How Training Can Prevent Claims of Harassment in the Dental Office

The U.S. Supreme Court views training, in addition to developing and implementing policies and procedures addressing discrimination/harassment, as part of an employer’s responsibility to exercise reasonable care to prevent harassment. See Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998).  The goal of such training is to keep employees out of trouble when it comes to harassment in the workplace.  The training, however, will also put the employees on notice and provide an affirmative defense for the practice.  To minimize litigation and liability, it is simply not enough to have a written policy and procedures.  You must actually (i) inform and educate your staff of the policy and procedures, and it is prudent  to (ii)  perform training annually on workplace harassment.

Most employers have developed and implemented policies and procedures regarding harassment in the workplace. But, employers rarely perform the necessary training required to adequately inform and educate their employees on these policies and procedures. Conducting such training is an important factor in minimizing litigation and liability involving harassment.

EEOC reports a continued rise in claims of discrimination, including harassment based upon sex, age, race, national origin, and religion. In general, there are ways to minimize claims of harassment. Developing and implementing a policy and corresponding procedures, regarding workplace harassment, and providing staff training, are certainly essential and the most direct ways to prevent and respond to harassment. Other preventative measures, a practice can implement, to minimize harassment in the office and the exposure that arises from claims of harassment, whether such claims can be substantiated or not, include: (i) implementing language in your practice’s policies to make it clear that discriminatory harassment and other related offenses are terminable offenses; (ii) obtaining employee acknowledgments from all new employees of harassment policies and procedures at orientation; (iii) redrafting employment applications to include certain related assurances that all applicants acknowledge and initial and; and most importantly (iv) ensuring prompt investigations and responses to harassment complaints, including that any wrongdoer misconduct is substantiated. Taking these preventative measures will not make a practice impervious to receiving and dealing with the harassment complaints. It simply places the practice in a better position to resolve any such issues.

The Specifics of Conducting Workplace Harassment Training

Conducting training on workplace harassment generally should take no more than two to three hours and could be conducted in a staff meeting that includes all employees. Such workplace harassment training should include: (i) the completion of an attendance sheet on which all staff members would sign as an acknowledgment of their attendance at the training; (ii) a review for all staff members of the sources of law/guidance and harassment definitions, prohibited behaviors, and other types of harassment; (iii) an explanation of staff members’ responsibilities related to workplace harassment, including their responsibility to report harassment; (iv) a review of the practice’s anti-harassment policy and procedures with all staff members, including what action to take when harassment occurs; and (vi) time for answering any questions. After the all-staff workplace harassment training, the remainder of the workplace harassment training would be geared towards management staff only, including the owing dentist(s), any associate dentist(s), office manager(s), and any other supervisory/management staff. The supervisory portion of the workplace harassment training would include additional sources of law/guidance, standards for employer liability, and the employers’ defense in harassment cases. At the conclusion of this training, and for any future new employees, an acknowledgement of the practice’s anti-harassment policy and procedures should be signed by all staff members. With the exception of new employees’ acknowledgments, the signing of this acknowledgment would include each staff member acknowledging and indicating that they are not aware of any facts or circumstances that would suggest any potential harassment occurring in the practice’s office as of the date of the training.