Kara Hertzog is president of Innovative Employee Solutions, a nationwide provider of contingent workforce solutions. Views are the author's own.
The rise of the #MeToo movement in recent years has spurred long-overdue discussions about sexual harassment in statehouses and boardrooms around the country. These talks have included not only protections for workers, but also training to educate workforces about the laws and company conduct expectations.
Although many employers have provided sexual harassment training for years, a number of jurisdictions have enacted laws that require businesses to provide such training. Some require that training be conducted each year, and others pertain only to businesses with a certain number of employees.
What about contingent workers?
It's often unclear how these laws affect contract workers, which is no small matter. The number of gig workers is expected to rise to more than 86 million by 2027, according to Statista. That's more than half the projected workforce.
Contract workers often are treated differently than employees because they may have a different employer, work different hours or work in a different place. That's all standard practice. But when it comes to sexual harassment, all claims should be taken seriously and treated the same. Any claim involving contractors should be investigated just as thoroughly as a claim involving an employee.
In addition, some laws are beginning to provide clarity regarding contingent workers. New York state human rights human rights law, for example, now includes protections against sexual harassment for contractors, vendors, consultants and others.
And when it comes to sexual harassment training, contract workers should be included. If they have another employer, that agency can conduct the training, or the contracting company can handle it. My company, for example, uses an online training tool that is part of the onboarding process for contract workers in states with harassment training requirements. Workers are required to complete the training within their first 30 days of work, but getting it done on the first day is ideal.
It's also crucial to document that the training was completed, and ensure that workers understand its importance. Employers can make clear they don’t tolerate sexual harassment – a position that starts with leadership and culture at each company.
Get ready for regulations
Even if your state isn’t one that requires workers to complete training, employers -- including payroll and staffing firms -- should start researching management solutions now. There are three main methods of delivering a training program: in-person, online and self-paced.
In-person training. This offers perhaps the best environment because it helps generate a dialogue between participants and brings workers together. That being said, it’s impractical for many employers with a remote workforce or those with workers in several states.
Online or virtual training. This makes it easier to reach workers spread out over a large area and offers a cost-effective means to accomplish training goals in a reasonable time frame.
Self-paced training. This is offered by vendors but businesses also can create their own course and have it delivered through a learning management system provider. By integrating a self-paced program, you can track which employees have completed training requirements.
Payroll and staffing firms also should be sure to incorporate the cost of training contingent workers into client contracts. Costs associated with training include the price of the training tools themselves and paying workers for their time. Ensure these resources are in the budget so you’re not dealing with strained margins.
Sexual harassment laws continue to evolve, so it's important that employers are keeping abreast of the changes and ensuring all workers are educated. With a little upfront preparation, your organization can be more than ready when training becomes necessary for contract workers.