals’ perceptions is so critical to achieving a successful workplace free from harassment. This also leads to a discussion of the corrosive effect insensitive and intolerant behavior can have on the workplace and employee morale, even if such conduct does not rise to the level of actual unlawful harassment.
  3. Conducting live training for managers drives home the importance of identifying and acting upon claims of harassment, discrimination, or and/or bullying in a timely manner, and how the failure to do can result in serious legal exposure.
  4. The workshops emphasize the importance of a constructive dialogue between managers and Human Resource representatives in terms of addressing and responding to these types of claims.
  5. Administrative agencies and courts expect employers to have more than nice, aspirational policies. They expect employers to enforce these policies, and in-person harassment training of all employees is an excellent way to express the commitment to a harassment-free workplace.
  6. Last, but not least, I attempt to impress upon employees and managers that in many instances successful strategies for eliminating harassment in the first instance – namely, fostering tolerance, open communication, civility – are the same strategies that the “best places to work” employers implement with respect to employee communications in general.

Employment claims are skyrocketing and, when successful, have yielded large verdicts. Employers can do a tremendous amount to minimize the risk of getting sued for these types of claims (and best positioning themselves to defend such claims) by conducting meaningful harassment training and teaching employees and managers how to respond if inappropriate conduct occurs. In my view, online questionnaires cannot fully communicate (i) the practical context in which so many of these claims arise; (ii) the reasons why so many lawsuits are filed; (iii) the legal, practical and appropriate manner of handling such complaints when they do arise; and (iv) the costs, economic and otherwise, of not acting upon complaints in an appropriate and timely manner.

When it comes to effective and valuable anti-harassment training, “Memorex” is not nearly as effective as a live performance.

Marc Engel is an employment and litigation attorney at Lerch, Early & Brewer in Bethesda, Maryland. For more information about sexual harassment training, contact Marc at (301) 657-0184 or [email protected].