Workplace investigations are always challenging, but remote workers create an interesting new challenge. But one that can be overcome.Continue reading
As business owners and HR professionals struggle to determine the new normal for their company and employees, we will collectively be leaning toward more automation like employee relations case management tools and online resources to get our day-to-day work done. Many, or even most, companies have implemented some form of HR technology in their list of tools, but generally, these tools relate to payroll, time management, and HRIS systems. In this time of layoffs, staggered rehiring, and remote workers becoming the majority, technology must also come into play for even the more people-facing functions. As you’ll see in our free employee’s guide “Plan to Return Employees to Work” 95% of HR professionals believe that How HR communicates with employees during the pandemic will have a direct impact on how effectively we will be able to return employees work, whatever that new work life looks like. Many of our current processes for ensuring employee needs and concerns are heard will not work effectively moving forward, and we need new methods now or risk losing employees and liability exposure for non-compliance.
If you haven’t yet read Josh Bersin’s newest report “Why HR Technology Matters Now More Than Ever” I would highly suggest it. In the report he states:
“When combined with the support of an expert partner, HR tech can transform a SMB. The right tools can help HR grow into a true strategic partner and help employee relations become more transparent. When a crisis hits, HR technology gives leaders the data, tools, and support they need to make decisions quickly.”
Although it is no surprise to HR that technology can streamline many processes and day-to-day functions, it isn’t often that HR tech companies talk about the importance of automating employee relations. Today’s technology options allow HR to retain the interpersonal relations, while still reducing time and ensuring consistency across the company. Let’s take a look at a serious employee relations issue, and how the scenario will play out both with and without technology.
Jane’s video call
An employee (Jane) just had a video call with her Supervisor (Sarah). During the call, Sarah’s husband entered the room and seemed to be getting something from the closet behind Sarah. Sarah asked Jane to hold on a couple of times over the course of about 5 minutes and put Jane on hold while she turned around and said something to her husband. This happened 4 or 5 times, and each time Sarah came back to the call she was giggling. The last time that Sarah asked Jane to hold on a moment, she forgot to mute the microphone and said some inappropriate things to her husband. When she returned, she realized that she had not been on mute and she said to Jane, “Oh you know, we’re typical newlyweds. Maybe we should continue the call later”. And the call was ended.
|Without Technology||With Technology|
|Jane was embarrassed and didn’t want to have to have any more conversations with her supervisor. But she didn’t think she had any choice.||Jane thought she should let someone know, so she had a decision to make. Should she report this through the employee concern line?|
|Jane decided that she would try to avoid video calls with her supervisor as much as possible. She told her supervisor that her laptop audio wasn’t working and asked if they could just do their updates by email.||Jane decided that she had to anonymously report her concerns about company video calls and asked that there be tighter rules put in place and conveyed to everyone using them. She hoped that the new rules would make her supervisor realize her error and be more careful.|
|Jane found that without these regular check-in discussions, she was missing out on critical information she needed to be successful in her job. She decided that it was time she considered a transfer to another department.||HR received the complaint, and decided not only to create a strong policy, but also to conduct some training for all staff using video calls. They also contacted Jane through the anonymous reply feature and thanked Jane for her suggestion. Jane felt good knowing she had done the right thing.|
|Within 8 weeks, Jane had heard of a similar position opening with another company and decided to leave her job.||When Jane’s supervisor attended the training and received the new policy, she considered the fact that maybe she had made a big mistake. She decided to ensure that her door was closed and locked during calls and began to approach video calls in a more professional manner.|
Using apps and software for employee communication, both the good and the bad is no longer nice to have, but something every company must have. I was recently on a webinar with Jason Averbook who very eloquently said, “We need to stop thinking the old world is coming back quickly. Stop waiting and do something.” with HR and managers must be prepared and equipped to handle these communications promptly and consistently to protect their organization. But even more importantly, this is critical to protecting the strong company culture that we have all worked so hard to establish and maintain.
If you are interested in learning more about the InvestiPro employee relations case management and investigation system schedule a brief 15-minute chat or a product demo below, or cruise around our website at investipro.com.
Race, age and sex discrimination • Wrongful termination • Retaliation • ADA accommodation violation • OSHA violations
These are just a few of the employee complaints that are increasing due to actions employers have and are taking since the COVID-19 Pandemic began. Let’s face it, we had to act fast based on Stay-at-Home mandates, and decisions were being made on the fly. Whether or not we followed our policies, this swift action is bound to have had an impact on employee perception.
According to a recently released SHRM article, “U.S. workers have filed about 5,000 coronavirus-related employee complaints of unsafe conditions and nearly 1,400 whistleblower complaints alleging they were fired or otherwise punished for raising coronavirus concerns.”
On May 7th, EEOC Chair Janet Dhillon made a public statement on preventing National Origin and Race Discrimination During the COVID-19 Outbreak due to an uptick in reports of mistreatment and harassment by Asian American workers.
And in a conversation with Joe Werner, Asst. Vice President at Nationwide Insurance, Joe stated that EPL policyholders and personnel attorneys are reporting higher than normal numbers of claims.
Worldwide, many of the activities we do as a regular part of life are now completely different than they were just a couple of months ago. Stress and anxiety are at a high level for many people. And the impact of the pandemic on our jobs and income in the future is unknown. So, it is critical that employers initiate and embrace discussions with employees about what is and is not working.
InvestiPro conducted a survey of over 9000 HR professionals in the U.S., and an astonishing 95% of them stated they believe that how HR communicates with employees right now will have a strong impact on how successful their company is at returning employees to work. And returning employees who are engaged and ready to work, whether it be from home or in the workplace, is critical to the recovery of our businesses and the economy as a whole.
Employees need to be heard. We can’t fix what we don’t know, so it is no longer enough to just assume employees will let you know when something isn’t working. It is up to HR and business leaders to provide a means for employees to bring forward their concerns and complaints. Now more than ever we need to encourage open and honest communication. Much of what is brought forth may be perception instead of reality, but perception can be just as damaging. And once we have a clear picture of how our employees feel, we can take the necessary steps to clear up misconceptions and remind our workers why they want to return to work.
Once employee concerns or complaints are received, it is crucial that they be addressed promptly. We don’t have all of the answers yet, and it is okay to admit that. But often, just knowing that they have been heard, and the matter will be addressed when appropriate, is all our employees need from us right now.
If you are looking for a way to receive, document, and resolve employee complaints and concerns in a fair and consistent manner and reduce the amount of time involved, InvestiPro can help. Learn more at Investipro.com.
In this post #MeToo Era, Executives and Board Members alike may be feeling that the Sexual Harassment crisis is under control and therefore it’s back to business as usual. After all, training has been done, policies have been updated, and employees are clearly aware of the reporting process and seriousness of sexual harassment claims. But in many cases, there are two important facts that are being overlooked.
- The standard workplace investigation process is still antiquated and inconsistent;
- Investigations are required for many things, not just sexual harassment.
The media made the need for investigations very clear for sexual harassment claims. HR needs to make the case for a better, more consistent and civil investigation process. But when it comes to communicating this need to the Executive Team or the Board of Directors in order to obtain budget and procedural buy-in, HR can often be at a loss for words.
Recently a blog post was posted by Corporate Board Member on the risks and benefits of conducting internal workplace investigations that did a brilliant job of making a clear picture of the reasons why the board should support a strong investigation process, and regular use of the process for everything from legal violations to company Code of Conduct and Policy violations. Here’s a quick summary of the most important key factors. But I highly recommend reading the entire article yourself. The Risks and Benefits of Internal Investigations.
- If handled properly, an internal investigation can prevent harm to the company.
- An internal investigation is not just an emergency tool. Rather, it is a way to proactively deal with issues of compliance before they fester.
- An investigation can aid in:
Putting the company ahead of the problem,
Preventing other occurrences of the same issue,
Sending a positive message to stakeholders,
Leading to a (relatively) pain-free resolution with the government or whistleblowers, and
Establishing good corporate governance in the post-Enron era.
- By conducting an investigation, the company demonstrates that it is taking the alleged wrongdoing seriously, and subsequent remediation demonstrates that it expects its employees hold themselves to higher standards by following all laws and company policies.
- Failing to investigate may lead to increased scrutiny by government investigators and will strengthen the government’s resolve and basis for imposing civil and criminal penalties.
When you’re ready to how an automated process can reduce liability and save time on every investigation, we’re here to help. www.investipro.com.
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.
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.
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 hr 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.
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.
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
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.
- Was the investigation process what you had expected from the beginning?
- At any point in the investigation did you feel disrespected, uncomfortable or unsafe?
- 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!
Join our CEO, Dana Barbato, as the guest of HR Happy Hour for this important and timely topic.
Dana shared some of the most important things to remember when carrying out effective investigations, and how modern technologies can assist HR leaders in creating the consistency needed to undertake the investigative process, and reach the best and most fair outcomes.
According to an article in Bloomberg Law, (Article: Surge in Outside Workplace Investigations in #MeToo Milieuir) there has been a surge in the number or workplace investigations being conducted by third-party investigators. Along with the high level, high dollar cases we read about in the news, these are the cases that are easily measurable. The article quotes Amy Oppenheimer, Law Offices of Amy Oppenheimer, as saying that “only about five out of 100 claims rise to a high level of seriousness.” So, what about the other 95%?
Employers are required to investigate all claims. But more than that, they must investigate any time they become aware that harassment, discrimination or bullying are taking place in the workplace. Even if no one has come forward to complain. At an average cost of $8,000 – $20,000 per investigation for outsourcing to an attorney or investigator, and an average of 1 investigation per 50 employees per year, an employer with 1000 employees could spend $200,000 per year on outsourcing their investigations. This sounds like a significant expense, until you consider the cost of a claim if one investigation is not handled properly.
Most HR professionals know the answer to this ongoing problem. Companies must have a consistent, compliant and thorough investigation process in place for conducting these investigations in-house. And when you ask them, the first response is that they do have a sound process in place. But when digging a bit further, the majority will say that the process is inconsistent as there are several people who conduct the investigations and they all have their own way of doing things. Or, that their process relies heavily on emails, hand-written notes, and questions that are developed on the fly. So we ask, “18-months from now when you get a notice from the EEOC or state employment agency, do you feel you could adequately defend the investigation you conducted?” The answer is generally not a feeling of confidence.
There is a better alternative available that makes it much easier to prove a consistent and complaint investigation process. InvestiPro, as mentioned in Bloomberg Law, is the first automated investigation solution. Schedule a demo and spend a few minutes learning how technology can help you have confidence in your workplace investigations.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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%.
- 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.
- 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.