State Employees Now Must Take Annual Workplace Harassment Prevention Training

The Arizona Department of Administration announced it will require all state employees to take an annual workplace harassment prevention training.
It doesn't matter if they're brand new or if they've worked for the state since the dawn of time: Starting next month, Arizona is introducing an annual workplace harassment prevention training for all state employees.

Employees will have to take a 30-minute training on the computer between January 2, 2018, and March 30, 2018. They'll also have to retake the training every year.

Example slides from the training require participants to identify situations of inappropriate office conduct, such as an employee repeatedly asking a colleague out on a date.

Another example asks the participant what they would do if they overheard colleagues making jokes at another employee's expense. In the scenario, two employees mock a colleague who is originally from Poland because of his accent.

State lawmakers, however, are exempt from the training as members of the legislature. That means Representative Don Shooter of Yuma would be exempt from the lessons.

Multiple women have voiced sexual harassment allegations against the Republican. He has been suspended from his chairmanship of a committee but has not resigned from office despite calls for him to step down.

State Human Resources Director Elizabeth Alvarado-Thorson said that the new training was in development this summer, before women and men began to publicly share experiences of sexual harassment and assault, often related to their job, during the nationwide #MeToo movement.

Nevertheless, the state’s top HR official acknowledged that the timing for the new training is right.

“We really know and acknowledge that there’s this increased public attention around the topic of harassment,” she said in a media briefing on Wednesday. “[With] what’s happening in Hollywood and elsewhere, we believed it was an ideal time for us to increase state employees’ awareness around the serious nature of this issue.”

Although they are rolling out this new training, Alvarado-Thorson said her office hasn’t received an increase in the number of workplace harassment complaints.

The state’s workplace harassment prevention training falls under the state’s standards of conduct rule that requires all employees to comply with all federal and state nondiscrimination law and to “be courteous, considerate, and prompt in interactions with and serving the public and other employees.”

The new training builds on an existing standards of conduct training required for new employees. However, all employees will have to take the new training starting next month, and will repeat the training every year after that.

Alvarado-Thorson explained that the idea is to remind “long-tenured employees here who don’t even remember their new employee orientation program” of the standards of conduct and workplace harassment prevention.

She said, “We encourage every single employee to promptly bring any allegation of discrimination or harassment or retaliation to the attention of their supervisor or their manager, their in-house human resources professional, the agency director.”

Alvarado-Thorson added that if employees believe that a reporting avenue isn’t open to them at their state workplace or they aren’t satisfied with the outcome, they can always go to the Department of Administration’s human resources division. 

According to Alvarado-Thorson, there should be no additional cost to the state for this training, since employees will take the short 30-minute training at work.

click to enlarge The Arizona State Capitol. - SEAN HOLSTEGE
The Arizona State Capitol.
Sean Holstege

When asked about the scope of harassment in state government, Alvarado-Thorson said that in any type of work environment — including Arizona state agencies, which employ over 33,000 people — there will always be issues of workplace harassment.

However, she emphasized that harassment and retaliation is taken extremely seriously.

“Any employees who engage in unlawful activity are really, at the highest level, subject to disciplinary action — up to and including dismissal and separation from state employment,” she said.