Harassment training expert Monica Ballard, president of Parallax Education in Marina del Rey, Calif., traces the roots of her specialized program “Shades of Harassment” to the Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill hearings in 1991.
At the time, a large advertising client being sued for sexual harassment could not find an appropriate training program for prevention and sought her advice. The available programs weren’t really geared for the workplace, Ballard says.
The 20 programs her firm has created since “have the learners all engaged in activity that is exactly like their work situation,” Ballard says. “We begin our programs not by lecturing at participants but by asking them what they already know is harassment.” Parallax clients have included Fortune 500 companies.
The Los Angeles Electrical Training Institute, a joint program of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) and the electrical workers’ union (IBEW) became clients in 2004 when California required new harassment prevention training for supervisors.
Both groups had been providing sexual-harassment training since the 1990s for their U.S. apprenticeship programs, says Todd Stafford, executive director of the joint electrical training alliance. And members can face consequences. One local, for example, has a posted policy that violators “will be disciplined.”
Ballard says the course links to a 1998 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that bolstered an employer’s “affirmative defense” in sexual harassment lawsuits if employees knew how to report an infraction but did not. Trainees are tested before and after the course, and the tests are kept on file for three years to prove that employees knew what they should do, Ballard says.
But legal scholars have recently criticized the ruling for shielding an employer while not addressing retaliation issues for victims or remedying a culture of harassment.
An executive of one California contractor and ENR survey respondent, who says he has investigated workplace harassment claims, adds that the firm’s 2,400 employees have taken the sexual harassment trainng, including Ballard’s courses, for more than a decade “whether required or not.” Training covers not just gender issues, but those affecting 13 “protected classes,” he says.
Ballard also has counseled California tradeswomen on responses to sexual harassment. “I heard stories not of the Harvey Weinstein sexual assault variety, but of boorish, ill-informed comments by male coworkers,” she says.
Advice included specific responses to comments such as “you’re taking money out of the hands of men trying to support families,” she says.
Ballard also holds workshops on complaint vetting, which many NECA and IBEW members have attended. “The myth that someone can make a false claim and a man’s career is destroyed is simply not accurate,” she says, noting that of about 600 cases in which she investigated charges or was an expert witness, “only a small handful have been completely bogus claims.”