It is my understanding that California law requires employers with 50 or more employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training to their supervisors. As an employer with less than 50 employees, I am wondering if sexual harassment prevention training is recommended for my supervisors or employees?


You are correct that California law does not require employers with less than fifty employees to provide sexual harassment prevention training. However, state and federal laws prohibit sexual harassment in the workplace, and violations of those laws can result in liability for smaller-sized employers. As explained below, providing sexual harassment prevention training to your staff may prove to be quite beneficial.
The anti-harassment section of the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) covers all California employers, regardless of the number of employees they have. Pursuant to California law, employers must take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment from occurring. State regulations define sexual harassment as unwanted sexual advances, or visual, verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. This definition includes many forms of offensive behavior and includes gender-based harassment of a person of the same sex as the harasser.

In addition, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to employers with 15 or more employees. Under Title VII, sexual harassment is a form of illegal sex discrimination. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature may constitute sexual harassment. In fiscal year 2007 alone, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) received 12,510 complaints of sexual harassment. 11,592 of those complaints were resolved by the EEOC, resulting in the recovery of $49.9 million in monetary benefits for aggrieved individuals. That statistic does not include any amounts recovered by claimants through civil litigation. Notably, the EEOC has explained that prevention is the best tool to eliminate sexual harassment in the workplace, and that employers can prevent sexual harassment by providing training to their employees.

While sexual harassment prevention training will not necessarily insulate an employer from liability for sexual harassment, it can serve as part of an employer’s defense of a sexual harassment claim. For example, an employer who provides such training will be able to introduce that fact as evidence that its employees were trained as to how to properly conduct themselves and how to handle complaints of sexual harassment. Further, training may help prove that a complainant knew of and did not follow the employer’s complaint procedures. An employer who has not provided sexual harassment prevention training will not have these defenses.

When planning sexual harassment prevention training for employees, it is recommended that smaller employers follow the guidelines of the legally required training. The training should provide practical guidance including information about:

  • the prevention and correction of sexual harassment,
  • the types of conduct that constitute sexual harassment,
  • the essential elements of an anti-harassment policy,
  • federal and state laws that prohibit sexual harassment, discrimination, and retaliation,
  • common factual scenarios and practical examples,
  • the resources available for victims of unlawful sexual harassment,
  • the employer’s obligation to conduct an investigation of a harassment complaint, and
  • the remedies available to victims of sexual harassment.

Additionally, experienced trainers or educators with appropriate knowledge and expertise should present the training. Classroom training is most beneficial because participants can ask questions and learn from other participants. However, some employers prefer e-learning training, and/or webinar training. The training should be 2 hours in length, and should be given every two years.

Sexual harassment prevention training for smaller employers can prove to be invaluable. It may prevent sexual harassment altogether, and will educate employees and employers on how to properly handle complaints of sexual harassment in the workplace. Moreover, documentation of such training may be used as evidence in a sexual harassment lawsuit. It is a good business practice for all employers to provide sexual harassment prevention training.
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