With a new initiative from the U.S. Department of Justice to combat sexual harassment in housing, it is more important than ever that landlords and property managers know the Fair Housing Act and state laws on the issue.
By John Triplett
The online training leader in the multifamily industry, Grace Hill, is offering free sexual harassment training for the property management industry to help with the new U.S. Justice Department initiative to combat sexual harassment in housing.
The Justice Department initiative “specifically seeks to increase the Department’s efforts to protect women from harassment by landlords, property managers, maintenance workers, security guards, and other employees and representatives of rental property owners,” according to a release.
The Justice Department settled over $1 million in housing sexual harassment so far in 2017
Since January of this year, the Civil Rights Division has filed or settled five cases and recovered over $1 million for victims of sexual harassment in housing.
“No woman should be made to feel unsafe in her own home,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John M. Gore of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in the release. “The Justice Department is committed to vigorously enforcing the Fair Housing Act’s ban on sexual harassment and is looking forward to working closely with state and local partners to combat this problem.”
Dru Armstrong, CEO of Grace Hill, said in an interview with Rental Housing Journal that it is important to provide tools that managers and employees need to navigate the sexual harassment laws and changes going on today.
“We’re very focused on ultimately helping employers and employees create an ethical culture, and a welcoming workplace. I think one of the key ways that you do that, is by empowering your employees with knowledge, and understanding of what those laws are, and how to act appropriately in a situation, which is exactly what our courses do.”
The free course can be accessed here online. Anyone in some type of role in an apartment community, whether landlord, a property manager, maintenance person or anyone can go in and look at the course, even though their manager may not have told them to, or hasn’t instructed them to.
Armstrong said, “I felt very strongly that given our leadership position, it made complete sense to make this course as widely available as possible.
“If folks felt like they needed to better arm themselves in order to stay in adherence with the laws, and behave appropriately on site, then we should absolutely do that. I think it’s really powerful when training is effective, everyone wins, because you’re helping both the employer, and the employee create a welcoming workplace, and I think that’s what, at the end of the day, compliance training, and sexual harassment training is all about,” Armstrong said.
“It covers all of the basic federal laws that anyone needs to know, and the great thing about our courseware is, not only does it teach you the law, but it allows you to practice applying that, and then actually tests you to see whether or not you’d successfully been able to apply those principles. You want people to feel prepared when they actually go on-site, and are in those situations real time,” Armstrong said.
“We’ve actually written scenario-based assessment questions based on real case law. Often times you’re answering a question that a real court decided, and so it can be hard.
“That’s the whole point of training people, and using online training, so people can keep going back to the materials, keep accessing, and I think nothing is more powerful than when a learner raises their hand, and says, “I want to go take this course, because I want to feel more prepared, so I can be successful at my job,” Armstrong told Rental Housing Journal.
“That is exactly why we made it free on Visto, so that anyone in our industry that feels like, “Wow, there’s a lot happening in sexual harassment today, I want to make sure that I’m really on the right side of the law,” can go do that right now, and start practicing, and feel equipped to be successful on site,” Armstrong said.
Do people understand Fair Housing covers sexual harassment?
“I think that when they hear that it’s a law in general, they tune out,” Armstrong said. “When in reality, fair housing, and sexual harassment, and on-site discrimination, really at the end of the day, it’s a very simple idea.
“The idea is that every prospect, every employee, every resident, should feel welcome on-site, and should feel comfortable. Once you understand some of the core principles of the law, which is what our courses teach, then it makes a lot more sense that fair housing would cover sexual harassment,” she said.
Leasing agents can be on the front line with potential tenants
“Often you’re trying to do your job. You’re trying to be successful at your job, and yet you’re in an uncomfortable situation, and the question is, how do you handle that?
“The reason why it’s so important that we made sexual harassment training available to our industry, is you want everyone to go on-site ready to do their job, armed and prepared, and not have to worry about:
- What are the sexual harassment laws?
- What are the fair housing laws?
- How do I handle these situations?
One of the things that we work really closely with our clients on, is putting their own courseware in the system that goes even further.
“Policies and procedures are really important when it comes to something like that, and so I think any time a client asks me, “How can I really manage my risk?” I say, “Well number one, you gotta train people on an annual basis, on all the core compliance topics, so that they’re ready, willing, and prepared to perform, but number two, you guys need really great policies, and procedures in training on those, to make sure that your team members know at your company, how to navigate that.” That’s something else that we talk a lot about with our clients.”
Launching a California-specific sexual harassment course
“This month we are relaunching our California specific sexual harassment course, so all of our corporate clients have access to that. I think one of the interesting things, is California really does have almost a higher standard. And that’s important, because we know how large California is, and how many apartment communities are in California.
“One thing that’s critical is, that everyone in this industry – if they are on properties in California or have properties in California – that they are also adhering to those laws because there are additional requirements specific to California sexual harassment laws. For example, one of the core areas is, you need to have a designated person at your company that people can ask California sexual harassment questions of.
“We’ve found that our clients really like combining our online courseware with some of our features, so that they can designate specific people in the system to respond to that specific requirement. It takes some of that burden off of them. It is important that everyone realize that they’re not just federal laws, but also state laws, that they need to be in adherence with.
“We are hosting a webinar in mid-December on the big California sexual harassment update that’s coming out, and some of the ways that the law has changed,” she said.
What type of sexual harassment happens most often in multifamily?
“We have so many leasing consultants that come into our industry. They find themselves on a career path, which is one of the things that I love most about this industry.
“This is often the first time someone is working in our industry on a property. Trying to navigate how to manage residents, how to manage prospects, and trying to understand how to navigate all those situations, can be very challenging.
“What we hear most often from our clients is, ‘How do we successfully onboard people into these roles, so that on day one they get it, and really understand how it works in housing and that they can actually apply it. That they can handle a potentially gray area when it comes to sexual harassment or to disability.”
“One of the things that we work really hard on is translating complicated laws into short compliance courses that are interactive. Grace Hill’s interactive courses allow people to apply the laws that they’ve learned, and then feel empowered to go out on site and be successful and navigate any of these situations that are not necessarily intuitive. It’s very much, ‘How do we quickly get people up to speed on all of the different regulations?’ I think in particular fair housing, and obviously sexual harassment is part of that.
“California, in my tenure at Grace Hill, has had a number of major changes. And so for us, not only do we stay on top of the federal law, but we spend a lot of time thinking about California, because we have many clients with communities there, and we have many learners on-site there. We want to make sure that they are able to follow those laws, and that our broader learning platform helps them from an operational side, manage some of those requirements.
“For example, they’re able to take our California sexual harassment course, and build their own version of it, where they designate who their corporate representative is that should receive all the sexual harassment questions, and actually receive that through the platform, right? We try to give them not just a technology solution from really great online training materials, but a way to manage staying in compliance with those laws as well.”
About Grace Hill:
Grace Hill is the market leader in compliance, and specifically sexual harassment training for the property management industry, is responsible for helping learners have the tools that they need in order to navigate the sexual harassment laws. We’re very focused on ultimately helping employers, and employees create an ethical culture, and a welcoming workplace, and I think one of the key ways that you do that, is by empowering your employees with knowledge, and understanding of what those laws are, and how to act appropriately in situation, which is exactly what our courses do.