Just like other initiatives, corporate training programs have taken their fair share of budget cuts. Josh Bersin details this trend in the current online edition of HR Magazine. He notes that corporate training and development budgets were cut by 12 to 18 percent in the second half of 2008 alone. And, that trend continues.

In the legal realm, training on company policies relating to harassment, discrimination, and retaliation remains vitally important. Courts continue to recognize the value of (and in some states the statutory requirement for) training as a way to (1) establish and promote the company’s policy prohibiting discrimination, harassment, or retaliation; (2) establish that employees who violate the policy did not do so out of ignorance that the policy exists; and (3) as a good faith affirmative defense to any discrimination, harassment or retaliation that may occur. But how do you stretch a limited training budget to accomplish these legal goals?

Consider the following steps for effective training:

  1. If on a topic relating to the law, be sure to clearly spell out what the state or federal law prohibits or requires. For instance, specify clearly what types of discrimination are prohibited (e.g., sex, race, age). Be clear on who is covered by the law. Train people on definitions contained in the law so they know exactly what the law covers or prohibits.
     
  2. Identify what remedies are available. Some employers fear doing this because “it might give the employees ideas.” Better yet, and more likely, talking about the available remedies will impress upon the audience the seriousness of the topic. A practical way may be to say, for instance, “How many widgets do we have to sell to make $300,000 in profit (the Title VII limit for compensatory and punitive damages) that can be used to pay a judgment against us if harassment or discrimination occurs?”
     
  3. Talk about practical steps to prevent harassment, discrimination, or retaliation. Give clear examples of situations that may arise where such conduct could occur. Specify clearly when a person can complain. Always emphasize that the company (a) prohibits harassment, discrimination, or retaliation and (b) will look for every way to make it stop if occurs.
     
  4. Make the training lively by discussing real cases, “role playing” practical examples of situations where questionable conduct occurs and how a person should respond. If you can’t think of any real-life examples, do a quick Internet search and you will find plenty of stupid behavior at work for which the company paid a price in defending a subsequent legal action. Remember the adage, “Really…you can’t make this stuff up.”
     
  5. Be clear that the company has an obligation to investigate reports of discrimination or harassment; that it will conduct this investigation; and that confidentiality is not absolute. The company will do everything possible to preserve confidentiality but in fairness to a thorough investigation witnesses other than the victim will be questioned or involved in the investigation. Your job is to get a thorough and accurate understanding of the facts from all sides. Be sure your training does not promise such absolute confidentiality that a thorough investigation becomes impossible.

There is no magic bullet in training. But the steps above can help you make your training more “legally” effective and may help reduce the number of incidents giving rise to complaints. If a complaint does occur, training is an effective tool to demonstrate the company’s prohibition of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation.