By Elizabeth Berg, Trüpp HR

“If I had limited assets to improve the climate of any organization, I would invest ninety-five percent of them in middle managers. These are the people who make all of the difference in the day to day lives of organizations and people.” – Fran Sepler President and Owner of Sepler & Associates

You’ve likely heard the phrase, “it starts from the top.” This is especially true when it comes to fostering a culture of respect. Your leaders and supervisors must have buy-in and model the behavior you are aiming for in order for your efforts to take hold. When it comes to harassment prevention, investing in expanded training for your supervisors ensures they understand best practices, and that your commitment to a respectful work environment pays off. Additional training content will equip supervisors to practice vigilance, respond when inappropriate behavior occurs, and handle complaints effectively, as well as provide an understanding of their legal responsibilities and the potential liabilities so they know how to take appropriate action.

A good supervisor harassment training program should include:

How to practice vigilance
Supervisors and managers are the eyes and ears of your organization. Train them to be vigilant in identifying inappropriate workplace behavior and picking up on subtle clues from targets and offenders. Training should provide supervisors with an understanding of how to navigate these ambiguous situations in a manner that is neutral, diffuses tension, and mitigates organizational risk.

How to respond when they see inappropriate behavior
It is not uncommon for a person to believe they would intervene if they witnessed inappropriate behavior only to freeze up when it actually occurs. It is helpful to train supervisors on how to respond when they observe harassment. By teaching supervisors methods to address inappropriate behavior confidently and immediately, with tact, they are more prepared to act in the workplace. Although it may feel awkward, consider having them practice intervening in scenarios so they gain familiarity and can begin to learn the approaches that work best for them.

How to respond to harassment complaints
How supervisors respond and react to a harassment complaint can make or break your employees’ faith in your organization’s reporting system. Train supervisors on how to properly receive and handle information from an employee complaint or concern. This should include best practices with regards to their non-verbal response, word choice, and demeanor when reports are received and the specifics or your organization’s policies and procedures.

Understand supervisor responsibility and liability when addressing harassment
Many individuals understand the operational responsibilities they take on as a supervisor, but often the responsibilities regarding managing people’s interactions get overlooked. Train supervisors to know their responsibility when it comes to employee safety, which includes the prevention of unacceptable behavior. Supervisors are personally liable if they behave inappropriately or if they knew of, or should have known about, inappropriate behavior and failed to take action.

Investing in supervisor harassment training is not only a best practice for all companies, but in many states is required by law. As of now, the following states require supervisors to take anti-harassment training: California, New York, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine. Additionally, Illinois and Rhode Island have laws pending and it is anticipated more states will join the movement. Be ahead of the curve and invest in your managers to promote a respectful workplace and work to eliminate discrimination and harassment in your organization.

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