What is Workplace Harassment Training?

Dorothy Bland

Workplace harassment training refers to the education of executives, managers, and employees at all levels of a business to prevent incidents of workplace harassment from occurring. In the United States, federal and some state laws protect employees against unlawful harassment. Workplace harassment refers to verbal discrimination or unwelcome physical conduct that can occur. It can include bullying, intimidation, sexual jokes, racial remarks, and other methods of discrimination that creates an offensive work environment or interferes with an individual's ability to do his or her job.

It's essential that all employees feel that any harassment or other concerns can be heard fairly and without retribution.
It's essential that all employees feel that any harassment or other concerns can be heard fairly and without retribution.

To prevent a hostile workplace, most employers issue formal policies at the initial hiring of an employee. These policies are normally distributed through an employee handbook. Alternatively, employers may require employees sign a form stating that they understand and are aware of the company's workplace discrimination policy. In the US, some states also require that employers have a policy specifically covering sexual harassment.

Workplace bullying is harassment with an emphasis on physical intimidation.
Workplace bullying is harassment with an emphasis on physical intimidation.

A harassment policy will typically define what constitutes workplace-based harassment. Generally, information on how to make a complaint and who a complaint should be made to is provided. The policy should also express that employees who make a complaint will be free from retaliation. To effectively address workplace intimidation, policies usually address termination or other consequences for harassing employees. This information is often posted in the workplace to demonstrate that the employer has zero tolerance for harassment.

To emphasize strategies for preventing, identifying, and reporting on sexual harassment, federal laws in the US advise periodic training sessions. In some jurisdictions, state laws may also require workplace harassment training. For example, California law requires that employers with 50 or more employees provide two hours of sexual harassment training to supervisory employees every two years. Harassment can happen among general employees and supervisors, so best practices encourage employers to also train non-management employees.

Typically, workplace harassment training methods include some combination of online courses, videos, seminars, case studies, role playing, and newsletters. Managers should receive specific instructions of their duty upon receiving a complaint, and on maintaining confidentiality. Customized training programs can be used to meet federal and state guidelines, when applicable. Additionally, training material should be prepared by legal experts to guarantee compliance with the law.

Employers who use vague workplace harassment policies or who do not use workplace harassment training methods increase their chances of litigation. Being able to document workplace harassment standards will aid employers in showing proof that employees are aware of a company's policy if a lawsuit does occur. It will also help maintain workplace productivity and avoid costly lawyer fees and punitive damages.

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Discussion Comments


My husband is the boss at his company, and he has his employees go through online harassment training. They have to successfully complete the course by watching a video and taking a test at the end.

Some people question how well this method works. After all, anyone can give the answers that they think the employer will want to hear.

I think that people are just as likely to pay attention to an online course as they are to a course given in person by a teacher in the same room. If they are going to ignore it, they will do so, no matter how the information is delivered. If they really want to know what is acceptable, they will listen.


My sister got hired to be a manager of an office, and she had to undergo management development training. Harassment was included in this training, and from what she told me, the instructor left nothing to the imagination.

Every possible scenario was covered in this class. Some things that the instructor mentioned sounded outlandish and unlikely to ever happen, but he did say that they were all derived from real occurrences.

I think it's good that the class was so thorough. Sometimes, people are left with questions about what harassment really entails, and if training had been more extensive, their questions would have been answered before they were even asked.


@cloudel – That is very unfortunate. Harassment in the workplace training should always be taken seriously, and since most places are required by law to educate employees on this matter, it is something that is hard for employees to commit and get away with.

I worked for a small newspaper, and the extent of our training was reading a paragraph in the employee handbook. There weren't a lot of details, but there also weren't a lot of employees.

I have no doubt that if anyone ever brought up a complaint, the situation would have been taken care of promptly. If any trouble had ever arisen involving harassment, then the company probably would have instituted a more thorough training practice.


Some places take workplace harassment training more seriously than others. For example, my husband works for a large corporation, and they thoroughly educate the employees on what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

However, my friend worked at a furniture factory, and though the employees had to watch a video about harassment, they didn't get scolded for giggling all the way through it. The managers did not reinforce it, nor did they ever say more than what was in the video about it.

My friend was a girl working with about twenty guys, and they said offensive things to her all the time. When she went to the manager to complain, he scolded her for saying anything about it! He told her she was trying to create trouble where there didn't need to be any, so she got a lawyer and sued the place.

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