New Georgia Sexual Harassment Policy Has Lessons For Private Companies Too

At the end of last month – March 2019 – Atlanta Governor Brian Kemp made good on one of his earliest election promises; a new Georgia sexual harassment policy that has been designed to give those state employees who have been sexually harassed, bullied or otherwise belittled in the workplace additional protections when coming forward.

How Did the New Georgia Sexual Harassment Policy Come About?

In 2018, an investigative team working for the Atlanta Constitution Journal published a series of reports detailing the difficult and haphazard state reporting system faced by Georgia state employees who had been victims of sexual harassment that made it difficult for them to speak out.

Many of the cases the investigation covered in the report demonstrated that many departments were not following state guidelines and were creating their own sexual harassment reporting procedures that were ‘better aligned’ with their corporate culture, but were, in some cases, inadequate and even disacrimatory to the reporting employee. Citing a desire that his daughters have the same opportunities as Georgians in the workplace as he did Gov. Kemp ordered an overhaul of the system in January and the result is the new Georgia sexual harassment policy that is now in place.

The guidelines currently only cover Georgia State Employees, but in the case of private individuals making such claims it is likely that complaints made to bodies like the EOEC will be subject to similar guidelines. And given that the subject is back in the news in such a prominent way it may be time for some private Georgian companies to begin reviewing their own practices in regards to sexual harassment reporting and training. What is the best way to do that? Here are some suggestions

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Make Sexual Harassment Training a Priority

The new Georgia sexual harassment policy focuses extensively on training, and private companies would do well to follow suit. To have the full impact though sexual harassment training should be a strategic priority – not just another item on a check-off list for new employees.

Frequency and timing do matter. Requiring that all employees participate in training on a regular basis – including the CEO, executive management and board – sends a strong message that sexual harassment training is worthy of everyone’s time and attention.

Focus on Changing Behaviors and Attitudes

It’s generally agreed that when the goal of sexual harassment training is to help companies defend themselves against sexual harassment claims, it is not going to be successful in stopping hostile and abusive behavior in the workplace. That was the model 30 years ago.

The recent news stories about former Vice President Joe Biden’s conduct highlight how attitudes have changed. While not accused of sexual harassment, several women charged that Biden behaved in a manner that was in their minds inappropriate. Biden then responded that ‘social norms are changing and he understood that’. Employees need to understand that too, especially older ones, and it should be a part of ongoing training to ensure that this is understood.

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Don’t Give Lectures, Tell Real Stories

One of the failings of traditional compliance training is that it’s out of touch with a tech savvy workforce with short attention spans. Replacing boring, static content and legal jargon with authentic situations that employees can connect to emotionally makes such training far more effective . By taking advantage of eLearning technologies companies have the chance to immerse employees in interactive video scenarios that can have a powerful impact and spark conversations long after the training is completed.

Encourage Reporting

The whole point of the new Georgia sexual harassment policy is to make reporting easier and more effective for those who have been victims, and private companies should be concerned about doing the same. Effective sexual harassment training should underscore your organization’s commitment to take all complaints seriously, and encourage employees to report any incidents of harassment and know that they can come forward without fear of reprisal, as the company ‘has their back’.

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