It has been said that lasting change in employment discrimination can only come after training, but is it true? Employment discrimination laws are meant to guide and instruct employer and employee behaviors, but they often don’t prevent wrongdoing. Can discrimination and harassment prevent discriminatory acts from happening, and can it promote the changes needed once discrimination occurs?

 What is Discrimination and Harassment Training?

In 2013, the EEOC achieved the largest settlement award ever for 32 disabled employees filing a discrimination charge under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The settlement reached $240 million, with each employee receiving 7.5 million. The defending company, Texas-based Henry’s Turkey, suffered a considerable setback due to the litigation. On top of the settlement payment, the company was also ordered to implement new discrimination training and policy.

Doing so, in fact, is the EEOC’s usual practice when litigation goes in its favor. The idea is that, with training, some of the behaviors and policies that lead to costly discriminatory practices can be challenged, scrapped or improved so that the discrimination never reoccurs or presents similar problems down the line.

Some companies begin with discrimination training already in place. The training can serve to inform managers, supervisors and other works of the laws governing equality and diversity in the workplace as well as provide relevant guidance on company policy for handling violations and accepting grievances.

Often, one of the main issues with discrimination training is teaching company workers the right or best way to respond when complaints of discrimination arise. Such training serves to lead away from the typical litigation-inducing response – that of dismissive or inadequate reactions to discrimination complaints.

Preventing passivity among management concerning discrimination complaints partly explains why training is so crucial. Discrimination training can also have positive effects beyond this, however. For instance, it can increase company morale and the feeling of inclusiveness among workers which can lead to better communication and eventually prevent litigation costs.

The EEOC Offerings

The EEOC Performance and Accountability Report revealed that the national agency secured $525 million for victims of discrimination in 2015. The report also revealed that the agency has a significant impact in the employment sector with its outreach efforts, including training offered at no-cost to companies and businesses.

In fact, the EEOC runs a nation-wide Training Institute well-known for its one and two-day seminars, courses, and federal sector programs which offer facts, details and guidelines for abiding by employment discrimination laws. More than 12,000 individuals across the nation received training through the Institute in 2015.

What the Critics Have To Say

Theoretically, any training can help prevent and improve workplace dynamics, but critics of discrimination training say otherwise. In fact, research suggest that some types of harassment and discrimination training, particularly diversity training, may not work as well as other methods. These include formation of diversity committees and diversity staff positions.

While it’s true that training can help workers and managers stay abreast of changes and updates to employment discrimination laws, those who decry the benefits of the training think that it’s not an adequate remedy for the prevention of discriminatory acts or systemic discrimination. Both these types of EEOC charges are on the rise and projected to continue to increase in the years ahead.

Going Beyond D&H Training

Of course, the criticism against D&H training should not prevent companies and businesses from offering it for the well-being of their companies. Rather, such training could be crucial for avoiding litigation.

However, there are ways to avoid employment discrimination debacles beyond D&H training that may be even more effective. Creating an overall inclusive atmosphere that supports and encourages diversity in the workplace can help. At the same time, an employer’s efforts to discourage discrimination can be a significant factor in preventing litigation as well.

What’s the best way to discourage discrimination in the workplace? This may mean getting a solid policy in place that focuses on responding swiftly and effectively to discrimination of any kind. As many successful cases against respondents in employment discrimination show, dismissive and short-sighted reactions to discrimination can lead to costly and severely detrimental results, but if business leaders are routinely made aware of anti-discrimination policy, those results can be prevented.

Addressing Retaliation

As part of discrimination and litigation prevention, companies can take steps to prevent retaliation also. Federal and state employment discrimination laws prohibit retaliation against employees for reporting discrimination, filing a charge with the EEOC, or for participating in discrimination proceedings.

This means that an employee can and should be protected from retaliation once an EEOC complaint or charge is filed. Retaliation can be a serious problem among coworkers and supervisors if not checked from the start. Of all the EEOC charges filed in 2014, about 43 percent involved retaliation.

EEOC Best Practices and Guidelines

In addition to providing training opportunities, the EEOC website is an excellent resource for best practices and guidelines on employment discrimination laws. Employers are well advised to stay abreast of such publications and to apply the agency’s suggestions on a routine and regular basis.

Another excellent resource is the EEOC Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP). The EEOC uses this plan to focus its training efforts on key areas within employment discrimination law. These issues include eliminating barriers in recruitment and hiring, protecting immigrant, migrant, and other vulnerable workers, enforcing equal pay laws, preserving access to the legal system, preventing harassment through systemic enforcement and targeted outreach, and addressing emerging and developing issues based on significant events or demographic changes.

Can D&H Training Make a Difference?

Whether or not discrimination and harassment training can make a difference, it is crucial to a well-rounded approach to achieving a discrimination-free environment. Research, and common sense, suggests that employers may need to be prepared to go above and beyond merely training workers on effective ways to address and prevent discrimination, however.