Harassment and discrimination claims continue to plague religious organizations. Costly and high profile lawsuits damage the reputation, morale and financial wellbeing of organizations nationwide. Overall, organizations are held to a legal standard to make reasonable efforts to prevent and promptly respond to work-related harassment and discrimination. Nothing communicates an organization’s zero tolerance policy for unlawful harassment more than effective training sessions led by credible and knowledgeable professionals.
This communiqué offers risk management guidelines to assist religious organizations in providing harassment and discrimination training to all employees and volunteers.
All employees and volunteers should periodically attend mandatory training to prevent harassment and discrimination. Consistent training helps demonstrate that the organization’s harassment and discrimination prevention policy doesn’t simply “sit on the shelf gathering dust,” but is instead an active policy. Training should be conducted frequently enough to help demonstrate the organization’s commitment to provide a safe and productive work environment.
Participation Is Crucial
All employees and volunteers should attend harassment and discrimination training. Too often, top administrators fail to participate in educational sessions, sending the wrong message to the rest of the organization’s members. Those holding top positions and rank within your organization should lead employees and volunteers when it comes to preventing harassment and discrimination, and attending training themselves sends a clear message about its importance. Those from administration with supervisory and managerial responsibilities must demonstrate their leadership qualities when it comes to providing a safe and productive work environment, free from wrongdoing. Tracking employee and volunteer participation is necessary to ensure everyone is receiving a consistent message about workplace behaviors. Upon completion of a training session, the organization’s members should read and sign forms acknowledging their:
- Participation in the educational program.
- Understanding of the organization’s multiple avenues of internal complaint.
- Expectation that the organization will promptly and thoroughly investigate allegations of wrongdoing while keeping matters as confidential as possible.
- Understanding that the organization may utilize an outside third party.
- Investigator to help resolve allegations of harassment and discrimination.
Methods of Training
There are a variety of methods available for training to prevent harassment and discrimination. An organization
may utilize training programs in video format, computer-based education or written materials. There is no
substitution, however, for live training before organization members. This allows for question and answer sessions,
so issues specific to a particular organization or jurisdiction may be addressed. When feasible, in-person training
from a third party professional or a well-respected member of the organization is preferred.
Qualify the Trainer
In order to comprehensively cover important issues, many organizations find educating and training employees on
personnel-related topics is best accomplished by an outside professional. The following checklist can aid in
qualifying the right trainer for the organization:
- Request a resume/biography to learn of experience and education in employment law and/or human resources.
- Ensure that the trainer is familiar with the operations and unique working environment of the organization.
- Ask to sit in on a sample training session to observe firsthand the presenter’s communication style, effectiveness and interaction with an audience.
- Ask for a brief mock presentation on relevant subject matter if it’s not possible for you to observe another training session.
- Contact a number of references and find out their level of satisfaction.
- Request samples of handout materials to ensure quality and professionalism.
- If the organization uses one of its own employees or volunteers to facilitate training, ensure the individual is relatively knowledgeable about relevant laws, court decisions and trends surrounding harassment and discrimination. Also, make sure any in-house trainer is not one of the “worst offenders” of inappropriate behavior. Credibility of the trainer is crucial in communicating the importance of preventing harassment and discrimination in your work environment.
In order to strengthen working relations and reduce exposure to harassment and discrimination claims, consider
the important training topics below for all employees and supervisors:
- Jurisdictional-specific legal review
- Definitions and examples of what constitutes unlawful behavior, using scenarios specific to organizations
- Legally protected groups or classes
Sexual harassment covered in detail
- A review of the organization’s implemented harassment and discrimination policy
- Multiple avenues of internal reporting for the organization members
- Appropriate usage of electronic communication systems (i.e. Internet and email)
- Retaliation prevention for those making allegations or participating in an investigation
- The organization’s procedures for taking prompt action to investigate allegations, stop wrongdoing and prevent future occurrences
- The right of the organization to utilize an outside third party investigator to respond to allegations of harassment and discrimination
- The intent of the organization to keep matters as confidential as possible while still allowing for a prompt and thorough investigation and resolution of allegations.
Supervisory training can decrease exposures to harassment and discrimination claims by providing tools to help prevent, detect and properly respond to workplace wrongdoing. Increased legal responsibilities fall on those with supervisory authority. Therefore, additional training is recommended for persons at all levels of supervision.