Opus hosted a webinar with the leading law firms in the country on November 2, 2020. Partners Natalie Pierce of Gunderson Dettmer and Devjani Mishra of Littler Mendelson joined me in a thrilling conversation about the future of compliance training, specifically in the context of Sexual Harassment Prevention training. Here are the highlights of our fireside chat.

Anti-Harassment or Sexual Harassment Training?

Either way we are talking about protected categories such as age, disability, sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity and more.  Sexual harassment is not only quid pro quo but also environmental.  It could be directed at an individual but it's witnessed by others and therefore affects multiple people.

What we're really seeing in terms of anti-harassment, anti-bullying, these kinds of initiatives, is that it's about making clear that employers and their workforces are expected to maintain a respectful workplace. ~ Natalie

On Reporting Processes

Making a process of reporting when you see sexual harassment is multi-fold.  Often times it's not as clear how to report.  This is not only for the food industry but as a business in general.  There need to be clear guidelines on when and how to report an unsafe action.

There's been this real push to do a few things. One is to educate individuals about what their legal rights are. Two is emphasizing that it's on the employers, whether in the food industry or not, to deter and investigate potential harassment. Three is to strengthen the protections for people who raise claims of harassment, make it easier to bring claims [...] and increase the remedies that are available to them. ~ Devjani

The Food Industry Is Disproportionately Impacted

In the food industry especially with the traditional hierarchy there does lend a hand to creating inappropriate opportunities.  With not only positions of power but also with tipping and how it's allocated.

People sometimes talk about "yes, chef" culture. That sort of management structure can lead to opportunities for very big personalities to potentially be abusive, to engage in behaviors that in other industries wouldn't be tolerated in organizations that are more flat, you might not see that." ~ Devjani

The Impact of COVID On Claims

COVID has exemplified these opportunities for inappropriate behaviors - giving us more ways to communicate gives more ways to engage.  With COVID layoffs a lot of staff were no longer around, leaving less options for someone to speak out should there be an issue.

For those folks who are in a hospitality space where they're working remotely, look, we're all on Zoom, we're on email, we're on texts. All of those are also ways that people can engage in bad behavior. That's not specific to food particularly but it's something to keep in mind." ~ Devjani

The Penalties For Not Training Your Team

For some states, it has not been outlined the exact penalties for not providing sexual harassment training, however it is required.  Leaving the question - what are the actual penalties besides risking a potentially unsafe work environment?

The employer is best positioned if [...] they can to show that they understand the law, that they understand the requirements, that they've done the things that they could do. And remember, I talked about the real emphasis on educating employees but also on the responsibility of the employer to deter and investigage harassment." ~ Devjani

Speak-up Culture

Speak-up culture can become a modern feat.  In the food industry the use of hotlines vs chain of command (HR Director) or a third party vary depending on the situation and what the person reporter feels comfortable with.

A lot of people just naturally default to, well, if you have a complaint, it has to go up the chain of command. Sometimes the chain of command is where the harassment is originating. So, whether it's a hotline that is answered by someone internally or someone or whether it's just an old fashioned person, that's not a hotline, that person needs to be visible and credible." ~ Devjani

Is California the Benchmark?

In California there is a two hour supervisor requirement.  While it's not necessarily required to be two hours in other states, we do see them following the same protocol.

A lot of employers will provide those two hours [of training] to supervisors, even outside of California. Most managers don't come with heavy human resources background or employment law backgrounds. Training helps them build up their radar, recognize when there might be a problem, recognize when they have to interrupt a behavior that isn't appropriate in the workplace." - Natalie

The Case for Sexual Harassment Training For Frontline Teams

Making training accessible to everyone includes multiple different types of languages.  We need the situations in the training to be applicable to all employees so that they can relate and really retain the information.

You want it to be something that the receiver of the training can relate to, can understand. I think that is sometimes a problem with this one size fits all training. If it doesn't keep in mind the industry, if it doesn't keep in mind the workforce, then the examples aren't going to serve the purpose that they're intended for. It's important that you have the industry and the workforce in mind when you're developing training." ~ Natalie