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Article Review Essay, Research Paper

Article Review

Use Anti-Harassment to Shelter Yourself from Suits

By Majorie A. Johnson

Summary of Article

In the magazine article Use Anti-Harassment to Shelter yourself from Suit (HR Magazine, 1999), Majorie A. Johnson discusses the importance of training supervisors and employees on dealing with and preventing sexual harassment and other forms of harassment in the workplace. The article begins with references to recent U.S Supreme Court rulings on liability for punitive damages under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These rulings affect lawsuits that are filed against companies for sexual harassment. In the past companies were automatically liable for sexual harassment by their supervisors when it resulted in tangible harm to the employee. Companies that can prove they have anti-harassment training programs in place for supervisors and employees may avoid liability for punitive damages. As a result, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that a company may not be held liable if they can show that it acted reasonably to prevent and correct the harassment and the employee acted unreasonably by failing to use internal processes to resolve the issue. The EEOC recently issued guidance that directs employers to have in place anti-harassment training.

The article provides information on the results of two surveys conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): SHRM Sexual Harassment Survey and 1999 Employment Practice Liability Survey. The results from the surveys validate the need for sexual harassment training. The first conducted by SHRM Sexual Harassment Survey which show that rank and file employees receive the least amount of sexual harassment training. The second conducted by 1999 Employment Practice Liability Survey found that more than half of the

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organizations that responded to the survey had one time or another been named as a defendant in a job related lawsuit. The author asserts that companies should not wait until employees file charges of harassment. Companies must become proactive by providing effective employee and supervisor training to confront the problem of harassment in the workplace before it occurs.

The magazine article highlights training objectives and key elements that should be included in anti-harassment training to pass the legal scrutiny by the EEOC and courts. The first element discussed places emphasis that supervisors and employees should receive the training. Some companies have been reluctant to include non-supervisory employees in training programs because they believed that once employees became aware about harassment, they would be more likely file complaints. Another reason some companies have hesitated to include non-supervisory employees and focus only on supervisors is to save money. The Supreme Court has made it clear that the rationale for not training everyone is not acceptable. The second element points out that the training should be mandatory for all employees and supervisors when hired with follow-up periodic retraining at least annually. In the third element, the author offers suggestions to training objectives that first should have a goal of creating a sense of accountability and share responsibilities for maintaining a harassment free work environment.

In addition to training objectives and key elements, the article offers training topics that should be included in the harassment training. The first important topic is communicating the company?s zero tolerance policy against any type of harassment. This will make certain that employees know there is a policy prohibiting harassment, that offenders will be disciplined, and complaint procedures. The second topic should include an explanation of sexual harassment, the

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legal definition, real-life examples, a discussion on types and behaviors that constitute sexual harassment. The topic also should include practical examples of other types of harassment that employees will be able to understand. The third topic points out that training should provide specific guidance on what is regarded as inappropriate behaviors in the workplace. A good approach for the training is placing emphasis on practicing respect in the workplace.

As a remaining topic, the article suggests instructing employees on their responsibilities to report harassment so the company can investigate and take appropriate action. The training should stress that the company is committed to providing a harassment free work place and retaliation will not be tolerated. The article continues with additional training topics that focus on supervisors and their legal responsibilities. Training should show supervisors how to respond to complaints and their responsibility to report any concerns or complaints to company representatives designated to handle Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) concerns.

The article concludes with a discussion on documenting and monitoring training. It places emphasis on the importance of keeping record of employees that completed training, what was covered in the training and when the training was held. Equally important is having employees sign a document acknowledging completion of training. A final point suggested by the author is all human resource professionals should regularly review training records to assure everyone is trained.

Critical Analysis of the Article (Weaknesses)

In the discussion of anti-harassment training, the author seems to focus more on sexual harassment rather than other forms of harassment. The article does not adequately clarify the

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different forms of harassment that companies may be held liable for punitive damages under Title VI of the Civil Rights of 1964. For instance, the only examples of harassment other than sexual are a reference to obscene jokes, racial slurs, pornography and racist material. The article should have included additional examples that covered harassment related factors such as race, color, age, religion, disability and national origin. These factors are more in line with the intent of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The reader may have benefited more if the article provided a short legal brief on a few Supreme Court cases relating to harassment.

The author mentions in the article that the EEOC recently issued guidance that directs employers to provide anti-harassment training. The point is made that if companies train supervisors and employees to prevent sexual harassment and other forms of harassment, they might head off being held liable for harassment suits. It would have been helpful to the reader if the author provided a web site or other reference assistance to obtain the information. The reader will most likely find himself or herself searching for this important information.

While reading the article, I found myself pondering whether the author intended the term supervisor to mean the same as manager when discussing roles and responsibilities. Some companies make a distinction in their organizational structure between managers and supervisors. This is an important point simply because there may be a potential for upper echelon management to feel they do not need training. It may have been more helpful if the author placed emphasis or clarified on the training topics that all levels of leadership should receive training that is appropriate for the level of leadership.

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Critical Analysis of the Article (Strengths)

In spite of these few weaknesses, the article provides relevant information into the latest rulings of the Supreme Court and EEOC guidance that give insight into formulating anti-harassment training for companies. The author also presents convincing information that shows the importance of why companies should implement anti-harassment training with recent survey data from the Society for Human Resource Management and EEOC statistics. A review of the data clearly shows trends that harassment complaint activity has amplified between 1991 and 1999. Armed with this information, the author makes a compelling point that companies must become proactive by providing effective anti-harassment training before it occurs.

The article effectively outlines essential components to anti-harassment training programs that will pass the legal requirements of the EEOC and courts. The first important point is companies must train both employees and supervisors, which should be similar in content. The second important point is training should be done when employees are hired and periodically at least annually. In addition, the training should be mandatory. The third point is the training should meet specific objectives such as the companies zero tolerance policy, behaviors that constitute harassment and complaint reporting procedures. The final point is the training must be documented to include which employees completed training and when, what was covered and having employees sign a document acknowledging they received training.

Particularly insightful are the training topics provided in the article that can be helpful to a company that needs to initiate their own anti-harassment training program. The article offers some good examples of training topics such as actions to avoid with emphasis on workers to

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practice respect in the workplace, explanation of the duty to report, assurances that retaliation will not be tolerated, and roles and responsibilities of supervisors. The topics give the reader a start on looking into the anti-harassment training in their companies. Finally, the article is easy to read and is very informative.

Why Article is Worth Reading

There are three basic reasons I consider this article a must read for human resource practitioners and trainers. First, the article provides practical advice and useful tips for determining training needs analysis in companies. Second, the information presented is very helpful when auditing current anti-harassment training while ensuring they meet court ruling and EEOC guidelines. As discussed in the article, recent events and escalating trends in law suits give companies greater incentive to provide training intended at preventing sexual harassment and other types of harassment. Lastly, for those that are developing new training programs, the article offers key training objectives that will help facilitate the designing of training. These objectives are well outlined and are easy to implement in any training program.

Why I Agree with the Article

I agree with the article because I believe training is the first line of defense in preventing workplace harassment. In particular, when people know and understand their roles and responsibilities in addressing inappropriate workplace behavior, episodes of harassment will be resolved quicker and at the lowest level. This is especially critical to supervisors because most employers hold supervisors accountable for their actions. I feel the topics; useful tips and

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training objectives covered in the article are right on target. There is an applied hands-on tone in the article that kept my interest to read from beginning to end.


Johnson, M. A. (1999, October). Use Anti-Harassment Training to Shelter Yourself from Suits. HR Magazine, 44, 76-81.



Johnson, M. A. (1999, October). Use Anti-Harassment Training to Shelter Yourself from Suits. HR Magazine, 44, 76-81.

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