Last week I went to an “Anti-Harassment Training Class”. I’ve been a development manager for about 8 years now, and in the software business for longer than that, but this was the first course like it I had ever taken.
Why did I have to take it now? I’ve never been accused of harassing, and it is all basic common sense.
The reason I had to take it is because I work for a company that has deep pockets. When I worked for startups, the chances of being sued were low. Lawyers just don’t take cases where their chance of collect their paycheck is low. Further, public sentiment in trial is less likely to blame a company rather than an individual at a small company.
At the big companies, however, there is going to be a harassment case eventually. And when it happens, the company will get fined with some set of punitive damages. In order to minimize those damages during the punitive phase of the trial, the company needs to prove that it did everything it could to prevent this up front, and that it wasn’t the company’s fault (which is true). So, the company trains its employees.
Optimists may think that this training is about prevention of harassment rather than minimizing damages. But I don’t believe that for a few reasons. First, there is no correlation between training and avoidance of harassment charges. Unfortunately, even smart people that should know better sometimes go over the line and harass. But secondly, the fact that it’s only large companies that implement training shows that this is really about damage control than it is about prevention. If you’ve got assets and something to protect, implement anti-harassment training. If you don’t, you don’t. Third, if it were about prevention and not damages, why do lawyers end up collecting the majority of the punitive damages? Shouldn’t the money be spent either to compensate the victim or to prevent future incidents? In reality, it does not work out that way.
In my mind, this is just one more example of the many hidden costs created by our legal system. Anti-harassment training is not necessary for creating a positive work environment, and it a complete waste of time. But companies throughout the US are forced to spend billions of dollars annually on these programs, when instead they could be building real products and real customer value. Unfortuantely, in our times, a successful company needs to constantly be watching his back just in case the lawyer comes knocking. And you know he will. It’s so well known that these will come up that the cost of lawyers is now baked into our product prices and reflects all the way back to the customer. So, companies aren’t punished when these events occur. Instead, consumers just pay more in retail prices for lower quality products.
Lawyers are “Productivity Harassers”.