Organizations Risk Employee Lawsuits for Failing to Comply with Training Mandates

Monday, August 1, 2005
by Jackson Lewis

While most organizations are required to provide harassment prevention training, many still do not have compliance plans in place to do so.

That is one of the conclusions drawn from a survey taken at the 2005 annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management indicates that more than half of the respondents' organizations are required to comply with the new California law on sexual harassment prevention training for supervisors. The law covers organizations with 50 or more employees anywhere in the U.S., as long as some of those employees are in California, and calls for two hours of training for all supervisors.

Despite this mandate, less than 20% of the survey respondents said their organizations had fulfilled the requirements of the law, which became effective on January 1, 2005. All those currently in supervisory positions must be trained by December 31, 2005. Newly hired or promoted supervisors must be trained within six months of assuming supervisory duties.

Among the 40% of respondents who said their organizations were covered but had not yet completed the required training, only 35% of them had a compliance plan in place.

A surprising 40% of the 110 human resource professionals completing the survey said that their organizations did not provide periodic workplace training for supervisors. However, half of the survey respondents disclosed that their organization had been sued by an employee or former employee during the past 12 months.

Speaking at the conference and discussing training with conference attendees was Michael J. Lotito, partner in the employment law firm Jackson Lewis LLP and coordinator of the firm's workplace training practice. Mr. Lotito commented that even though organizations are routinely being sued by their employees, many still provide little or no training to educate their workforce and reduce the likelihood of costly litigation. "The law is clear for most, if not all, employers," said Mr. Lotito. "There is a mandate to provide training for supervisors, and a strong incentive to train all employees, as well. Yet, many organizations remain unprepared to meet their compliance obligations. Moreover, those same organizations risk greater exposure to damaging litigation and costly settlements or verdicts by refusing to provide their managers the tools they need to avoid and resolve workplace disputes."

"Training is the law," commented Martin F. Payson, Jackson Lewis partner and co-coordinator of the firm's training practice. "This is both good news and bad news. It is good news since employers who comply will see fewer workplace disputes and a reduction in the number of claims they must defend. However, for employers who fail to comply, the law of training brings with it the potential for more plaintiffs and significantly higher damage awards. Though the California law says failure to train does not in itself give rise to a claim of employer wrongdoing, failing to take training obligations seriously may make employers more vulnerable to punitive damages."
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