Sexual harassment training goes online, saves college time, money

by Beacon Staff • February 13, 2008

The change came about in order to lower cost to the college and increase convenience between department schedules.,Last semester, Emerson's human resources and affirmative action department replaced its required live sexual harassment seminar for faculty and staff with an online sexual harassment tutorial, officials said.

The change came about in order to lower cost to the college and increase convenience between department schedules.

Christine Hughes, vice president and general counsel for the college's administration and finance department, said the new online training cost Emerson more than $10,000.

However, Vice President of Public Affairs David Rosen said the switch was less expensive than previous seminars-lectures hosted by a lawyer and held up to 42 separate times to accommodate each faculty member.

Interpreters were also previously hired for Spanish-speaking employees.

Rosen said finding a better way to do such training was important because it prevents liability for the college in the event that an incident of harassment occurred within the ranks of faculty and staff.

"The motivation for doing this training is to improve the workplace and to make sure people understand the appropriate ways to behave," he said. "It is not generated by any specific incident of compliance at the college."

Brightline Compliance Inc., the course creator, has clients ranging from Eddie Bauer to the United Nations.

Georgetown University, New York University, the University of Nebraska Lincoln, and Yale University all use similar programs from the company, according to its Web site.

In an e-mail to The Beacon, Gwendolyn Bates, associate vice president of human resources and affirmative action, said more than half of Emerson's faculty and staff have completed the course. She said some faculty and staff members had difficulties logging into the course, and that the college worked with Brightline to remedy the issue.

Scott Fischer, chief operations officer for Brightline, said the online course gives participants a scenario and asks them to identify whether the workplace situation is appropriate or inappropriate.

Fischer said he feels the online training is more effective than a live seminar because users are forced to listen to the content in order to answer questions.

The online course also allows users to leave the tutorial and start back where they left off at another time.

"It is not lecture form where you fall asleep," Fischer said. "It is not just read the screen and take a quiz. It truly creates scenarios that most people can relate to."

One situation involves a group of employees listening to a co-worker telling an inappropriate sexual joke involving a wheelchair.

Some people in the room laugh, but the tutorial points out that others are offended by the joke.

Fischer said the course can be customized for colleges and other organizations. He said Emerson's tutorial references Massachusetts laws, and that the college was very specific about what they consider appropriate dating between faculty members.

In March 2007, The Beacon reported on the firing of an Aramark employee for sexually harassing dining hall patrons. That same month information arose that a candidate for dean of communications had been accused of sexual harassment in the past. The candidate was not chosen for the position.