Surprisingly, sexual harassment training is not specifically required by federal law.  However, training is an important tool to prevent harassment and limit your liability.

Q:  Are we required to provide our employees with training on sexual harassment?

A:  No federal law specifically requires sexual harassment training, but a few state laws do. Still, training is a vital element of any harassment policy.  Even if your organization is not required by law to conduct this training, you can limit your potential liability by doing so and, at the same time, promote a more productive work environment.

Here’s a quick look at state law requirements.  Some states, such as California and Connecticut, require harassment training only for supervisors.  One state, Maine, requires that all new employees receive the training.  You should check with your state equal employment opportunity agency to determine potential coverage.

While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (which prohibits sexual harassment as a form of sex discrimination) does not require training, decisions by the Supreme Court illustrate the importance of having an effective harassment policy and complaint procedure that includes employee training.

In Burlington Indus. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998), and Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, Fla., 524 U.S. 775 (1998), the Court determined that an employer may be able to defend itself from liability for harassment by a supervisor in certain cases if it has taken reasonable care to prevent and correct any sexually harassing behavior.  In particular, you must adopt a policy against sexual harassment, have an effective complaint procedure, and take steps to ensure that employees are aware of their rights and obligations and are properly trained in harassment issues.

Clearly, if you do not train your employees, you will have a difficult time defending harassment claims. To be effective, training should target not only employees but also supervisors who have the authority to hire, fire, or make other employment decisions.  At a minimum, your harassment training should include the following:

1.  A statement that you condemn harassment of any kind, even if it is not explicitly prohibited by your policy or by law.

2.  The definition of harassment, with particular attention paid to the legal definitions of sexual harassment, including quid pro quo and hostile work environment.

3.  A description of prohibited conduct.

4.  The consequences of violating your harassment policy and the types of behavior that may lead to immediate termination.

5.  The use of your dispute resolution procedure for handling complaints.

6.  Ways to report harassment combined with assurances that there will not be any retaliation for filing complaints or making reports.

An obvious conclusion from the court cases is that harassment training is not optional if you want to limit your liability.  So, you can either treat the training as a necessary evil or turn it into an opportunity to enhance good employee relations.  The latter approach makes the most sense since it both builds a positive work environment and a sound legal defense.

Subscribers to the Personnel Policy Manual and HR Policy Answers can find more information on sexual harassment in Productive Work Environment, Chapter 201A.

Download free sexual harassment policy and HR policies from

Use learning management systems like eLeaP LMS & Training Software to create, manage and track all training including sexual harassment training. Get free resources at

Please note that the above comments are not intended as legal advice.  You should consult an attorney for a legal opinion on this matter.

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