By now employers know that regular supervisory training on sexual harassment prevention is a must. (If you need a refresher on the law, download this pamphlet.) Trainers like to trot out the familiar stories about plaintiffs’ attorneys telling employees to document harassment and make complaints. Or we are reminded about the EEOC’s outreach activities to educate potential plaintiffs.
I had an eye opening experience last week when I accompanied my 12-year-old daughter to a class at our church for middle school students. The class was to cover sexual abuse. The topic was covered in a very direct yet sensitive way. I don’t remember this being covered when I was in middle school back in the olden days but I am glad it is now.
The real surprise for me was that after the sexual abuse video and post video discussion was another video. This one covered sexual harassment in middle school. The narrator told us that among students sexual harassment was most prevalent in middle school. She gave no statistics or citation to authority but I did find this study which likely confirms the assertion.
I was waiting to hear a tortured version of the employment law definition of sexual harassment. Surprisingly, the video described the basics in easy to understand and generally accurate terms. “No one has the right to touch you without your consent.” “No one has the right to say offensive things to you.” Some of the vignettes illustrated conduct that a court might not decide was based on sex. But the examples shown were certainly offensive and inappropriate so I’m fine with students being advised to object to it—even if technically isn’t sexual harassment in the legal sense.
Students were advised to tell the harasser to stop or complain to a person in authority. The big surprise was when the video showed the victim carefully jotting in a small notebook and the narrator instructed the viewers to keep notes or a journal of the harassment. This is a technique suggested by the lawyers who represent harassment victims and it may make a plaintiff into a better witness before the EEOC or a judge, jury or arbitrator.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not critical of the advice to middle school students—I hope my daughter was watching and listening carefully. But here is the news flash: based on the education our students are receiving at very early ages, employers need to remember that many future employees coming right out of school will have already attended a class on harassment—even before hearing about the company’s policy.
There are still employers of significant size that have no written policy, (or a poorly worded policy), on harassment or who have neglected supervisory training for a long time.
Bottom line: don’t be the first company to be a loser on the newest reality show: Are Your Supervisors Smarter than a Middle School Student?