The 5 Best Reasons to Conduct HR Investigations May Surprise You

If you haven’t already read “The 5 Worst Reasons for Not Conducting HR Investigations”, you may want to start there. Sure, it’s fun to get a chuckle over other people’s excuses, until we realize how often investigations are being avoided. But investigations don’t have to be scary, chaotic or disruptive. As a 26-year HR Professional with a focus on employee relations, culture building and investigations, I can tell you from experience there are some positive outcomes in the workplace from employee investigations done right. So, I will share with you the Top 5, not from reading it somewhere, but from experience. It may surprise you to see that liability protections, financial savings and a reduction in turnover did not even make the top 5. That’s because when you start doing investigations well, those things will fix themselves.

Top 5 reasons to conduct employee investigations

  1. Managers become better managers when they know that there are standardized business processes in place that are followed regularly, and can make managing difficult employees easier.
  2. Employees who know that there is a respectful process in place for resolving workplace conflict, know what that process looks like, AND have seen it be used frequently to resolve issues with a positive outcome, are more engaged in their work.
  3. Complainers (or dramatizers as I like to call them) will begin to think twice when they come in to complain about every little thing when they know that HR will dig in to the details and they could be held accountable for spreading non-truths.
  4. When employees are trained on how to communicate better between themselves, and experience what a civil and respectful workplace looks like, they are more likely to address problems with each other first. And bystanders are more likely to get involved.
  5. When employees are confident that issues brought forward in good faith will be respectfully handled, without retaliation, unacceptable behaviors are brought forth much earlier allowing for simpler resolution with less impact to the workforce.

If you have questions about how this may work, situations that you think could have been resolved better and want to know how, or have seen a civil, respectful and consistent process not work, please comment and let me know. Let’s try to find a resolution together.

If it’s time to find a better way to handle HR investigations in your organization, learn what automation can do at goInvestiPro.com.

The 5 Worst Reasons for Not Conducting HR Investigations.

If you ask a CEO or HR professional if they conduct HR investigations, they will say “of course”. But when you dig in a bit further, all too often there is an “unless” statement. Here are some of the worst reasons that I have heard so far this year:

Of course we do investigations, unless….

 

  1. the owners tell us not to because they don’t want the story to get out and upset the workforce.

 

  1. it’s open enrollment. We have to prioritize and getting employees enrolled in benefits is more important.

 

  1. the complaint is about someone in the sales department. The culture with them is different, and the Director prefers to handle issues in his department himself.

 

  1. the HR manager is out. There is no one else trained to do investigations, so if she is out for more than a week, by the time she returns it is generally too late.

 

  1. it’s a situation that we think will open a whole can of worms. Let’s face it, there are some people who will not change their behavior and the company won’t discipline them, so it’s better to just leave it alone.

 

Conducting a thorough and unbiased workplace investigation is the single best way to protect the company from liability. Although some employers are still fearful that an investigation will increase potential liability, the statics show this to be untrue.

 

In most cases, employees know what is happening in the workplace long before management or HR. Not acting is a clear message to employees that that rules don’t apply to everyone, and civility in the workplace is not a company priority.

 

Send employees the right message by clearly communicating your investigation process to reduce fear and ensure accountability across the entire organization. Then, investigate every time a situation of improper behavior comes to light to earn trust within your workforce.

 

Want to simplify your workplace investigations?  Learn more at www.investipro.com.

Maggie’s Story

I recently had the pleasure to meet a wonderful woman who has spent the majority of her career putting programs and processes in place in higher education that allowed women an equal opportunity education. What I love about her story is the fact that an unlikely hero made a decision to stand up for her, and changed her career path as well as those of all the women in the company in which they worked. Maggie Annschild, Ph.D., thank you for sharing. Here’s her story.

That’s just how men were in the 60’s and 70’s (add 80’s and 90’s).  It was a different culture back then – you know – locker room stuff – how they were brought up.  You can’t fault them.”

Hearing several men in the last six months,  and sometimes their wives and daughters use this excuse for crude language and gestures – sexual harassment – , brought back a memory I’d like to share with you.

It was the 1960’s.  I was seventeen, starting my first job out of High School as a librarian for an Engineering Company in Minneapolis.  The youngest of the two hundred employees and certainly the most naïve, I was taken under the wings of the older secretaries and assistants, all of whom were women.  The building was divided into two sections; about fifty professionals and support staff on one side and about one hundred fifty assemblers on the other.  This production side was putting together tiny probes for the space program.  It was an exciting time for the United States and for this innovative startup company.

My job was to file all paperwork and keep track of all the technical books in the library as well as going to the University to get more books requested by the engineers and inventors.  All was going well until about six months into my job.  Like I’d done many times when I needed clerical supplies I entered the production side of the building to walk down a corridor to the supply cage at the end.  Standing by the window waiting for my order I suddenly felt a hand swat/grope my butt.  Without a second’s pause I pivoted on the ball of my foot and backhanded someone across the face.  That someone was Mr. S., the Vice President of Sales and Marketing.  Stunned, I walked as fast as I could past the curious, incredulous workers who had observed or heard the slap, and hid in the library.

Within ten minutes Mr. S’s administrative assistant was at my desk.  She could not believe what she had been told; that I had slapped her boss across the face in front of all the assemblers.  She said, “I like you but you have gone way out of line.  You’ve embarrassed a very important person and I’m afraid there is no saving your job.  You should have known better.  This is just how it is.  You have to learn to smile and pretend nothing is happening.”

The president’s secretary came next.   She said, “I really like you and would like to help you but this might be too serious.  I’ll talk to Dr. W. but he doesn’t like this kind of thing and I’m not sure I can save your job.”

I left at five o’clock, sneaking out the side door.  I was so confused, so scared, so embarrassed.  I slept little that night wondering how I’d find another job.

The next morning, I went in to work and was immediately called to the office of the head of HR, former military, buzz cut, never smiling, big guy.  He said he’d heard what had happened from several sources and he’d like to hear the story from me.  So I told him:  I was waiting in front of supply cage, a hand grabbed my butt; I pivoted and slapped not knowing who had done it.  A very short story.  He said he’d have to write a report but that this was too serious for him to make a decision.

About an hour later I was told to report to Mr. H’s office.   He was the Vice President and seemed to answer only to the President.  He said he’d heard the story that the whole company seemed to be telling but that he’d like to hear it from me.  I retold my very short story.  He said, “I believe you.  A hundred workers saw it.  I’ve listened to Mr. S. and I believe you.  I will tell Mr. S. that if he wants to save his position here, he needs to go to you and apologize, and the apology must be good enough, sincere enough, that you accept it.  When you tell me that has happened, this incident will be closed.

Back in my library, about two hours later Mr. S.came with hunched shoulders barely able to look at me, with his apology.  It included that he couldn’t afford to lose this position as he was Catholic and had eight children!  I still remember his three piece navy blue serge suit as he left with an accepted apology.

In the l960’s SOME MEN harassed, abused their power, and took advantage.

And in the 1960’s SOME MEN listened, investigated, believed, and defended the women brave enough to claim their space and dignity.

I can’t claim bravery as my reaction to being groped inappropriately was not premeditated.  I’m sure that instant slap was made possible by my Mother’s and teacher’s words, “Remember, no one touches you without your invitation.”

In looking back on this I marvel at Mr. H’s wisdom and leadership.  The Company and all the women who had warned me I’d be fired, and all the men who harassed those women would never be the same.  The climate had changed.  No tolerance for harassment was the new air we all breathed.  And all two hundred of us knew it at the same time and did our jobs with renewed appreciation of OUR company.

Can sexual harassment really be stopped? (Spoiler alert……It can!)

Let’s rewind the career of Harvey Weinstein to the 1980s.

Harvey and his brother, Bob, Weinstein were just beginning to make big strides with their company Miramax. At this point Harvey was afforded meetings young, early or pre-career actresses and movie business hopefuls. According to reports from past employees, Harvey became known for calling meetings in his hotel rooms where inappropriate comments and touching would often take place. Administrative employees were required to assist in the set up of these private meetings. Female employees began using the buddy system to avoid showing up at these meetings alone, or wearing parkas and other heavy layers of clothing to avoid being touched.

For these employees, silence was not only encouraged, but was required. This was the beginning of creating the machine that stroked his ego. It’s called SILENCE. If and when an employee decided not to keep quiet, the legal team was immediately called in, a cash settlement was made that was a lot of money for an early career worker who did not want her career ruined, and she would be forced to sign a confidentiality agreement.

How could the Harvey story have had different results?

Imagine if the early employees subjected to inappropriate comments had been empowered to come forward. They felt comfortable telling Harvey that he needed to refrain from using suggestive language in their presence and if it continued, they would simply leave the meeting. When the behavior continued, they knew they could report the incidents to Human Resources and be taken seriously. A respectful investigation process, which had been communicated to them in advance, would be conducted with no retaliation. Harvey would be held accountable for his actions, including steps to ensure that this did not happen again. Repeated behaviors would be subjected to more public scrutiny which could damage Harvey’s reputation as well as that of the company.

What would it have taken to make this possible?

As a society, we would have had to understand the lifelong impact that harassment has on people, both men and women, who are not only victims, but those who are aware of the incidents and are forced to keep quiet. Clear communication would have had to have taken place at every level of the company that sexual and other harassment simply would not be tolerated. Not just once, but often as a matter of general discussion. Employees would have to have been aware of the process to report and begin the investigation process, and that this is their right. A policy of “No retaliation” would have to have been stated and practiced. A respectful investigation process would have had to have been used each and every time for employees to develop trust in the process. Those found guilty of harassment would have to be held accountable.

Business leaders have a choice to make.

Since 1986, when the first three sexual harassment cases were upheld by the courts, followed by the most well-known Anita Hill case in 1991, companies have been taking position to protect themselves from liability in these claims including Employer Professional Liability insurance and periodic anti-harassment training. These measure, while potentially limiting exposure for the companies, have not resulted in prevention. Companies will not be protected until they begin protecting their employees. Employees will not be protected, until steps are taken to change behaviors in the workplace.

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When companies make a conscious choice to start talking openly about harassment, providing training to employees about how to deal with uncomfortable situation, help them find the words to speak up for themselves, promise no retaliation to those who come forward, ensure a respectful investigation process and hold offenders accountable, WE WILL SEE CHANGE.

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Accountability stops sexual harassment in the workplace before it starts.

New tools are being created to help executives and human resources professional make the needed changes.

We have a choice. We can stop harassment. Let’s start now.  There are tools that can help. www.investipro.com.

EEOC 2017 Litigation Data Shows Nearly $400M in Settlements.

On January 25th, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released their Fiscal Year 2017 Enforcement and Litigation Data Report. Although the numbers are a bit lower than in 2016, the message is still clear. Employers must put more effort into prevention.

The EEOC reported 695,000 complaints called in reporting discrimination of all kinds, including sexual harassment. But the top reported complaint continues to be retaliation after reporting a claim which totaled 48.8 % of all claims filed.  Keeping in mind that most of the claims called in, and those settled, were prior to the MeToo and Time’sUp movements, it is likely that the numbers will increase in 2018.

Six ways employers can best protect the company AND the employees.

  1. Change your open-door policy to an open communications policy. And start communicating.
  2. Change annual company harassment prevention training to shorter learning and messaging that is reviewed and discussed frequently in the workplace.
  3. Teach employees and managers how to communicate respectfully and comfortably about the difficult topics.
  4. Always investigate. Every time. Even if you are not sure if an incident rises to the level of breaking the law.
  5. Hold everyone accountable to the same set of rules. Civility plus accountability equals trust in the workplace.
  6. Commit to #NoRetaliation.

 

Not sure if your current investigation process is consistent, compliant and unbiased? InvestiPro can help! Request a demo at www.investipro.com.

Is it enough that your company has an open-door policy?

At almost every job I have ever had, I was told during orientation or in the handbook that HR (and in some cases, management) had an open-door policy. And yes, the policies that I wrote as an HR professional contained that verbiage as well. But what does it mean? As an employee, I suppose I thought that meant that I could come to HR or a manager at any time to talk about anything I thought they ought to know. Looking back at whether that made a difference in when or how I brought up issues in the workplace, or whether I chose to bring an issue forward at all, I truly don’t think it did. This caused me to consider what may have made a difference, and how I would change the policy going forward.

Opinions on the “Open-door Policy” have waivered back and forth over the years. For example, Forbes Magazine has published for open-door policies (forbes.com/4-reasons-you-need-an-open-door-policy) and against them (forbes.com/why-successful-leaders-dont-have-an-open-door-policy).  And both sides have good points. Open-door policies can reduce manager performance as some employees see this as enabling them to just come in and shoot the breeze whenever they see fit. However, the policies also allow employees to come forward when they have a suggestion or complaint that really needs to be heard.

When business professors James R. Detert (Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, Cornell University) and Amy Edmonson (Harvard Business School) set out to analyze the reasons behind fear of coming forward with information at work, their study found that having an open-door policy did not reduce the fear of coming forward. Why? Self-preservation. The professors explain:

“In our interviews, the perceived risks of speaking up felt very personal and immediate to employees, whereas the possible future benefit to the organization from sharing their ideas was uncertain. So people often instinctively played it safe by keeping quiet.”

It is time to ask ourselves if our open-door policies are enough to drive the type of change we need to see in our organizations. In my opinion, the answer is no. In our previous blog post (#noretaliation), we provide helpful hints for HR professionals and Managers, to encourage workers to come forward. We need to demonstrate and invite open communication and reiterate our policies that prevent retaliation when employees speak up.

At InvestiPro, we have chosen to move forward with three steps to help employees bring their voices forward.

  1. Our Code of Civility will be prominently posted in the office for all to see. It will define how we will treat each other, speak to each other and show respect to each other, in all levels of the company.
  2. Our open-door policy will be changed to an open-communications policy that will define how we approach each other in both positive and challenging situations, and will include strong statements against retaliation and accountability.
  3. We will provide training to employees on communication skills that will help build confidence in raising issues that drive toward a constructive outcome.

As with everything in business, we don’t always know the impact that changes will have in the long run. But we have to start somewhere, and I am feeling optimistic.

Hey CEO, are you confident in your harassment reporting process? #NoRetaliation

When asked about their current workplace investigation process, most CEOs will respond with, “HR has that under control.” To which I respond, “That’s good. When was the last time you talked with HR about it?” For those who responded that they have had a recent conversation, it generally went something like this:

(CEO) “Hi, I take it you have been hearing about all of the sexual harassment claims in the news.”

(HR) “Yes, I can’t believe that there is a new claim almost daily.”

(CEO) “Are you hearing anything from our employees.”

(HR) “Not really. A little joking around, but that’s it.”

(CEO) Okay, but we’re covered, right? I mean, do we have systems in place to handle this type of thing in case an employee complains?”

(HR) “Sure, but I will let you know if we get a complaint.”

(CEO) “Great. Keep up the good work.”

Has the CEO in this situation done enough to communicate just how important this matter is to the organization?  Not in my opinion, because the conversation doesn’t prompt any action toward driving change. I get it. These conversations are not comfortable and no one wants to bring up a potential problem. But early intervention can mean the difference between quietly and respectfully correcting a problem, and a very public lawsuit.  Here are 5 questions every CEO should be asking HR to begin the conversation and the road to prevention.

  1. What is our current process for handling sexual harassment misconduct?
  2. Is this process fully compliant with state and federal legal requirements?
  3. Are our employees familiar with the process and are they using it?
  4. Are we proving training and encouraging employees to come forward immediately with their concerns?
  5. How much of the HR budget is being put toward Sexual harassment prevention?

And then ask, “What can I do to support HR in preventing sexual harassment in our workplace?”

The common thread in the media news reports is that the victims did not report the incidents when they initially happened due to fear of retaliation. According to the EEOC, “…on average, anywhere from 87% to 94% of individuals did not file a formal complaint. Employees who experience harassment fail to report the behavior or to file a complaint because they anticipate and fear a number of reactions – disbelief of their claim; inaction on their claim; receipt of blame for causing the offending actions; social retaliation (including humiliation and ostracism); and professional retaliation, such as damage to their career and reputation. (EEOC Task Force Study on Harassment)

CEOs, executives, board members, managers and HR professionals, this can’t wait until tomorrow. Start the conversation today. #NoRetaliation

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It’s time for HR to take a Stand #NoRetaliation.

In this time of daily reports of long term patterns of sexual harassment in the workplace, I have spoken to many HR professionals who feel they are walking a tightrope. On one hand, they are in support of employees bringing forth harassment issues to be dealt with appropriately. And on the other, having several employees bringing forth complaints all at once is not good for the company culture or reputation. Not to mention the amount of time and effort it takes to conduct multiple workplace investigations all at the same time. So, most are remaining silent. They’re not supporting the #MeToo groups, nor are they initiating talks with managers and executives about bringing open discussion out to the workforce. As a professional who worked directly with employee relations and investigations for a couple of decades, it is my opinion that to make a real impact, not just in the media but inside our organizations large and small, it is time for HR to support protections for those who come forward in good faith to disbar their fears of reporting these incidents. #NoRetaliation.

As we all know, until an issue has been investigated, we really do not know what happened or whether a law or even a conduct violation has been committed. Often when conducting an investigation, the doors to frank conversations are opened, and issues can be resolved by just allowing an offended employee to be heard. And sometimes the actions are severe enough to warrant termination. But we can’t investigate until we know there are problems. And we won’t know there are problems until employees feel safe enough to talk about the issues. And employees won’t feel safe until HR takes a stand that any employee bringing up these issues or incidents in good faith will NOT face poor treatment, reduced promotional opportunities or lose their job. #NoRetaliation.

For many years, both women and men who have been subject to harassment on the job, have kept quiet. They have continued to work, in the job where the offense happened or another job. But the impact of the harassment does not go away. It festers. It impacts their daily work life and their ability to engage with their co-workers and managers. And when the employee does decide to come forward, it has historically been by filing a lawsuit. But that is beginning to change. As we have heard in the news, even just this week with the news of the firing of Matt Lauer of the Today show, employees are beginning got feel empowered to come forward, simply asking that the company take the right steps and hold these people accountable for their actions. The victimized employees generally keep the incident to themselves until something triggers them to come forward. HR can be that trigger.  HR needs to be that trigger in order to begin to see change. #NoRetaliation.

As the CEO of a company that provides an online platform for workplace investigations, I spend the majority of my work day talking with HR professionals about Sexual Harassment claims, reports, investigations and prevention methods. I am constantly surprised by the number of HR professionals that state there has never been any form of harassment in their workplace. Or that their company has never had the need to conduct an investigation. Sometimes these are companies with 100 employees and sometimes they are companies with several thousand employees. But recent statistics tell us that approximately 75% percent of women and 20 percent of men have experienced harassment on the job. And most incidents are never reported. Yes, some industries are more likely than others to have a high claim rate. But if you have employees, and you have no conversations with employees regarding potential harassment in the workplace, you are likely missing something. #No Retaliation.

You may be asking, “What can I do that will make a difference?” Join us in the movement for #NoRetaliation by taking the following steps:

Human Resources Professionals: Start spreading the word within your organization that you welcome open discussions about any potential harassment taking place. That employees at any level are encouraged to come forward and make a difference.  Work with your EAP to allow for private counseling or coaching on how to deal with past incidents. Put up posters, initiate a hotline or email reporting outlet, and add brief discussions into all staff meetings for a quick review of conduct expectations. Make clear statements about what harassment behaviors look like. Provide monthly discussion groups that brainstorm ways to prevent incorrect behaviors within the organization and allow for early intervention. And make it well know that you stand for #NoRetaliation.

Managers and Executives: Show in both your speech and actions that you support the company “Zero Tolerance for Harassment” policies and will hold people accountable for their actions. Partner with HR to actively develop a means of open communication that fits within your company culture. Provide opportunities for your direct reports to talk about what is and is not working in the workplace. Take action early when made aware of any misconduct. And make it well know that you stand for #NoRetaliation.

Employee: You must be willing to bring issues to management in order to stop harassing behaviors. This includes observances of others being harassed. You can encourage others to do the same. Remember, if you or another employee is being harassed, chances are that you are not the first or last. It is time take back our workplace and create a better work day for everyone. #No Retaliation.

I appreciate all of the victims out there that have come forward.

I appreciate all of the companies that have and are standing up to protect their workers from harassment.

I appreciate those who have admitted to their past poor conduct, are apologizing and getting help.

And I appreciate you for choosing to now be a part of the solution moving forward by encouraging open communication and reporting of harassment in the workplace with #NoRetaliation!

Sexual Harassment; the silent epidemic.

With as often as you hear of new sexual harassment cases in the news, you may wonder why I refer to Sexual Harassment as the silent epidemic. Unfortunately, the stories that make the news often leave the public feeling as though this only happens in big business and tv land. But the silent side of sexual harassment can, and is, happening throughout all industries, in all size companies across the US. The statistics provided by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) prove that fact. And it is time for employers to realize that this can be happening right under their noses, if they are not implementing policies and training to prevent it from happening.

On Sunday night, NBC Nightly News ran a story that revealed the true statistics, Continue reading

It’s HR Budget Planning Time!!!

Many of the HR professionals we talk to begin their budget planning for next year in September. And we want to help! We understand that projects such as budgeting, open enrollment, and performance reviews are time consuming. And the regular, everyday work performed by HR doesn’t stop when a project is due. Not to mention the employee relations issues that suddenly arise. So when it comes to writing a proposal for workplace investigation automation, we have done the work for you.

At InvestiPro, we know that the idea of conducting workplace investigations using automated technology is a new concept. And although you want it, it may be difficult to explain why to those with budget authority. So we have created a budget proposal template that you can use to explain the cost savings and liability protections associated with using InvestiPro.

Feel free to pass it directly on to your CFO, modify the template to meet your needs, or copy and paste the text into your company proposal template. This is not rocket science, but we hope that it saves you a lot of time, and frees you up to handle more pressing matters. And remember, if you have additional questions, were just a phone call away at 800-779-4062.

Simply download the free template below.
InvestiPro Project Proposal Template