The Best Way to Avoid EEOC Claims

When a letter comes in the mail with a return address of the EEOC, I think we can all agree that it’s not likely to be good news. But there are a few changes that can be done to reduce or avoid EEOC claims all together. The EEOC  harassment task force spent a great deal of time and money to determine that it is all about accountability. Here are the top takeaways:

  1. Accountability must be demonstrated.
  2. An effective anti-harassment system that includes safe reporting, thorough investigation and proportionate corrective actions creates a cycle that reduces harassment.
  3. A trusted system drives earlier reporting for more effective resolution.

Consistent accountability across all levels of an organization is not going to magically fix all of your people-based challenges overnight. But with time, and consistent application of process, here are a few of the improvements you can expect.

Example: An employee feels as though he is spoken to disrespectfully by his manager based on his ethnicity.

Issue                                                       Before accountability             After accountability builds trust

Productivity EE feels that his work will be unfairly critiqued, and he has no hope for promotion. Why work hard or provide innovating ideas when he will likely be subject to humiliation in front of his peers? EE feels comfortable talking with HR and working to improve communications between he and his Manager. He begins to take pride in his  work again and hopes to grow within the company.
Disengagement EE doesn’t want to bring attention to himself or his work as the attention he gets always seems to be negative. So, he does a minimal amount of work, doesn’t take risks, ask questions or try to improve or speed up production. Once the EE feels better in his work environment, he generally wants to show appreciation by showing that he is a loyal employee, works hard and is a good candidate for future promotion.
Absenteeism Stress and depression from a hostile work situation often manifest in physical symptoms and depressed immune system functions that lead to an increase in the number of days calling in sick to work. Knowing that problems can and will be addressed respectfully and result in a positive outcome allows the employee to get up every morning feeling positive about going to work. He wants to be accountable to his peers.
Turnover EE feels that there is no way to fix the disrespect and unfair treatment in his job and the only choice he has is to leave. Along with the employee, skills and product knowledge go out the door. Research shows that employees who feel they are treated fairly and are given growth opportunities are almost 60% more likely to stay and move into the next level of job.
Recruiting EEs who leave their jobs often feel disgraced. This leaves them more likely to share the reason why they could not stay both in person and on social media. Potential employees read these reviews and are deterred from applying. Positive employee reviews generally don’t happen unless employees really enjoy their work, management and the company. High ratings increase the number of applicants received for open positions and make it easier to hire good candidates more quickly.

 

The Harassment Task Force put together a simple one-page Employer Checklist that I suggest every HR professional should go through twice. The first time as the HR resource in your company evaluating your harassment and discrimination complaint and prevention process. And the second time as an employee considering what you would answer if you had a complaint or witnessed unacceptable behavior. Then I challenge you to write down at least three things you can do to change the perception of the accountability process in the eyes of your employees. If you need help, read this post for a few suggestions. Every process has room for at least a little improvement.

Implement a compliant, consistent investigation process with InvestiPro!

Is Your Consistent HR Investigation Process Truly Consistent?

Go ahead and say it. “Every investigation is different.” I agree with you. Any two situations involving people will be different. People’s actions, emotions and beliefs, etc. are all over the board. But there is a difference between the outcome of an investigation and the process of an investigation. And the process can and needs to be consistent. Not just for liability protection, but for the people involved in the investigation. Let’s look at the legal reasons for consistency first. And then we will dive into the reasons why your people and culture depend on a consistent process.

 Liability 

The EEOC Preliminary FY 2018 Sexual Harassment Data states that the EEOC alone recovered nearly $70 Million for victims of sexual harassment. That’s up from $47.5 million in FY 2017. And that doesn’t include discrimination claims or claims made to state agencies. So, we know that the need for consistent, defensible investigations is increasing. In our discussions with thousands of HR professionals over the past 3 years, over 95% stated that their investigation process was not sufficiently consistent and could create liability exposure. A significant amount of that exposure is due to potential discrimination within the investigation process. In a recent article published by the American Bar Association,  “An Attorneys Guide to Workplace Investigations” the author stated that the investigator’s method of recording and memorializing witness interviews must be accurate, complete, unbiased and trustworthy. The following are two examples of where inconsistent interviews could lead to liability.

Examples

Example 1: An employee came to HR with information on an incident that took place between her and two female employees. The accused were interviewed by different managers because they work in separate locations. Both interviews began with a standard set of questions, but additional questions took completely different paths. Although it is encouraged to ask clarifying questions based on the responses to core questions, it is important that additional questions are not added to one interview based on the perceptions of the interviewer. The first accused was asked clarifying questions based on observances and recollection of facts that took place during the incident. The second accused was asked additional questions regarding her feelings toward the victim based on the interviewer’s perception of her sexual orientation. The first accused was not found to have violated company policy or law. The second accused was found to have violated company policy. She then filed a complaint of discrimination against because she was asked questions about her feelings toward the victim based on her perceived sexual orientation, when the other accused was not.

Example 2: Two witnesses to an incident that took place at a company-wide event were interviewed by two different managers. The recollection of what happened during the incident were completely different between the two.  The findings of the investigation were based on one of the witness testimonies, as the other witness was determined not to be credible. The findings were that the complaint was not substantiated based on witness testimony. The victim filed a complaint with the EEOC stating that there were two people that witnessed the incident and one confirmed her claim. When the EEOC reviewed the investigation file, their determination based on the interview notes was that one witness had been subject to bias according to the questions asked, tone of the questions, and the interviewer’s comments and judgements made during the interview. As such, the investigation may be deemed insufficient, negating the employers affirmative defense which allows an employer that exercised reasonable care to prevent and promptly correct harassment to rebut a harassment claim.

Impact on Culture

Although liability is a huge concern, the negative impact an inconsistent investigation process can and will have on company culture can be just as costly. When employees don’t feel as though they can trust the investigation process, that they will not be treated fairly and respectfully, or don’t think their complaint will be taken seriously, they do not come forward. Employee that feel they have been disrespected or treated improperly, carry these feeling with them. They fester, resulting in disengagement, increased absenteeism and often the employee will leave the company. But before they do, they will often spread the seed of ill will to others inside and outside of the company.

The EEOS Select Task Force Report  includes the following findings, that sum these situations up very clearly:

Ultimately, how an employee who reports harassment (either directly experienced or observed) fares under the employer’s process will depend on how management and its representatives act during the process. If the process does not work well, it can make the overall situation in the workplace worse. If one employee reports harassment and has a bad experience using the system, one can presume that the next employee who experiences harassment will think twice before doing the same. Finally, ensuring that the process that commences following a report is fair to an individual accused of harassment contributes to all employees’ faith in the system.

It is no longer enough to have a policy that is communicated to employees every year or so, some templates that are used by HR and managers when a complaint is filed, and hope all investigations are being conducted consistently. We all need to take steps to ensure a respectful, consistent and effective investigation process in order to build a trusting and civil workplace culture that drives positive change.

Let InvestiPro help change your employee’s perception of HR investigations. It’s as easy as:

You’ve got a problem. We’ve got a process. Let’s fix this together. See how it works.

Ford did their investigation, so what went wrong? Result: $10M Settlement.

When a company is in the news for paying out at large harassment discrimination settlement, the first thought is that they did not conduct an appropriate investigation. But that is not always the case. Last week the EEOC ended an investigation into claims of harassment by employees in two Ford facilities in the Chicago area. (https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/8-15-17.cfm) Based on the findings, Ford agreed to settle the claim for $10.125M in monetary relief to multiple female and African-American employees who had claimed sexual and racial harassment. Ford chose to voluntarily resolve this issue with the EEOC, without admission of liability, to avoid an extended dispute.

A spokesperson for Ford provided a statement that, “Ford does not tolerate harassment or discrimination of any kind; we are fully committed to a zero-tolerance, harassment-free work environment at all facilities and to ensuring that Ford’s work environment is consistent with our policies in that regard. Ford conducted a thorough investigation and took appropriate action, including disciplinary action up to and including dismissal for individuals who violated the company’s anti-harassment policy.” As such, it appears that they met the legal requirements. So that may have you wondering what went wrong.

It is simply not enough to conduct an investigation once an employee or group of employees comes to HR and files an official complaint. A company must be able to prove that their managers are trained regularly on what behaviors to look and listen for, in order to stop the behaviors before they become systemic or egregious. And take prompt action to investigate immediately at the first sign of a problem. It is equally important to ensure appropriate follow up post investigation to ensure the improper behaviors have stopped and no retaliation is taking place.

In the Ford Motors case, there was reasonable evidence that employees and managers were aware of the behaviors which were claimed to meet the definition of harassment, and that they did not address the issue in a timely manner. Their excuse was that no official complaint was made, even though there was open discussion by employees in the workplace, so no investigation was required. This resulted in the improper conduct continuing, and affecting more employees, until an actual complaint was filed. By the time a formal investigation was conducted, the EEOC found that the company had retaliated against employees who complained about the harassment or discrimination.

In addition to the $10 million to be distributed among the claimants, Ford will be under the scrutiny of the EEOC for a period of five years and will be required to report any employee complaints of harassment and/or related discrimination. They must also provide documentation that they are continuing to disseminate their anti-harassment and anti-discrimination policies and procedures to employees and new hires. And provide proof that they are constantly monitoring their workforce for issues of alleged sexual or racial harassment and related discrimination, to include monitoring by managers.

To prevent this from happening to your company, take the following steps:

 Institute a walking management policy. This type of policy requires all supervisory employees to spend a required amount of time each day observing and interacting with their workforce, and noting conversations and behaviors that may signal problems.

 Train supervisory, HR and executive employees on what signs to watch for. For example, the absence of conversation when managers walk in the room, changes in absentee patterns and physical rigidity or avoidance when interaction with a specific employee or employees are required.

 When it is noticed that an employee is acting differently, start a conversation. Even if it only includes small talk to begin with, it will increase the comfort level of the employee in coming forward with a complaint.

 Prove that the company/HR open door policy is effective by making it a priority to stop what you are doing to allow employees to come in and talk. It can be difficult for an employee to come forward, and if they are shut down on the first attempt they will generally not try again. Then follow up on the information you receive, even if there is no formal action to be taken.
For more tips and guidance on Investigations, sign up for the HR Investigator’s Blog and the Workplace Investigations Quarterly Newsletter at www.investipro.com.

KPMG Settles with the OFCCP to Pay $420K to Asian Applicants.

Last week, KPMG (one of the big four accounting and audit firms) agreed to pay $420,000 to 60 qualified Asian applicants who were allegedly not hired due to their race/ethnicity. The firm entered a conciliation agreement with the DOL/Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) after applicant and hiring data was found to have had a disparate impact on the hiring of Asians for the associate audit positions in the Short Hills, New Jersey location.  The settlement not only includes back wages and interest, but also allows class participants to be considered first for employment in open associate audit positions until six are hired or the list of interested class members is exhausted.

I have heard discussion that this is not a huge expense to such a large, world-wide company. And that is likely true. However, the bad publicity and continuing exposure due to the case will be far reaching. Not only is there bad press, but claims of this type will likely cause a significant reduction in the applicant pool for open positions at KPMG.  The cost of expanding the search for appropriate staff can be significant. In addition, the OFCCP is requiring the firm to revise their hiring practices, policies and procedures, and monitor the selection process through every step for every open recruitment to ensure selection procedures are not having an adverse impact. This information will need to be reported and provided for audit upon request. The legal defense fees alone, which have accumulated since the inception of this case in 2011, make this a very expensive oversight on the part of KPMG.

This settlement effectively closes the OFCCP investigation and claim. But there are still other means of punishment and restitution that may come for KPMG such as the claim of systemic gender pay disparity and promotion discrimination still pending in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.