Harassment Prevention Training: The Hidden Costs of Inaction

Although companies have long used training to meet harassment prevention compliance requirements, now more than ever, it is critical for organizations to enact purposeful agendas around workplace harassment. When implemented thoughtfully and in a way that is nuanced and relatable, training can be a vital and cost-effective tool for improving workplace culture while mitigating significant risk.

Cost versus risk

That’s because there is more to the training cost story. The true cost of harassment prevention training can be deceptive: it’s easy to focus on the price, when in fact it is a small expense when measured against your total costs.

The first of these is the opportunity cost of your employees’ time while training--having everyone in an organization complete training is inherently expensive. Employers are right to look for the highest quality training to ensure the greatest value for time spent. HR teams also can invest significant timekeeping training records and managing annual and state-specific requirements.

From a risk management perspective, these prevention costs are easily offset against the real risks of harassment and discrimination. Beyond the fact that harassment and discrimination can have a lasting and harmful impact on those who endure it, there’s also the cost of lawsuits or administrative proceedings. The resulting damages and penalties can be significant if you lose, and legal fees in the hundreds of thousands even if you win. By adopting a comprehensive anti-harassment policy and providing adequate training, employers show that they’ve made good faith efforts to prevent harassment.

“If you have done effective training, it has been deemed through case law to be one of the strongest mitigating factors to avoid punitive damages exposure.”

—Kevin O’Neill, Principal at Littler

Even more serious are the indirect costs and risks to an organization, including:

  • Employee attrition, and lost productivity and morale. Employees who suffer harassment are likely to leave, and replacing these employees costs employers billions while harming productivity and damaging morale.
  • Management and governance continuity risk. For years we’ve witnessed managers, executives, and board members resigning after failing to respond effectively to harassment. This trend continues.
  • Reputation and brand risk. Stakeholders, regulators, and media, have high expectations for preventing harassment and discrimination. The repercussions of missteps or inaction can be severe.
  • Eroding customer and market position. Organizations that suffer reputational damage can lose customers and market positioning—customers expect more these days.
  • Vendor risk and insurance costs. Failure can also lead to increased insurance costs and lost vendor relationships.

How training can help

Investing in comprehensive training will help reduce risk and liability, but it will do even more than that. As Sarah Rowell, CEO of Kantola Training Solutions, says, “It also has the ability to change behavior, if not that of an egregious harasser, then that of bystanders, managers, front line supervisors or oblivious offenders.”

Courses that address cultural trends and engage learners in real-world experiences will prepare employees to identify and address workplace issues. Immersive training that goes beyond checking boxes can change corporate culture and how employees experience the workplace, leading to real, lasting change.


Note: This article was adapted from Understanding the Costs of Harassment Prevention and DEI Training, originally featured in the American Bar Association’s publication, Business Law Today.


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