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Training: The Key to Mitigating EEOC Harassment Risk Factors

Most of us know by now that workplace training on harassment and related issues is a cornerstone in building an inclusive and respectful culture and minimizing an organization’s legal exposure. However, the next question is - what exactly should the training look like and what should it include? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has created a “Chart of Risk Factors for Harassment and Responsive Strategies,” which can serve as a resource for training on harassment.[1] This article will discuss how customized trainings on harassment can specifically respond to some of the EEOC’s articulated risk factors.[2]

Cultural and Language Differences in the Workplace

According to the EEOC, “cultural and language differences in the workplace” may be a risk factor for harassment and a strategy to combat this is to ensure that “culturally diverse employees understand laws, workplace norms and policies.”[3] The best way for employers to ensure such an understanding is through training on these laws, norms, and policies.

Training courses for employees should include discussions of inappropriate behavior and harassment based on cultural and language differences, which may involve issues relating to protected classes such as race, religion, and national origin, as well as other state and local protected categories relevant to an organization. Courses should also include examples of behavior that, although not illegal, may be inappropriate in the workplace.  Depending on the organization, adding a component on diversity and inclusion may also be helpful in addition to exploring unconscious biases and microaggressions and the role they play within the organization.

Interactive discussions of possible scenarios that may arise in the organizational context, and the types of behaviors that could make people uncomfortable in the workplace, are key in the retention of these concepts. An overarching goal of meaningful training is to have an engaged and productive work culture, while also making certain that everyone feels respected and included.

Coarsened Social Discourse Outside the Workplace

The EEOC notes that “coarsened social discourse outside the workplace” is also a risk factor for harassment, and that a strategy to address this risk is to “remind the workforce of the types of conduct that are unacceptable in the workplace.”[4] Fortunately, training can be an effective tool to remind employees of the behaviors and the risks of this type of conduct in the workplace.

The training should be designed to help employees understand that the workplace is very broadly defined, and that conduct occurring “outside of work” may be considered the “workplace” in certain situations. This means, for example, that conduct occurring after hours, off work premises, virtually and/or at formal or informal events with coworkers may have the same consequences as conduct that takes place on work premises. In these situations, the better question may be, “how does this behavior affect work?”

Training that includes hypothetical scenarios in various formats invite discussion about the need to have professional boundaries for work relationships, both at the actual workplace and beyond. Trainings should emphasize that it is always helpful to increase awareness of behaviors that could make people feel uncomfortable – at work or off premises, even if the behavior is not illegal.

Young Workforces

Another risk factor identified by the EEOC involves “young workforces,” and the EEOC suggests that to address this risk, organizations should “provide training on how to be a good supervisor when youth are promoted to supervisory positions.”[5] The key here is to develop a training that goes beyond just a review of the law and policy.

A well-designed training reminds managers of their role at the front line of an organization’s commitment to building respect, and emphasizes that managers must understand their critical role in representing the organization. In addition to training on administering or following an EEO or other policy, training on how to be a leader and manage a broad range of generations within the organization is essential to promoting a respectful and productive environment and culture. Discussing hypothetical situations helps both managers and employees understand and navigate real-world scenarios and issues involving potential age discrimination - and how to avoid even the perception of same in the workplace.

Workplaces that Tolerate or Encourage Alcohol Consumption

The EEOC cautions that workplaces that tolerate or encourage alcohol consumption create risk, which can be addressed by training co-workers to intervene appropriately if they observe alcohol-induced misconduct and by reminding managers about their responsibility if they see harassment, including at events where alcohol is consumed.[6]  Accordingly, as per the EEOC, it is important not only to train colleagues and managers to manage their own behavior in accordance with applicable law and policy, but it is also important to know when and how to intervene in order to prevent harassment from occurring.

Training should address what is and is not appropriate behavior among colleagues at parties and other social events, with an emphasis on gatherings where alcohol is available. The training should involve guidance with regard to what to do if an employee observes inappropriate or harassing behavior, with hypothetical scenarios and videos to guide the discussion. The training should also focus on the distinct roles and responsibilities of managers, as well as other bystanders who may be a witness or have information regarding such behavior, in accordance with relevant law and organizational policy (which may have requirements in addition to the law).

Isolated and/or Decentralized Workforces

The EEOC explains that isolated and/or decentralized workforces may increase risk and suggests that this risk can be addressed, among other ways, by ensuring that training reaches all levels of the organization (wherever they work), and that all employees know where and how to file a complaint.[7] For these reasons, in addition to live training, virtual or on-demand training can be helpful in reaching remote workers, including those working from home, as well as in isolated or decentralized locations.

The ability of an organization to have consistent, cohesive training sessions -whether they are live or on-demand is critical. Training sessions should allow all attendees to ask questions and provide feedback during the sessions. Employees from multiple locations can be brought together in person or virtually to interact and learn from one another during the trainings. Finally, it is important during any training session to emphasize the avenues that complaints can be made, for all employees, wherever located.


Workplace training is key to building an inclusive and respectful culture and to minimizing an organization’s legal exposure, and, if done right, can also be responsive to risk factors specifically identified by the EEOC.



[1]Chart of Risk Factors for Harassment and Responsive Strategies,” U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,

[2] Id. While training may be beneficial with regard to responding to all of the EEOC’s listed risk factors for harassment, this article focuses on the “Risk Factor-Specific Strategies to Reduce Harassment” that suggest training as a strategy.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.