Bystander Training in the Workplace

by Michelle Jacobsen, Esq., Director, Employment Law Services

Employment Law Advice and Representation,  Member Matters

Most employers recognize the importance of having anti-harassment policies and conducting annual training. However, few consider providing bystander training as part of their approach to maintaining a workplace culture that rejects harassment. Bystanders are typically defined as the individuals that witness harassment when it occurs or those that are made aware shortly after the fact that harassment has occurred.

In several recent high-profile harassment cases, victims reported that the harassing behavior frequently occurred in the presence of numerous witnesses. In many instances, the alleged harasser was notorious for engaging in unlawful and inappropriate behavior which had remained unchecked for years. It should be no surprise then that a recent SHRM poll showed 76 percent of victims did not report workplace harassment to their employers.

Effective bystander training provides employees with information about techniques they can use to safely de-escalate harassment, how employees should talk to the harassment victim, and how to follow reporting procedures for the organization. Bystander training can be incorporated as an essential part of an employer’s annual anti-harassment presentation. Employers will want to ensure their organizational culture protects workers that act to prevent harassment. Additionally, it will be important for employers to reinforce anti-retaliation policies to ensure workers feel safe coming forward with complaints.

Studies indicate bystander training effectively changed behaviors in military and academic settings and after attending training, participants report an increased likelihood to address and/or report incidents of harassment. Employers should remember that all of their employees can take an active role in preventing harassment since employees also have a vested interest in a harassment-free work environment.

If you’re interested in learning more about bystander training, please contact Employers Council’s Employment Law Services department.

About the author
Michelle Jacobsen, Esq., Director, Employment Law Services

Michelle Jacobsen is currently the Director of Employment Law Services in Employers Council’s Denver office. She was Director of the Southern Regional Office in Colorado Springs for four years and spent several years as a Staff Attorney in the Northern Colorado office. Michelle has worked as General Counsel for a large community bank and also as an investigator for the Wyoming Department of Labor Standards. Michelle earned her undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Wyoming and is licensed to practice law in Colorado and Wyoming. She holds a Senior Professional in Human Resources certification from HRCI and is a SHRM-Senior Certified Professional.