Some employers erroneously believe that they only need to provide sexual harassment training and other forms of workplace harassment prevention training to employees in states and local jurisdictions that have statutes requiring such training. While California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, New York State, and New York City have passed statutes requiring sexual harassment training, other federal and state laws, regulations, and court decisions have made clear that employers should provide anti-harassment training to all employees in all states. This page describes why sexual harassment training is essential in all states. At the bottom of the page, you will find information on the sexual harassment training requirements of each state.

State Statutes Requiring or Encouraging Training 

Connecticut and Maine have long required employers to provide sexual harassment training at least once. Connecticut previously required the training only of supervisors. Connecticut now requires harassment training for all employees by October 1, 2020. Since California AB 1825 became effective in 2005, California has required sexual harassment training for supervisors every two years. SB 1343 expanded that requirement so California employers are now required to train all employees by January 1, 2021, and every two years thereafter. New York State and New York City have passed laws requiring annual sexual harassment training for all employees, with the first training having been due by October 9, 2019. Delaware also passed a law requiring sexual harassment training every two years, with an initial deadline of January 1, 2020. Finally, Illinois passed SB75, which requires sexual harassment training annually for all employees starting in 2020. In addition to the above mentioned states that require employers to provide sexual harassment training, many other states, such as Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Utah, and Vermont, Wisconsin, have laws that “encourage” employers to provide such training.

State Courts 

Some state courts have interpreted their state anti-harassment laws to make harassment training essential. For example, in Gaines v. Bellino, the New Jersey Supreme Court held that, in determining whether an employer is liable for co-worker harassment, the Court would examine factors such as whether the employer had provided anti-harassment training. According to the Court, the anti-harassment training “must be mandatory for supervisors and managers, and must be available to all employees of the organization.” An employer’s training obligations can also go beyond training permanent employees. In 2015, in Jones v. Dr. Pepper Snapple Group, the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey ruled against an employer in a motion for summary judgment in part because the employer had not provided harassment prevention training to a temporary employee.

EEOC  

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued guidelines, which apply to employers in all states, stating that employers periodically “should provide [harassment prevention] training to all employees to ensure they understand their rights and responsibilities.” Further, the EEOC’s 2016 Report from the Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace noted that “[t]raining should be conducted and reinforced on a regular basis for all employees.”

Federal Courts  

Federal court decisions for years have shown that employers who do not train all employees may lose their ability to avoid punitive damages in a harassment lawsuit. In the Kolstad v. American Dental Association case, the U.S. Supreme Court held that employers could avoid punitive damages in harassment and discrimination cases if the employer could show that it had made “good faith efforts” to prevent harassment and discrimination.  In determining “good faith efforts,” the Court held that:

The purposes underlying Title VII are. . . advanced where employers are encouraged to adopt antidiscrimination policies and to educate their personnel on Title VII’s prohibitions.

Many lower courts have ruled that to avoid punitive damages employers must have provided harassment training to their employees. In Swinton v. Potomac Corporation, for example, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a punitive damage award of $1 million in a racial harassment case, noting in part that the company had not educated its workforce on its harassment policy. Likewise, in Hanley v. Doctors Hospital of Shreveport, the court upheld a jury’s award of punitive damages in a sexual harassment and retaliation case in part because the employer had not provided its employees sexual harassment training.

Decisions by federal courts have shown that employers who fail to provide harassment prevention training may even lose their ability to raise an affirmative defense in a harassment lawsuit. In the joint cases of Faragher v. City of Boca Raton and Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that an employer could escape liability for “hostile environment” harassment committed by a supervisor if it could prove that: (1) the employer took reasonable care to “prevent and correct promptly” any harassing behavior; and (2) the harassment victim unreasonably failed to complain.

Since the Supreme Court’s decisions in the Faragher and Ellerth cases, courts around the country have made clear that to raise an affirmative defense to harassment claims, employers cannot simply have a harassment policy; in addition, they should provide their employees harassment training. For example, in the 2015 case of Pullen v. Caddo Parish Sch. Bd., the Fifth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals held that an employer was not entitled to summary judgment in part because it had not provided harassment prevention training to its employees.  Similarly, in Marrero v. Goya of Puerto Rico, Inc. the First Circuit ruled against an employer that had not provided harassment prevention training to the plaintiff employees. In addition to federal appellate court decisions, several federal trial courts have reached similar conclusions. (See, Clark v. UPS; Miller v. Woodharbor Molding & Millworks, Inc.; Hill v. The Children’s Village.)

As these examples make clear, employers’ views on harassment prevention training must shift from “nice-to-have” to “must-have”—for all employees in all states. This paradigm shift should help reduce the occurrence of workplace harassment and protect employers from liability in high-stakes harassment lawsuits.

Learn more about Clear Law Institute’s critically-acclaimed online sexual harassment training and workplace harassment training.

About the Author

Michael Johnson, CEO of Clear Law Institute, is a former U.S. Department of Justice attorney who brought one of DOJ’s first “pattern or practice” sexual harassment cases. He has provided training and consulting on harassment prevention or investigations to organizations around the world, such as the EEOC, the United Nations, and Google. He is a graduate of Duke University and Harvard Law School.

50-State Sexual Harassment Training Requirements

    • All employers with five or more employees must provide sexual harassment training every two years, with the first training due by January 1, 2021. New employees and promoted supervisors must be trained within six months of hire/promotion. Training for supervisors must be 2-hours in length; for non-supervisors, the training must be 1-hour in length. Training must include content on abusive conduct, gender-identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, remedies available to victims, and practical examples. Training must be conducted by a trainer with expertise in harassment and discrimination. See AB 1825, AB 2053, SB 396, and SB 1343
    • Department of Fair Employment & Housing
  • Training not specifically required by state statute. However, the Maryland Commission on Human Relations looks favorably on employer actions to prevent sexual harassment, including: establishing and implementing sexual harassment policies, establishing a complaint process for employees who believe they have been sexually harassed, and making staff aware of policies and the complaint process as well as training staff to recognize and avoid sexual harassment
  • Maryland Commission on Civil Rights
  • Learn more about our Maryland Sexual Harassment Training.
  • All employers in New York are required to provide all employees anti-harassment training annually. The training must be interactive and include: an explanation of what constitutes unlawful or sexual harassment, examples of conduct that would be considered unlawful or sexual harassment, information on state and federal laws concerning sexual harassment and resources for victims, and information on employees rights and forums for resolving complaints administratively and judicially. See New York State Human Rights Law.
  • Training not specifically required by state statute. However, Rhode Island encourages all employers to conduct education and training programs for new employees within a year of employment and provide additional training for employees in managerial or supervisory roles that describes the responsibilities of managers and supervisors in sexual harassment incidents within one year of commencement of those positions. See R.I. Gen. Laws ch. 118,§§ 28-51-2(c), 28-51-3.
  • Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights
  • Learn more about our Rhode Island Sexual Harassment Training.
  • The Department of Human Resources Management (DHRM) shall provide all state government agencies training, including additional training for supervisors, on the prevention of workplace harassment. State government agencies must ensure state government employees complete workplace harassment prevention training upon hire and at least every two years thereafter. Training records must be submitted to the DHRM and must include who provided the training, who attended the training, and the date of the training. See Utah Admin Code R477-15-6.
  • Utah Antidiscrimination and Labor Division
  • Learn more about our Utah Sexual Harassment Training.
  • Every hotel, motel, retail, or security guard entity, or property services contractor, who employs an “employee” (defined as someone who spends a majority of their working hours alone or without another coworker present) must provide mandatory training to their managers, supervisors and employees. 
  • The training must include content on: preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment in the workplace, preventing sexual discrimination in the workplace, and protections for employees who report violations of a state or federal law, rule, or regulation. For covered employers, all employees must be trained. 
  • Covered employers must also provide employees with a list of resources, including contact information for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Washington State Human Rights Commission, and local advocacy groups focused on preventing sexual harassment and assault.
  • Hotels and motels with sixty or more rooms must meet the requirements of this section by January 1, 2020. All other covered employers must meet the requirements of this section by January 1, 2021. See SB 5258.
  • State government employees are required to complete sexual harassment awareness and prevention training at least every five years. New state government employees must complete the training within the first six months after hire, or earlier if required by the state government employer’s sexual harassment policy. See Wash. Ann. Code Tit. 357 Ch. 34-100.
  • Washington State Human Rights Commission
  • Learn more about our Washington Sexual Harassment Training.
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