Ask An HR Expert: Bystander Intervention Training

Today’s question has to do with sexual harassment.

Hi! I am Katie Stewart with Tandem HR. Thank you for joining me for another episode of Ask an HR Expert. Today’s question has to do with sexual harassment and bystander intervention training. People are asking, with today’s workforce climate and how it’s changing and the media surrounding the topic of sexual harassment, is there anything we should be changing as far as the training of our employees and managers?

First, I’d like to address the topic of under-reporting. Only 30% of those that experience some sort of sexual harassment in the workplace actual report the incident to a manager, union rep, or someone else in authority. That means a whopping 70% of individuals experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace are not even reporting it.

This tells me that the current training programs aren’t cutting it. The traditional programs may be fine in providing the basics like defining sexual harassment, listing actions to be taken when you do experience it, and what the law says about it, but it isn’t getting to the root of the problem. We need to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace.

My suggestion is to take a different approach. Instead of taking a reactive approach to sexual harassment in the workplace, we start being proactive. We need to focus on changing the cultural mindset of our employees.

Bystander Intervention Training.

I’d like to introduce Bystander Intervention Training. You may have heard of this before. It’s been long used for preventing sexual violence crimes in non-profit organizations, universities, schools – and has been very successful. There are a lot of scholars encouraging businesses to take this same concept and apply it to their organizations for the prevention of sexual harassment.

The most important concept here the training disseminates the responsibility of ridding the workplace of sexual harassment to all employees in the organization. In order to accomplish this, you need to give your employees the tools they need to intervene and the confidence to feel safe in doing so in these types of situations.

Here are the 4 D’s to Bystander Intervention Training.

Direct – Directly intervene.

Walk right up and interrupt the situation that is occurring. Call out the situation directly. This can be scary and there are some steps of precaution one would need to take during this approach. Alternatively, if the situation is ending or over you can directly address the situation with the harasser or the victim right afterward.

Distract – If you do not feel comfortable directly confronting the situation, then make up a distraction.

Spill your cup of coffee, interrupt with a question or anything else that feels most natural to the current setting. After that, you can address the situation with the harasser or victim afterward.

Delegate – Delegate to someone in authority to do something about it.

This could mean a direct supervisor, a manager, or human resources. These are the types of situations that human resource professionals are prepared to handle. They investigate the situation, have the difficult conversations and hopefully prevent it from happening again in the future.

Document – Document who, what, when, where and how.

This doesn’t mean that you’re creating a file to get someone in trouble. But we all know that if we are asked specific questions about a situation it is really hard to come up with the details after time has gone by. Ask me what I had for lunch last Tuesday – I have no idea! So, if you witness a situation, write down the details that you can remember at that time. Then you approach the victim and let them know what you witnessed. Tell them that you wrote down what you saw. Ask if they’d like to have a copy of it or if they want you to go to human resources with it. Ask – is there anything I can do to support you in this situation?

A couple of other tips:

  • Make sure you are training your employees seriously and often. In the past, it has been typical to train once every 2 years, except in states that require it more often. I would recommend that you do some sort of training every year. If you do traditional training every other year then do the bystander intervention training the other years.
  • Promote more women. This is not my own personal opinion. Harvard Business Review has continuously found that organizations that have women in leadership positions, more natural experience less sexual harassment in the workplace. Look at the individuals in your workplace. How are you picking those that should be promoted? Put a plan in place to promote high performing females.
  • Really encourage employees to report incidents. Consider expanding your options on who they can report to. Many policies say to report it to the CEO, or HR, or your direct manager. What if an individual isn’t comfortable talking to any of those people? Consider who, in your organization, is a trusted individual. Someone easy to talk to. Give them the tools to be able to handle situations and then allow people to report to that trusted individual.

I hope you learned a few tips today and will consider introducing Bystander Intervention Training in your workplace. Thank you for joining me for Ask an HR Expert.


Tandem HR

Tandem HR is an IRS certified professional employer organization (PEO), assisting small and mid-sized organization with custom HR solutions to fit their culture and remain compliant. More information can be found at or call us at 630.928.0510.