Mark Roehling, Michigan State University

The Questionable Embrace of the “Sexual Harassment Training is Not Effective” Narrative
Mark Roehling


Winter 2023
Lecture Time: 
Friday, January 27, 2023 - 1:30pm to 3:00pm
Lecture Location: 

R0220, Ross building

Introduced By: 
Devin Kilpatrick


Although training alone is unlikely to prevent or correct workplace sexual harassment, research provides substantial evidence that training can be effective in achieving a number of specific outcomes that are both important to sexual harassment prevention and have legal relevance. Despite this growing body of research, the broad claim that there is little or no evidence that sexual harassment training is effective persists among many legal scholars and some social science researchers. This broad claim is part of a long-standing, institutional theory-based narrative that most employers are merely interested in symbolic compliance with sexual harassment law, and symbolic compliance is sufficient to provide employers effective protection against negative legal outcomes. This presentation will draw on social science research, an analysis of current U.S. sexual harassment law, and the content analysis of recent consent judgments mandating defendant-employers provide sexual harassment training, to rebut the above-described narrative. A conceptual model of the paths by which training can be expected to promote procedural fairness and significantly impact law-related outcomes (e.g., legal claiming, litigation success/failure) by positively affecting trainees’ sexually harassment-related knowledge, skills, and behaviors will be proposed. I conclude that: 1) merely symbolic compliance provides employers relatively little protection from negative law-related outcomes, and 2) there is still a need for U.S. sexual harassment law to be more fully informed by social science theory and research. Specific suggestions for aligning the legal standard for what constitutes “reasonable care” to prevent or correct sexual harassment with available evidence- based knowledge will be proposed.

Recording & Additional Notes

Mark V. Roehling is a Professor in the School of Human Resource and Labor Relations at Michigan State University. He received his Ph.D. in Human Resource Management (HRM) from the Broad School of Management, Michigan State University, and his law degree from the
University of Michigan. His research focuses on interdisciplinary studies in HRM and the law, examining the fairness and effectiveness of HRM policies and practice from both behavioral science and legal perspectives. His work has appeared in leading academic journals (e.g.,
Personnel Psychology, Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Vocational Behavior, Harvard Business Review, Human Resource Management, Journal of Business Ethics) and the popular press (e.g., The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Forbes, Psychology Today, CBS News, National Public Radio, BBC News). Prior to entering academics, he was a practicing lawyer in the area of employment law.