Real Cost, Real Value: Harassment Prevention and DEI Training in Staffing

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When implemented thoughtfully and strategically, training programs focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the workplace create productive environments where employees can thrive. Failing at this effort, however, can be costly and detrimental to the future of your business.

In the current business climate—as employers and workers alike continue to navigate pandemic-induced and work-related stress—it has perhaps never been more important to enact purposeful agendas around workplace harass-ment prevention and diversity, equity, and inclusion. And because of their many touchpoints with clients and employees, staffing companies are in a particu¬larly unique position to effect significant and positive culture change. >>>

Staffing companies and other workforce solutions providers have long used training to meet compli¬ance requirements. When implemented thought¬fully, high-quality training programs can be vital and cost-effective tools for improving workplace culture while mitigating the significant risks this cultural moment carries. Harassment prevention training focuses on the difficult topics of sexual harassment, as well as other forms of harassment and discrimi¬nation. DEI training demonstrates how employees experience the workplace differently depending on their identities; how unconscious bias, microaggres¬sions, and other forms of exclusion cause harm; and how everyone can support DEI.

Combining these trainings can be powerful, addressing behavioral aspects related to basic respect, fairness, and inclusivity. But to be effective, they must be deeply engaging and should reinforce existing policies while providing practical tools for addressing issues that may arise.

Understanding Training’s True Cost

The true cost of harassment prevention and DEI training can be deceptive: It’s easy to focus on the price of obtaining the training, when in fact it is a small expense when measured against an organiza¬tion’s total costs.

The first hidden cost to consider is the opportu¬nity cost of employee training time. Having everyone in an organization complete training is inherently expensive. Staffing organizations are right to look for the highest quality training to ensure employees receive the greatest value and learning for time spent.

Added to this, the cost of training administration is another expense that’s easy to overlook. Staffing firms invest significant time and money keeping records of their high volume of temporary workers for completed trainings and managing annual and state-specific training for both employees and managers.

Harassment Prevention Training, Especially for Staffing Firms

The prevention of harassment—in all its forms—is a top priority of the staffing industry, and ASA is committed to helping staffing companies promote both a lawful and mutually beneficial relationship with workers placed on assignments with clients. Just like other types of employees, temporary employees are protected by employment laws including those pertaining to harassment.

ASA has partnered with Kantola Training Solutions to provide a cost-effective solution for the training needs of staffing companies. This product is easy to administer and keeps records for you, including mechanisms to track the time an employee spends on training so that you can track compensation time. Learn more at americanstaffing.net/harassmentprevention.

Accounting for Risk and Expense

There is, however, even more to the cost story around this training. From a risk management perspective, these prevention costs are easily offset against the real risks of harassment and discrimi¬nation, or the failure of a company’s DEI efforts. (There can also be a compliance component, depending on the state.)

Of course, harassment and discrimination can have a lasting, harmful impact on those who endure it, and that must be considered first and foremost when planning prevention efforts. Beyond that, companies must consider the impact of costly lawsuits or administrative proceedings, in which damages and penalties can be significant if you lose, and legal fees in the hundreds of thousands even if you win. For staffing companies, these risks can be significantly more complicated to address because harassment situations can arise at client companies over which the staffing company has limited control.

By adopting a comprehensive antiharassment policy and providing adequate training, staffing companies can demonstrate that they’ve made good faith efforts to prevent harassment. Training can even protect your organization from claims for punitive damages, according to Kevin O’Neill, a principal at the employment law firm Littler Mendelson PC.

“If you have done effective training,” says O’Neill, “it has been deemed through case law to be one of the strongest mitigating factors to avoid punitive damages exposure.” The quality of training can also mitigate a company’s risk. High-quality training “is a huge element of proof and effectiveness when you have to show that you have done all that you could to prevent and correct the harassment,” O’Neill explains.

Even more serious, however, are the indirect costs and risks that staffing companies can potentially suffer.

  • Employee attrition and lost productivity and morale. Employees who suffer harassment or an unfair environment are likely to leave, costing organizations, and the staffing companies that support them, billions of dollars annually. Even when employees don’t leave, failure to reckon with these issues can harm productivity and hamper innovation and collaboration.
  • Management and governance continuity risk. For years we’ve witnessed managers, executives, and board members resign for failing to respond effectively to harassment, or for themselves being accused of harassment, even at the highest levels of the organization. This trend is only continuing.
  • Reputation and brand risk. Stakeholders, as well as regulators and the media, have high expectations for companies to prevent harassment and discrimination and, increasingly, to demonstrate real improvements in DEI. No organization is exempt, which is why companies are retiring out-of-date and offensive brands despite massive costs.
  • Eroding customer and market position. Staffing companies that suffer reputational and brand damage can lose valuable customers and market positioning. The days when companies would remain neutral on these topics related to harassment are over-your employees, clients, and customers expect more.
  • Insurance costs and removal as a vendor. Failure can also lead to increased insurance costs, and to customers cutting off staffing organizations that are not addressing compliance requirements, ignoring DEI, and not taking steps toward supporting and nurturing a positive culture.

If you think spending four or five figures to obtain high-quality training is expensive, consider the costs of not advancing a workforce that is trained to support a safe and inclusive culture. To address this concern, online training has emerged as an option that delivers a consistent, convenient, and impactful experience. Though costing thousands of dollars or more depending on organization size, it is signifi¬cantly less than multilocation in-person training and is easier to administer, especially with the shift to remote work.

Making an Informed Selection

The bar for truly effective training programs is high. Content needs to be engaging, relatable, and meaningful, or employees will simply tune it out. Training that relies on stock videos and images not only isn’t compelling to today’s workforce, it may also trivialize important, sensitive issues and could actually worsen existing challenges.

Free or low-cost options can be appealing when budgets are tight. However, saving money in this way carries its own risks. Employees are increasingly vocal about negative training experiences relating to these issues, and companies can find themselves embroiled in social media crises simply by selecting a low-quality option.

Investing in high-quality, comprehensive training is about more than just reducing risk and liability. As Sarah Rowell, chief executive officer of Kantola Training Solutions, says: “It also has the ability to change behavior—if not that of an egregious harasser, then that of bystanders, managers, front¬line supervisors, or oblivious offenders.”

Courses that address cultural trends and engage learners in real-world experiences will prepare employees to identify and address work¬place issues. Immersive training that goes beyond checking boxes can change corporate culture and how employees experience the workplace, leading to real, lasting change. In this way, staffing compa-nies are not only creating a positive internal culture, they’re also advancing a fair, respectful, and inclu¬sive culture that will benefit their employees and clients.


Alex Miller, J.D., is a senior product manager at Kantola Training Solutions, where he oversees the development of best-in-class interactive video-based training programs. He began his career as an attorney representing employers in harassment, discrimination, and retaliation litigation.

As senior content manager at Kantola Training Solutions, Natasha Nicholson is responsible for thought leadership content strategy and development. Previously, she was the content and communication director at the International Association of Business Communicators.

This article was adapted from “Understanding the Costs of Harassment Prevention and DEI Training,” originally featured in the American Bar Association publication Business Law Today. Send feedback on this article to s******@americanstaffing.net. Engage with ASA on social media—go to americanstaffing.net/social.

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