DFEH Launches Anti-Harassment Training – But is it the Right Choice for Your Business?

Last week, the Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) finally made (half-)good on the requirement to provide resources for free harassment prevention training in compliance with the requirements of AB 2053 and SB 1343. They have released the one-hour non-supervisory training, but the two-hour supervisory version is still pending. In the absence of the promised online training modules and in the midst of a pandemic, many employers are wondering if the January 1, 2021 training deadline would be extended yet again. Alas, it does not appear that employers will get another reprieve and, with only seven months still remaining, employers should definitely make plans to comply with training requirements by year end. So, the question remains – is the DFEH free training the right choice for your business?

All compliant training must address a lengthy and specific list of topics and it must be interactive. The DFEH training is a slide presentation format with content written on the screen that is read (slowly) to the participant. The one-hour minimum is met by ensuring participants cannot proceed to the next slide without hearing all of the content on each slide (but beware – if you go back to look at something you will be forced to fully repeat all slides to get back to where you left off). It addresses the interactive requirement by including three short videos and several true/false questions. So, this free training checks all of these boxes, but surprisingly, it does not hold itself to the same requirement of ensuring a qualified resource is available for employee questions after viewing the training. The law requires that training be provided either live by a qualified trainer (generally an attorney or experienced HR professional), or online provided employees have access to ask questions of a qualified trainer who must respond within two business days. In the case of the DFEH provided training, employees are merely told to go to their HR department or their supervisors if they have any questions. Of course, the DFEH version also contains several “helpful” slides on where and exactly how to file a complaint with the EEOC or DFEH if the employee wishes. In fact, like most harassment resources provided by the government, the messaging is not employer friendly: there is more time spent classifying various behaviors as harassment than there is teaching employees how to better communicate to prevent unwanted behaviors from escalating. Another consideration is the fact that unlike most online training options, the DFEH training does not have a login feature to track employee completion. Employees watch the training and then print or take a screen shot of a certificate at the end. Therefore, there is no actual proof that the employee took the training. The certificate could easily be doctored and shared among employees. Conversely, if employees are not technically savvy, they could easily lose their place as there is no pause function and no ability to come back to where they left off if the browser is refreshed or closed.

Thus, there are a number of important questions employers should ask themselves to determine how to meet their harassment prevention training requirement by year end:

  1. Is online training an appropriate method for our employee base (considering equipment availability, computer aptitude, proper time tracking for meal and rest periods, etc.)?
  2. If our employees have questions after the training, do we believe they will come to us (and do we have someone qualified to respond) or will they be more likely to file a complaint online?
  3. Do we trust employees to give their full attention to online training (without multi-tasking), or do we want a shared experience where employees are engaged with one another and with a qualified trainer who can adapt the content based on their specific questions and concerns?
  4. Given the fact that our biggest investment will be in wages (employees must be paid for their training time) and production downtime, are we just trying to check the box for compliance, or do we want impactful training?
  5. What behavior changes do we want from employees as a result of the training – do we want them to bring forward more complaints, or do we want them to promote prevention by teaching them how to communicate with one another to resolve their concerns while issues are relatively minor?

Of course, the pandemic has shortened the window to get training done before year end, but there is still plenty of time. Under the circumstances, online training certainly has more appeal than it used to, but is it really the best option for your business? We are certainly biased, but we have always believed that the most effective training is live, engaging, and adaptable on the spot to the needs of each individual business and employee audience. So, if this all sounds like a shameless plug for our live harassment prevention training, it is – I’ll own it – because, unlike the various government entities, we are passionate about elevating and protecting employers. Providing meaningful and effective training is one of the most impactful ways we do it!