In February 2017, eight months before #MeToo went viral, a former senior engineer at Uber, Susan Fowler, published a blog alleging rampant sexual harassment, retaliation, and discrimination (here’s a timeline to refresh your memory). Following an extensive investigation including hundreds of interviews, former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and his colleagues at Covington & Burling issued a list of recommendations aimed at changing the company’s culture and practices. While Uber’s transgressions were severe, they are not alone. The headlines of the past year indicate that many organizations are still at risk and in need of transformation. What lessons can be learned and how must organizations respond?
Tracking Employee Issues Is A Must
The Holder Report states that “Uber should ensure that it has appropriate tools, including complaint tracking software, to keep better track of complaints, personnel records, and employee data. For example, if a complaint is substantiated but results in discipline other than termination of employment, relevant stakeholders should be able to easily identify whether prior complaints have been lodged to ensure that appropriate action is taken with respect to repeat offenders. Likewise, senior managers should be able to track whether certain organizations or managers give rise to multiple complaints such that intervention with the manager is needed.”
All organizations must heed this advice. Given today’s technology this seems basic, but 25% of organizations do nothing or use standard offices tools (Excel or database tools) which are completely ineffective for providing metrics and insights regarding patterns of employee behavior. Another 25% use HR information systems or generic case management systems, which are great for tracking benefits and payroll, but not employee relations issues. To address employee issues properly, HR needs to easily see a complete history of the involved employees behavior. Therefore, organizations must implement an employee relations solution designed specifically to track and manage investigations – one dedicated to complaint tracking, with built-in, robust search capabilities, and powerful reporting tools.
Consistent Investigation Processes and Protocols are Essential
The Holder Report advises that “Human Resources personnel must be trained on the effective handling of complaints, including the proper and thorough investigation of complaints of harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, as well as the appropriate documentation of investigations and record-keeping.” The Report also recommends establishing “protocols with respect to escalating complaints that require investigation. There should be clear guidelines for managers and Human Resources Business Partners so that it is clear to everyone when a complaint should be further investigated and addressed …”
While training and establishing protocols for escalation are important components of the investigation process, much of what is learned is lost in a fairly short amount of time. Therefore it is critical that organizations adopt consistent and required process around the investigation itself to ensure it is conducted in a thorough and fair manner. One powerful way to do this is with interview protocols, explaining how the investigation will be conducted to illustrate that such matters are taken seriously. Protocols also provide clarity and set expectations for both the investigator and involved employees during an investigation. While an employee may not always like the outcome of an issue, if they feel they’ve been heard and treated fairly, they are much more accepting of the outcome (and less likely to post a Fowler-like blog).
Why Risk Waiting?
Employees are seeking out organizations that are committed to changing the norms of workplace behavior, holding employees accountable for their behavior and creating safe, healthy work environments. Organizations looking to do what is right to protect their people and mitigate risk must act on the Holder Report’s recommendations by making them an integral part of their HR strategy. Their organization’s future success just might depend on it.