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Sexual harassment is illegal under federal law. Considered a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sexual harassment is a complex issue that can occur in a variety of circumstances. Perpetrators can be male or female, and victims can be of the same or opposite sex. Because sexual harassment grievances occur in the workplace and are covered under Title VII, many organizations offer training on this issue. Training is not mandated under federal law in most cases, but some states mandate their own sexual harassment training.
Defining Sexual Harassment
To qualify as sexual harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission notes that conduct must be unwelcome to the victim or to witnesses affected by offensive conduct. It must explicitly or implicitly affect an individual’s employment. Harassment that unreasonably interferes with a person’s work performance or that creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment also qualifies under the law. The EEOC also notes that sexual harassment does not need to have an economic impact on the victim and the victim need not lose her job. The EEOC recommends that people who think they have been harassed should formally complain about the behavior and use all mechanisms available within the organization to stop the behavior.
Federal agencies are required to have sexual harassment programs in place. The EEOC notes that training can help reduce sexual harassment claims, and that supervisors and managers should receive periodic training on sexual harassment. Employees may misunderstand the definition of sexual harassment, and targeted training can reduce claims based on misunderstandings. Managers should also understand how sexual harassment is defined. Both employees and managers should be taught about the organization’s policies and the mechanisms in place to report and deal with sexual harassment claims.
State Requirements Vary
States handle the issue of sexual harassment training on an individual basis. States that don’t have state-specific laws default to the federal requirements. EKO, an employment-related training group, reports that as of 2014, 25 states do not have any requirements for sexual harassment training.
A few states have limited training requirements or make recommendations about training. For example, Colorado encourages employers to raise the subject, express disapproval of sexual harassment and inform their employees on how to deal with the issue. Massachusetts recommends new employees, supervisors, managers and members be trained within the first year of hiring or promotion. In Florida, training on equal employment laws, which includes sexual harassment, is required for supervisors in executive branch agencies.
Some states have specific sexual harassment training requirements. For example, in California, private employers with 50 or more employees must conduct training for their supervisors. All public employers of any size must also conduct training. Training must last at least two hours, and California also identifies what the training must include. In Maine, public and private employers with 15 or more employees must conduct training for all employees and supervisors within the first year of employment, but the length of the training is not specified. New Mexico’s training requirements are limited to primary and secondary schools; all licensed school staff must be trained at least once a year.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.