The California JPIA Shares the Top Ten Mistakes Employers Make in Preventing and Responding to Harassment

At the 2023 California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) Risk Management Educational Forum, Employment Practices Manager Kelly Trainer Policky, who manages the Authority’s Employment Hotline, shared the top ten mistakes employers make in preventing and responding to harassment. While the session was not recorded, if you could not attend or would like a refresher, below are the Top Ten Mistakes Employers Make in Preventing and Responding to Harassment.

10. Training Only for Legal Compliance
Beyond the training mandated for supervisors (AB 1825), non-supervisors (SB 1343), and (most) local government officials (AB 1661) — and encouraged for bystanders (SB 1300) — Trainer Policky encouraged members to use training to foster cultural change and enhance empathy. She suggested in-person training tailored to public agencies, small-group roundtables, and training aligned with organizational roles and levels.

9. Poor Policy Drafting
Trainer Policky identified harassment prevention policies, which must comply with the Fair Employment regulations outlined in Cal. Code Regs. Title 2, section 11023(b), as a primary opportunity for improvement. She outlined factors to consider, dated provisions to reassess, and new provisions to add.

8. Ignoring Informal Complaints
As best practices for addressing informal complaints, Trainer Policky encouraged members to educate supervisors on potential issues, provide practical scenarios for guidance, and encourage open communication and immediate action.

7. Not Understanding Intersectionality
In terms of harassment and discrimination, Trainer Policky explained that intersectionality means that there are multiple grounds for discrimination or harassment that operate simultaneously and inseparably, historically called a “sex plus” claim. She recommended educating professionals and investigators to ensure holistic responses to employees’ concerns and incorporating intersectionality into diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging initiatives.

6. Focusing on the Alleged Harasser’s Intent
“But they didn’t mean to offend…” is a common defense for harassers who did not realize their conduct created a hostile work environment. Trainer Policky encouraged members to shift focus from intent to impact in deference to the reasonable victim standard and to train employees in effective communication and soft skills.

5. Failing to Address Abusive Conduct
Abusive conduct is a problem not only on its own but also as a precursor to workplace harassment and/or violence. Trainer Policky provided guidance on addressing such conduct through education, policies, and procedures.

4. Using Unqualified or Inexperienced Investigators
The California Civil Rights Department’s Harassment Prevention Guide says that investigators should be knowledgeable about laws and policies relating to harassment, investigative techniques relating to questioning witnesses, documenting interviews, and analyzing information. Trainer Policky added that both internal and external investigators should be qualified, independent, and free from bias.

3. Failing to Take Appropriate Corrective Action
Trainer Policky discussed how corrective actions such as training, counseling, discipline, and other responses can help member agencies meet their legal obligations to take reasonable steps to prevent and correct unlawful behavior. She emphasized the importance of identifying the root cause of issues and selecting corrective actions to deter future harassment.

2. Failing to Bring Closure to Involved Parties
Closing investigations—even with a simple message telling the complainant, accused, and witnesses that the investigation has concluded and thanking them for their cooperation—can reinforce organizational communication and transparency. Trainer Policky recommended providing clear, written notifications to all parties involved, addressing the outcome and any corrective actions taken. Following internal policies and MOU/CBA requirements ensures a consistent and fair approach to closure.

1. Failing to Hold Supervisors Accountable
Supervisors play a crucial role in maintaining a positive workplace culture. Trainer Policky noted that employers could empower supervisors to lead by example and contribute to a harassment-free environment by setting clear expectations, providing resources, and promptly addressing concerns.

Providing innovative risk management solutions for its public agency partners for more than 45 years, the California Joint Powers Insurance Authority (California JPIA) is one of the largest municipal self-insurance pools in the state, with more than 125 member cities and other governmental agencies. Members actively participate in shaping the organization to provide important coverage for their operations. The California JPIA provides innovative risk management solutions through a comprehensive portfolio of programs and services, including liability, workers’ compensation, pollution, property, and earthquake coverage, as well as extensive training and loss control services. For more information, please visit the California JPIA’s website at