50-State Sexual Harassment Training Requirements

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How Do We Know What Our Obligations Are Related to Training at Our Company?

A mistake we often see employers commit is making decisions exclusively to meet a specific compliance obligation. For example, the State where I have employees says we have to provide training around the topics of sexual harassment and discrimination is the singular driving decision on whether to provide this type of training.

Compliance is important and should be a minimum threshold for training employees, not the determining factor for whether to provide training in the first place. There is a difference between specific state mandates and legal liability on employers when it comes to sexual harassment and discrimination.

At the Federal level, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and many subsequent laws, make it very clear that it is illegal to sexually harass and or discriminate against co-workers (and job candidates) based on a series of protected classifications such as gender, ethnicity, age, etc. While there is no Federal training mandate, the United States Supreme Court (whose decisions create binding law) provides potential “affirmative defenses” against claims.

The general idea behind these laws is to communicate to employers the need to take reasonable steps to both prevent and remediate any potential sexual harassment or discrimination occurring in the workplace. If employers take these steps proactively, it is possible to reduce and perhaps entirely avoid liability even if harassment or discrimination occurs by utilizing these affirmative defenses.

If an employer does NOT provide training on sexual harassment and discrimination to their employees, the employer will NOT have these defenses available to them and have further exposure to liability.

For that reason (among many others), we recommend all employers in the United States provide training for all new hires and all employees on an annual basis. We strongly recommend you consult your attorney to be sure you are doing what you need to in this regard.

Some states go beyond the federal guidelines. These States provide specific training requirements to employers, and these requirements vary from state to state. These requirements may include variables such as the length of training required, specific content that must be included in the training, additional requirements for Supervisors, and even differences in reporting options.

EEO Training maintains a guideline to help you easily see specific requirements in States that are of interest to you. The list below provides basic legislative requirements imposed on a state to state basis.

These requirements should be viewed as a minimum threshold, not necessarily the determining factor.  Simply because some states do not have training mandates by traditional written law (e.g., legislation is passed and signed into law), those States may have court cases suggesting employers should provide this training.

For example, EEO Training LLC is headquartered in New Jersey.  New Jersey, like many states, does not currently have a law mandating private employers provide this training.  However, the New Jersey Supreme Court does have case law that demonstrates clear precedent for liability on the part of the employer when sexual harassment and or discrimination occurs, and the employees have not been trained on how to recognize, avoid and report sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

The future is impossible to predict. However, the trend is continuing to bring forward more stories of sexual harassment and discrimination, more proposed legislation around the nation, and more court cases reinforcing the importance of training.

Whether the state(s) in which you operate has specific laws mandating training, it has become clear that ALL employers should provide sexual harassment and discrimination training to their employees (including 1099 contractors).

Learn more about EEO Training’s online sexual harassment training.