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!

Can’t We Have Consistency, Compliance AND Compassion?

An article posted yesterday in the SHRM HR Daily Newsletter, took a stand that in HR matters,  “Consistency Might Not Be Worth the Cost.” Although I understand that no two situations are exactly the same, and careful consideration of all the factors should drive reasonable outcomes, taking out the need for consistency seems a bit like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

For literally decades, employment attorneys have been driving into the heads of HR professionals that consistent compliance is everything. Why? Because defending a discrimination, harassment or retaliation claim is extremely difficult when there is no fair and consistent process in place. How can you prove that treatment is unbiased? And liability protection is a big part of the HR function. But I agree, it is not everything.

The dangers of having a culture where it’s okay to decide on an individual basis what is acceptable or allowed and what is not, are more about the impact on culture than about liability. HR professionals and managers are human. And quite frankly, the concern is about leaving the door open to favoritism and unconscious biased based decisions.

The good news is, in this case, you can have it all! You can implement a consistent compliant process that uses organizational beliefs, core values and standards as measurables to determine outcomes. It’s about implementing a consistent, transparent process that is the right fit for your culture and can clearly define and document why and how decisions are made. It doesn’t have to mean the same decision every time. But it does have to mean using the same process to come to the right decision every time, and documenting how that is done.

The benefits of using a consistent, complaint and compassionate process

A consistent, compliant process for handling and/or investigating a situation or incident allows employees to see that:

  • the organization cares about how all people are treated in the workplace.
  • A predictable and transparent process means that employees will be treated fairly and with respect, no matter what the outcome.
  • their voices matter and there are means to begin conversations on things that are not working before they become big issues.

Once employees understand and trust the consistent processes, they will use them earlier and more frequently to resolve issues resulting in:

  • quicker and more respectful resolution to problems large and small.
  • increase in team work efficiencies and enjoyment.
  • peer to peer resolution through more open communication.
  • reduction in fear of bringing issues to the forefront.

Let’s face it, employees who feel they are treated fairly in opportunities, valued in their contribution, and respected in communication and treatment thrive in the work environment.  It is okay to be creative, open to new ideas and practices, but we don’t need to lose consistency in order to do it.

Do you know how your employees feel after an HR investigation?

This is a question we ask often, and it tends to take people by surprise. Why? Because they are not sure. After 25+ years of conducting HR investigations,  I understand the reasons why we don’t continue to talk with employees after an investigation is complete. It’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. Or is it?

As HR is finding new focus on strengthening company culture as a strategic step toward more effective recruiting, retention, engagement and employee development, we are finding new and better ways of receiving feedback from employees on their total work experience. Unfortunately, this does not yet seem to have made its way to matters of accountability, investigations and discipline as discussed in The HR Happy Hour Podcast.

In our company, we talk to HR professionals about their investigation practices every day. And we see consistent patterns in the feedback we receive about the investigation process. But when we ask how employees feel after an investigation, there is often silence. Some will say, “Nobody feels good after an investigation”. We’ve even heard strong statements such as, “Just the word investigation makes our employees feel like criminals”. And there are those times we hear, “I think they feel okay about it”. But wouldn’t it be better to know how they feel rather than to guess?

Small Changes have a Big Affect

Bad feelings fester. It’s just part of being human. Think about how you feel after a conflict, argument, bad customer service experience or even simply being cut off in traffic. That anger and frustration carries with you for some time. Now think of the relief you feel when the person who cut you off waves and says sorry, or the sales person apologizes and says they didn’t mean to snap at you, they got stuck working a double shift and are just exhausted. This immediately changes how you feel about the incident.

Asking for feedback after an HR investigation does not need to be another big task on your list of things you simply don’t have time for. It can be as easy as creating a brief email template that you send out to every participant each time you complete an investigation. Here’s a sample you can use to get started.


HR Investigation Follow Up Sample Letter

Dear Sonya,

 I wanted to take a moment to thank you for participating in the investigation we just concluded because I understand it can be a  bit uncomfortable at times.  The process is here to ensure our workplace is fair, safe and respectful for everyone. So, if you could please take a moment to reply and respond to the three questions below, I would really appreciate your opinions. The information  will not be shared and will provide me with the insight needed to continue to refine and improve the investigation process moving forward. Thanks for your time.

  1. Was the investigation process what you had expected from the beginning? 
  2. At any point in the investigation did you feel disrespected, uncomfortable or unsafe? 
  3. Do you have any suggestions on how the investigation could have been a better experience for you?

If you would like to talk in person, please let me know and we can schedule a few minutes. Thank you again.


If you conduct post investigation feedback or have any questions on how this works, please comment below so we can all benefit from each other’s experience.

Did you know you can reduce time by up to 40% using an automated, consistent process?

Check out Investipro today!

 

5 Reasons We Don’t Need HR Investigation Software

There are several reasons why HR professionals say they don’t need an HR investigation software, but there are a few that I hear time and time again. You may even find yourself using one or more of the reasons below. And that’s understandable with all the new technologies entering the HR marketplace today. As a 25- year HR professional myself, I used to feel the same way. But before you reply on the same old responses, it may be worth looking a bit deeper.

Let’s look at the 5 reasons “why we don’t need HR investigation software” that I hear most often.

  1. We have a team of HR people who conduct our investigations. They all have experience and like to do things their own way. They’d be resistant to being told how to do their investigations.
    • Good HR investigators have developed special skills such as how to draw out information from someone who doesn’t want to talk. Or, how to know when someone is lying. But no matter how strong your investigators are, using different skills and techniques can result in challenges when it comes to proving that your investigation process (or processes) are consistent and unbiased.                                                                                                                                                                                                                          
  2. Every investigation is different and needs to be handled according to the situation. Investigation technology is too rigid to allow us to handle each investigation accordingly.
    • If you have ever had to defend your investigation process in response to a discrimination or harassment claim with the EEOC or a state agency, then you understand the fine line between having an effective, repeatable investigation process and using your process to obtain the information needed across all types of investigations. An automated investigation platform makes it easy to prove that a consistent process is used every time by not leaving any step to chance. For example, core questions are used to begin every interview ensuring an unbiased approach with every witness. While inserting clarifying questions based on responses allows you to dig in to obtain the responses you need to make a fair determination.
  3. Investigations are time consuming enough without complicating the process with pre-determined steps and requirements.
    • No matter how you conduct your investigations, the time required can be very taxing on your staff. And if you’re a solo HR practitioner, it can really impact your schedule. When asked approximately how many hours it takes to conduct an investigation, responses were all over the board. But one thing was very consistent. When asked to provide a time estimate that included preparing for the investigation, converting notes to readable testimony, and writing the final report, the time estimates almost always doubled. An automated process can be very simple to use and reduces redundant data entry, time spent creating notices to investigation participants, and final reports are generated for you, reducing time by up to 40%.
  4. We have an attorney who we consult with on our investigations, so we’re pretty sure that we can defend our determinations and practices.
    • It is always important to have good legal counsel to provide you with guidance on appropriate corrective actions, especially in the case of a termination resulting from an investigation. But your attorney cannot be there every step of the way during the investigation itself. If your attorney participates in conducting the investigation, he or she is not able to represent you should litigation ensue, due to the potential of being called as a material witness to the case. For that reason, automated investigation technology allows for your attorney to participate in an advisory role, while the technology itself provides the built-in compliance measures needed to protect you from exposure during every step of the investigation. Most attorneys appreciate the protections that technology provides for their clients.
  5. I understand the benefits from this type of technology and how it could be useful, but it’s not at the top of our priority list. We just don’t have a need for it yet.
    • The two items that are most often on the top of the HR priority list are talent acquisition and employee performance/engagement. And rightly so. When you are struggling to fill positions as we are in the current economy, productivity slows down making it of utmost importance to fill those open positions. Especially if current staff is not working to their fullest potential. But when you flip the coin and look at these issues from a proactive rather than reactive position, it becomes clear that cultural improvement through civility and communication can improve retention and build employee trust in their managers, peer and leaders. Studies show that employees who feel appreciated and respected, stay longer and work harder. These foundational begin with accountability for all staff, in all positions, throughout the company. And if waiting results in even one claim of harassment, discrimination or retaliation, hesitation can be very costly.

If you are ready to take a new look at how technology can standardize your investigation process, save you time and money, and ensure a consistent, defensible outcome to your investigations, schedule a demo at  https://investipro.com/get-started/.  

For more helpful tips follow the HR Investigator’s Blog.

HR Offense -vs- Defense. What’s Your Plan?

It still surprises me when I hear that employees have brought forth a complaint to HR or a company executive, and no investigation was conducted. Although the numbers are reducing over time, some organizations still believe that there is less liability in simply doing nothing. Then, if a claim arises, a quick settlement is the customary resolution. But where does this leave your company culture?

Although you may have a process in place, there must be a plan for actively using the process and communicating it to employees regularly to be effective. When reviewing your policy and process, is the strategy for Offense or Defense? When your favorite sports team takes the field, do you think they just run out on the playing field and start playing? Although that might be hysterical to watch, it would obviously be chaotic and inefficient. And for some of us, I understand that is how our investigation process feels at times. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Taking an Offensive stance can reduce time spent on investigations, reduce potential liability exposure, improve retention and strengthen company culture through accountability and trust. In the SHRM article, “New Tools Aid HR During Workplace Investigations” Aaron Crews, attorney and chief data analytics officer with Littler in Sacramento, CA, confirmed that, “After receiving a notification letter from the EEOC or a state agency that a claim has been lodged, companies can respond before the regulatory body proceeds with the claim. Historically the EEOC has dropped over 53% of claims made based on the employer having performed a prompt and impartial investigation based on a planned, consistent process.

We can provide information that further explains the benefits of an Offensive stance on unwanted workplace behaviors?  Follow our Blog, and we’ll send you a whitepaper that can help.

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.

Workplace Investigations Improve Company Culture. Really?

Over the last few months, I have been speaking at regional HR meetings on the topic of “Using Workplace Investigations to Drive Employee Engagement and Improve Company Culture. And although I hear some skepticism on how this could be possible, attendance has been at very high levels. When talking to the attendees, I am hearing that HR professionals are very interested in finding a better way to handle sticky and serious employee relations issues. But there are numerous reasons why we are still doing the same old thing.

  1. There is no time to spend on research and implementation of anything that is not a daily process.
  2. Although investigations are costly and time consuming, most HR departments do not have a budget set aside for employee relations.
  3. The limited training resources available on investigations don’t provide information that transfers over well to actually conducting the investigation.
  4. Owners and/or executives are under the impression that avoiding investigations creates less liability than exposing possible problems in the workplace.

Now consider this. What if a workplace investigation was simply another standard business process that HR used to talk with employees and gather information, in order to find out what is really happening in their organization so that improvements can be made? When you think about it, you are likely doing this to resolve issues that arise and improve communications and actions between employees anyway.

Recent surveys show that employees often don’t bring forth issues of discrimination, harassment and bullying because they either don’t believe anything will be done about it if they do, or that they will get blamed and be treated poorly or lose their job. HR must clearly communicate a new initiative to investigate all workplace challenges in the same manner, in order to create a great place to work for everyone. And then stand by that promise. The good news is, they don’t even have to be called investigations. Maybe the “Better Workday Project” would fit well into your company culture. When employees start to see a positive impact, they will get on board.

There are several benefits that come from using the same “investigation” process for all forms of workplace conflict.

  • Employees get comfortable with the process and open participation increases.
  • Employees begin to see that brining issues to HR really does lead to resolution and a better place to work.
  • The relationship between managers and HR becomes more interactive.
  • Studies show that employees that trust upper management and HR, and feel they are treated fairly, are more productive and engaged with their peers.
  • When the serious accusations arise, investigations are more productive, and employees are less fearful. After all, they usually know what is happening in the workforce before management or HR.
  • It is much easier to get owners and executives on board for the serious investigations, when they have seen improvement by investigating the smaller employer relations matters.

One step forward:

The next time an employee relations issue arises, take the time before you act to plan out a means to deal with the issue that implements the standard steps of an investigation. Then work through the steps methodically to see how this application could reduce time spent and make the process more calm and respectful.

Don’t have a streamlined, compliant investigation process in place? Get a little help from InvestiPro.

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Will Your Investigator Spill The Beans? A Lesson From The White House.

Whether it’s your VP of HR, a department manager or an outside investigator, can you be sure your workplace investigator won’t jeopardize the investigation by sharing too much information? We all believe that our people know better than to share the details of an investigation with anyone who does not have a business need to know. But sharing information at the wrong time, even with the right people, can still jeopardize the investigation.Continue reading

When HR Does Something Good “Just Because”.

In work, as in life, it is often the little things that matter. Let’s face it, life isn’t perfect. And although we all try not to bring our personal lives into the workplace, there are times when it just can’t be helped. As HR professionals, we are often aware of employee’s personal situations when no one else in the company knows. For privacy reasons, we are required to keep it that way. But it’s important to remember that while keeping the workplace fair and compliant, we can also help keep the workplace human and do something good.Continue reading