Employee Complaints: Employees Want To Be Heard. What’s Your Plan?

employee complaints

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.

The HR Impact of Gender Quotas on the Board of Directors

Whichever side of the line you stand on, everyone seems to agree that the new California Law requiring at least one board seat be filled by a female for publicly traded companies leaves a lot of room for debate and concern. In fact, Governor Jerry Brown wrote in his signing statement for SB 826, “I don’t minimize the potential flaws that indeed may prove fatal to its ultimate implementation.”  And, as is often the case, it is likely that other states will follow. Although California is the first to have binding regulations, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Illinois and Colorado, and various municipal governments, including the city councils of both Philadelphia and New York, have already passed nonbinding resolutions aimed at increasing female representation on boards.

As with many new business-related laws that take effect, HR should take preemptive steps to determine the impact this may have on their organization. The California Chamber of Commerce has argued that the new policy, “violates constitutional prohibitions against discrimination”, and “prioritizes gender over other aspects of diversity such as race or ethnicity.” When these statements are made publicly, discrimination claims tend to rise.

In light of the potential stir that may arise from the search for a female to add to a board that is already in place, the possible unseating of a current Director, or the placement of a so-called “token female” on the board,  HR may want to proactively consider the following measures as a way to step up to the table and provide added value in the process.

Provide a summary of the potential impact the search for a female Board placement could have on the company. Suggested items to be covered:

  • Reminder that placement without prior communication could create an impression that the Board is simply filling a mandated requirement with the easiest or safest option.
  • Communications early on as to what the Board is searching for including qualifications, experience, strategic vision and leadership capabilities can clarify the company goals for the position and prevent the appearance of bias.
  • Positive communication within the company during the process can create excitement as the company moves toward increased diversity, and the impact that will ultimately have on the company.
  • Clarification on who will own the placement process will prevent duplicated efforts.

Provide a proposal of how HR could assist with creating a positive outlook, such as:

  • Providing staff communications on the search, and how the company is excited to embrace this new opportunity for balance in leadership.
  • Assist with initial search efforts and screening to allow the process to move forward in a timely manner.
  • Suggest that HR could provide guidance to the Board on how to document the process and decision as protective measures against discriminatory claims after the fact.

In the long run, a more diverse and balanced Board of Directors will likely have a positive impact on business performance and company culture. Taking the initiative to shine a positive light from the start can make the process better for everyone involved.

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

Ready to simplify your workplace investigations? Learn how at GoInvestiPro.com.

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

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.

Will There Be Over 90,000 Discrimination Charges Filed In 2017?

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently released the 2016 statistics for discrimination and harassment cases filed for the year, showing an increase for the second consecutive year. Discrimination charges were filed in 91,503 cases (29% being sex based claims).  The interesting point here is that the agency responded to over 585,000 calls and more than 160,000 inquiries in field offices. So how did the 745,000 complaints only turn onto 91,503 cases? Well, there were most certainly those complaints that did not meet the legal definition of discrimination or harassment. And then there were the ones that were dismissed due to the fact that the employer met the legal requirement of conducting a prompt and impartial investigation, and took appropriate action to ensure the improper behavior ceased. If one of your employees contacted the EEOC, would your company be one of the dismissed complaints or one of the over 90,000 per year that results in a legal claim?

Many employers still do not understand that when a complaint is received, conducting a proper investigation is your first and best defense. Historically over 50% of claims received by the EEOC are dismissed strictly on the basis of the employer having taken appropriate action.   Let’s face it, even if your company did not violate the law, the cost comes in proving that fact. Once the EEOC receives a complaint, if the employer did not investigate the situation properly, the claim progresses toward litigation. And litigation is very costly. Not just in fees, but in company morale, reputation and employee time. This is why you so often hear of companies settling the claims monetarily while insisting that they were not at fault.

In my blog post next week, I will review what happens once the EEOC receives a claim from an employee, and begin examining the process of an employer responding to a claim. We will look at the process when the employer conducted an investigation, and when they did not.

If you have specific points you would like covered or questions you would like answered, please add them in the comment session, and I will do my best to address them.

2016; An Example of Need for Harassment Prevention.

Looking back on 2016, I was saddened by the onslaught of news stories covering lawsuits and settlements related to sexual harassment and discrimination. Of course there were the big suits that received most of the media attention, Fox News, Chipotle Grill, Mc Donald’s Corp., etc.  But it seemed that the small to mid-sized companies were seeing an abundance of claims as well.  In July, USA Today released a report that 1 in 4 women have been subject to sexual harassment in the workplace at least once. And the Huffington Post stated that the number is actually 1 in 3 women, but let’s not forget the men. According to the EEOC, over 20% of the harassment claims filed include male victims. Sadly, just last week, CNN released an article titled, “The year in harassment: 2016 sunk lower than rock bottom”, based primarily on the increase of online harassment and cyber bullying. This is a very troubling trend and a clear sign we need to increase harassment prevention measures.

What I find interesting is the high percentage of employers that I talk to who state that their company has never had any type of complaint or any need to conduct a workplace investigation into the possibility of harassment or discrimination. Although this may be the case for tightly held small companies and family run businesses that have few employees, many of these are companies that have been in business 10 – 30 years, with 100 to 1000 employees. My conclusion, many companies are still burying their collective heads in the sand as to what goes on in their workplace and are avoiding conducting investigations in the hopes that a claim will not arise. Really? No improper jokes, pictures, or comments? No aggressive managers or disgruntled employees causing arguments or making others uncomfortable with the statements they make? No employees feeling overlooked for promotions or pay scales based on their gender, race or religious affiliations? No vendors making comments on how an employee dresses, using homophobic slurs or constantly asking out employees? Some companies are lucky. Most are not.

The majority of the companies I consult with and the HR professionals I talk with have their policies and harassment and discrimination training in place, but one important element is missing. If your company is not conducting an investigation every time they become aware harassment or discrimination may be taking place, they are missing out on an important prevention method. Statistics show that employers who conduct workplace investigations as a standard business process, see a steady reduction in the number of incidents and claims based on the employees knowing that they will be held accountable for their actions. It creates a culture where employees pause before they speak or act to ensure they are not out of line. And with the EEOC Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2017-2021 focusing on preventing systemic harassment, it’s time to get proactive.

If you have questions or concerns regarding conducting workplace investigations, getting executive buy- in, or how to change your process to a standard business function, please feel free to leave a comment or email me directly at Dana@GoInvestiPro.com.

EEOC to Focus on “Holistic Prevention Programs” to Prevent Harassment.

With the release of the EEOC Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) for 2017 – 2021, it is time to take a look at your Complaint, Investigation and Prevention processes and procedures. The SEP outlines the EEOC’s principal areas of focus for the next four years. According to the plan, the EEOC will increase efforts to ensure that employers implement processes that will serve as a deterrent to violations. Will your current processes meet that requirement?

In short, the EEOC wants to see that employers are taking steps to prevent harassment and discrimination, which most frequently are based on sex, race, disability, age, and national origin.

To assess your prevention program, ask the following 7 questions:

  1. How often are your employees being trained?
  2. Is your training current and relevant?
  3. Are your managers actively looking for signs of harassment and discrimination in the workplace?
  4. Are employees encouraged to bring their concerns forth, and provided a safe and comfortable means of doing so?
  5. Does the company have a standard business processes in place that will allow immediate response to complaints in order to determine if an investigation is necessary?
  6. Is your investigation process compliant, consistent and unbiased?
  7. Does your process include a plan for returning to work after an investigation without judgment or retaliation?

I am hopeful that you are taking a sigh of relief right now because your processes are buttoned up. But if not, it’s time to add this to your priority list. And remember, InvestiPro can help.      www.GoInvestiPro.com

 

You can review the entire EEOC Strategic Enforcement Plan at https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/plan/sep-2017.cfm, or read a simple overview provided by Fox Rothschild.