Human Resources

Will Your Training Hold Up in Court?

Training is often an important part of the defense in lawsuits.  But beware. EEOC and the courts are expecting more than just the simple act of training, says Attorney Philippe Weiss.  They are interested in the quality of the training—and the trainer—as well.

Courts (and opposing attorneys) will explore such things as the content of the training course, how much money is spent on training, and the trainer’s background and competency.

Weiss is managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work, a legal compliance training company associated with the Seyfarth Shaw law firm. His remarks originally appeared in the HR Manager’s Legal Reporter.

What Outsiders Want to See

Based on his conversations with the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and his experiences in court, says Weiss, outsiders want to see training that is:

  • Presented in a highly interactive and engaging manner
  • Built around the organization’s particular policies and practices
  • Developed with an understanding of adult learning theory (that is, the training includes interactive elements, visual stimulation, small group sessions, etc., and recognizes that participants can contribute their own knowledge to the training process)
  • If necessary, offered in a variety of formats (i.e., classroom and online) that allow for corporate-wide deployment of the material and concepts
  • If sourced from outside vendors, “approved” by EEOC. (EEOC “approval” is generally indirect, that is, implied by their actions in court cases, settlements, and other forums.)

A Presentation Is Not Training

To have training, you must have instruction and practice, says Weiss.  Simply showing a video or lecturing is not enough.  Practice is what makes it training. Training should be interactive. It should include role-plays, hypothetical scenarios, and exercises that allow participants to work together and on their own to come to the answer.

A Sense of Humor Helps

When training about harassment, discrimination, or diversity, for example, you are dealing with difficult issues that are emotionally loaded. It is often helpful to have an appropriate sense of fun and humor. Of course, you can’t go overboard making light of the situation, and you certainly can’t engage in the kind of humor you’re training against.

However, Weiss believes humor conveys the message that the participants are respected—that they have the ability to separate humor from the seriousness of the issues.  Furthermore, he adds, a relaxed audience will participate more.

Interactive Training Tips

Here are some Weiss’s dos and don’ts for trainers:


  • Practice your full presentation.
  • Dress properly (usually one step above the audience) and wear comfortable shoes.
  • Have high-level management introduce the training and participate in it.
  • Keep the number of participants to a manageable level.
  • Move participants to the front of the room.
  • Engage participants in activities from the moment they walk through the door.
  • Show them that you have completed the activities yourself.
  • Start sessions with low-risk activities such as simple pretests (with obvious answers), so that participants feel safe interacting.
  • Use name cards and tags to learn names and to personalize the experience.
  • Discuss from the insider’s perspective (say our policy, not your policy).
  • Talk about a noun; show a noun (if you tell participants to take out sample #1, hold the sample up).
  • Avoid legalese.
  • Turn your lectern into a plant stand (that is, get away from it—don’t read or lecture from it).


  • Look at your watch.
  • Use profanity.
  • Complain or be critical.
  • Use “OK” when you mean to praise; use a more positive response.
  • Sit, but don’t pace either.
  • Give out handouts before you have explained what to do with them.
  • Use AV equipment you don’t know how to operate.
  • Use negative body language like closed arms, crossed feet, hands in pockets, etc.