There’s no question that many construction business owners are facing delays and uncertainties caused by COVID-19. That said, the current slowdown creates an opportunity to get ahead of approaching deadlines for sexual harassment training, and roll out other initiatives to reinforce company values, principles and culture. Taking these measures now can help retain qualified employees and attract new ones when construction activity picks up. Business owners should be aware that currently there are six states—New York, California, Illinois, Connecticut, Maine and Delaware—that require employers to train employees on sexual harassment prevention, with New Jersey and other states expected to follow.
In recent years, new approaches to harassment training are transforming the boring, slideshow model into a modern, interactive learning experience in which employees gain a deeper understanding of acceptable and unacceptable behavior and their role in creating a respectful, inclusive workplace culture.
For a more engaging and effective harassment training program, consider these six tips:
1. Tailor content to the construction industry
Regular, interactive training tailored to the organization and its workforce is one of the core principles that have proven effective in preventing and addressing harassment, according to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's (EEOC) task force on workplace harassment. With a variety of e-learning and video tools available, online compliance training can engage construction employees with industry-specific video scenarios, images and real-life examples that are relevant to their work experiences. Including a chief executive officer’s (CEO) video message can further reinforce the organization’s commitment to a harassment-free workplace and the expectation that everyone has a role.
2. Offer mobile-optimized training for 24/7 access
Whether in the office or on the jobsite, construction employees can benefit from mobile-optimized training that is accessible 24/7 on any device. Mobile technology also enables human resource (HR) managers to easily send out reminders, updates and bite-size videos throughout the year, assign new courses and monitor employees’ progress.
3. Raise awareness of different forms of harassment
Sexual harassment—whether it occurs in the office, on the jobsite, at a trade show, online, during a video conference or through social media—goes beyond unwanted physical contact. The EEOC defines sexual harassment as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other conduct of a sexual nature that directly or indirectly interferes with an individual’s work, creates a hostile work environment or is made a term or condition of employment. Offensive comments about a person’s sex or about women in general can also constitute illegal harassment. And anyone can be a harasser or target of harassment—including customers, clients, inspectors and vendors—regardless of their sex or gender.
4. Teach bystander intervention tactics
Before the #metoo era, bystander intervention training was mostly found in the military and on college campuses as a tactic to prevent sexual assault. Today, workplace experts consider bystander intervention one of the most effective ways to stop misconduct before it rises to the level of illegal harassment and discrimination. Teaching employees different ways to safely step in and speak up while or after witnessing incidents of harassment can help defuse potentially harmful situations and prevent future incidents. Being an active bystander has another benefit, too: coworkers can be allies for targets of harassment and show their support and empathy.
5. Promote diversity & inclusion
Training employees and managers on what they can do to support a more diverse and inclusive workplace can also help prevent harassment and discrimination, manage unconscious bias and foster civility and respect. Diversity and inclusion (D&I) goes beyond gender, encompassing different backgrounds, experiences, sexual orientations and ideas. Many organizations and individuals in construction are involved in promoting D&I, including the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) and the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC). In March 2020, AGC announced its Culture of CARE initiative, challenging companies to take a pledge that “every individual has the right to a work environment that is free from harassment, hazing and bullying,” and to take action to ensure “every employee at our company has the opportunity to reach their full potential by building a culture that is diverse, safe, welcoming and inclusive.”
6. Encourage reporting
An important part of stopping sexual harassment is implementing and communicating procedures for reporting incidents and reassuring employees complaints will be taken seriously, and they won’t be retaliated against. Managers who may handle reports of harassment can benefit from additional training on how to promptly address and investigate complaints and avoid retaliatory behavior.
With the support of business owners and managers who lead by example, a modern, engaging training program is an important step in preventing harassment and other misconduct and creating a respectful workplace culture in which all employees feel that they belong.