Danny Boice on Further Protecting Your Business to Prevent Harassment Claims
My name is Danny Boice and I am Trustify's Co-Founder and CEO. Today, I’m going to tackle Further Protecting Your Business to Prevent Harassment Claims as part of our Truth & Trust Lifecycle Series.
Further Protecting Your Business
Beyond this foundational starting place of creating the right culture, there are tactical steps you need to take to prevent harassment claims from happening in the first place. It’s time that companies got serious about revisiting their workplace rules and regulations around sexual harassment or any kind of harassment. Hopefully, your company has these regulations in place.
We put everyone we hire through a sexual harassment training as part of their on-boarding. In our case, we consider this extremely important since our employees are talking to customers who are possibly being abused, in some type of domestic violence situation, or even in human trafficking situations. We also deal with adoption and birth parent reunification cases. In each case, our employees must be aware of a massive amount of sensitivities. For example, they need to know that they should never say the phrase “given up for adoption” to someone who is adopted. That would be extremely offensive, for good reason. Instead, they should learn to say, “placed for adoption.” Of course, most people would not think about something like this because “given up for adoption” is part of our vernacular. In the same way, your company has to consider the particular sensitivities with which you are dealing.
Part of our training for employees explains “people first” language. A lot of young news people have to learn this too. In this language, you do not say “disabled” or “handicapped,” but you say “there is a person with a disability.” I don’t like calling anyone a “former convict” or “former inmate.” It’s really a social justice issue for me. I believe we need to think about the person first and then their situation. For us, this translates as training employees not to say, “You’re an adoptee.” Yes, they were adopted at some point, but that should not be how they are identified as a person.
If you do a simple search for “people first training,” you’ll have immediate access to guidelines. This will also help you and your employees talk about culture. For us, being sure to prevent claims later down the road means building awareness upfront, even by inviting experts to give training. We have the head of the largest non-profit for domestic violence in DC come in and talk about how to know when someone is experiencing domestic abuse over the phone. We have an adoption expert come in and train on the proper use of language to describe adoption related matters. Some companies might see this as going above and beyond; we see it as a necessity for prevention.
We want all of our employees to be fully prepared and know what is expected of them. They need tools to do their job respectfully and in a way that aligns with our mission, values, and culture. After we give this training, then we go back to the understanding that every employee is an adult. We help them make their bed, but then they have to sleep in it. You have to figure out what this balance looks like for your company. What do you need to provide to employees, and where should you communicate their own level of ownership?
Despite all of our efforts to train and set the right culture from day one, we have had two employees make fraudulent claims against us in the past two years. One claimed a human rights violation against us and tried to keep taking us to court, but we have fought it every time because the claim is egregious. He claims he is mentally disabled and that we discriminated against him. Another was fired for cause. We caught her red-handed, trying to steal customer files and case details. We literally took her computer mid Dropbox transfer. Even though we let her go politely, her mom is a lawyer and we got a complaint filed against us that says we fired her for protected union activity. Her mom claimed she was trying to organize the workforce, and that’s why we fired her. Thankfully, the National Labor Board took our side and thought the claim was ridiculous.
The point is that people, no matter what, will be angry. No matter how much you do upfront, some people are still going to be vindictive. And everyone’s got an uncle or a mother who’s a lawyer. These days, it’s too easy to file frivolous suits or complaints. You have to be ready to protect yourself.
One simple way to do that is to backup all of your emails, IMs, and other documents to maintain the record. These days, this is easier and cheaper to do than ever before. You could use something like Google apps, which is completely cloud based. You don’t have to actually go install your own servers anywhere or hire people to manage them. Pay ten bucks a month per employee, and get each of your employees set up with Google apps for business. If you want to be old school for some reason and run your own physical servers, you’ll need to create a robust backup plan. You’ll need to have backups off-site, and everything will need to be syndicated. You’d need to be a really big company and have a really compelling reason to go that far.
PI vs. HR
One thing you will want to consider is what an outside investigator can bring to the table that an HR person does not in the case of a harassment claim. For one, a PI is not going to have a bias. If you’re an HR person at a company, you’re inherently going to be at least a little biased. There will be at least a little persuasion present, even if everyone is trying to refrain from it. On the other hand, PIs have often been police detectives or had experience investigating fresh cases. They have to get ramped up quickly while remaining independent and objective.
A PI’s focus is on where he or she will look. They’ll have a sense for it because they are able to be objective and because they’ve done the work before. Perhaps they were a gumshoe detective on a police force, or perhaps they were a cyber contractor for the FBI busting child porn rings online. These are the best of the best—people who have been doing the work for a very long time. You just can’t beat that experience.
When you’re dealing with a sexual harassment case, it’s critical to have someone who can come in, look someone in the eye, and know if they’re lying. It’s critical to have someone who knows what rocks to flip over and knows the process to find the truth by getting answers out of people and following the trail. Unlike the HR person, the PI doesn’t have to work at your company after they’re done their work. They have no ulterior motives; they just want the truth. If you want to go about finding that truth in a way that’s believable, trustworthy, and admissible in court, there’s no better option than a PI.
HR people are not only going to be biased but are likely out of their depth in these cases. It’s highly unlikely an HR person has been a police detective before. Perhaps they got a degree in Communications, Organization Management, or Organizational Psychology. Their talents are going to have a very important place in the company, but not when it comes to investigative work. An HR person is focused on making employees happy, structuring the organization, benefits, and compliance. But their role should have some limitations. They should play to their strengths.