Two years ago, I attended a Compliance and Ethics Academy in Chicago and was certified as a Compliance and Ethics Professional. Since then, I regularly review publications and articles about compliance systems throughout North America and am often struck by the consistent manner in which training requirements and initiatives impact workplaces when they are included as part of a compliance system. Recently I read an article by Raanon Gal that looked at what he called “the surprising side effects of AB 1825”. AB 1825 was a Californian regulation relating to sexual harassment that mandated biannual training for supervisors and managers. The author noted that although he viewed training as a “cornerstone of prevention efforts”, there had in fact been an increase in complaints of sexual harassment in to California’s Department of Fair Employment and Housing since AB 1825 became law in 2005.

Having worked at the Ontario Human Rights Commission during the time period when it launched major policies on family status, accessible education, and disability and the duty to accommodate, I did not find the increase in complaints to be surprising. Typically, the launch of a policy created an awareness of the responsibility to avoid inappropriate behaviour, but also the right not to tolerate it as well. Spikes in complaints relating to the ground of the policy released were par for the course.

In my own training practice clients sometimes tell me that they want to deliver training to their managers or staff because they have “had enough” of the complaints and want the bad behaviour in their workplace to stop. While I strongly believe that this is one potential outcome of well-delivered training, I often caution them that in the short term they might find a slight uptick in complaints.  This is not a bad thing, however, as what it likely means is that the training has uncovered bad behaviour within the organization. The complaints encourage the organization to investigate, to learn from their findings, and to craft outcomes that can help reduce bad behaviour in the long-term.

In Ontario, organizations have mandatory training requirements for their employees under both the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Occupational Health and Safety Act. These requirements are designed in part to inform employees of their rights under these pieces of legislation. It is important that employers recognize that this training might, at least in the short-term, lead employees to raise concerns about the workplace. Accordingly, employers should have a process in place that will allow them to hear and respond to these concerns internally. In doing so, they will ensure that complaints become opportunities for learnings that allow their workplaces to more closely align with their organizational mission and goals.