What internal reporting mechanisms do I need to have regarding harassment and discrimination?

Posted: December 5, 2019

Companies are usually aware that they need to have internal reporting mechanisms in place for employees to report activities such as discriminatory conduct, unwanted sexual harassment, or actions that are retaliatory.  These reporting procedures need to include a person responsible for looking into the reports so that they are taken seriously, promptly investigated, and, if found to be credible, that steps are taken to end the improper and potentially unlawful actions.

In a values-based company, policies are implemented that describe other behaviors, attitudes and actions that are expected in addition to meeting quotas and other measurable metrics.  Teamwork, positivity, problem solving, accountability, and other values are also stressed and expected.  Company managers cannot be everywhere and cannot know if all employees are embodying the company values or if, conversely, employees are acting directly contrary to the expected values-based behaviors.

For this reason, values-based companies should implement reporting mechanisms so that employees have a communication line to report both the positive, expected behavior so it can be rewarded and acknowledged, and the negative, toxic and harmful attitudes and actions the company is trying to eliminate.  In either case, reports should require specificity including exactly what occurred and when it occurred.

We have been raised in a world where “tattling” is considered to be improper and taboo.  However, generally those who consider valid reporting lines to be “tattling” are those who are violating the company’s expectations and are those on whom reports should be filed.  How otherwise would people like Harvey Weinstein get away with such egregious behavior time and time again?  Those people make the honest citizens feel cowed when doing the right thing. Employees need to know what is acceptable and expected and to feel safe reporting violations of the company’s values, even when the violators are top executives.

That “top performing” sales representative who chews sales assistants for breakfast should be able to be called out by the assistant on his disrespect, condescension, disregard, and contempt by having a way to report the improper conduct to Human Resources as violations of company policy, let alone proper standards of human decency.  But, as Human Resources is well aware, the recipient of the reports needs to truly investigate the complaints and review them with an open mind.  Too often employees file complaints against their managers (“he’s harassing me,” “he’s bulling me,”) to cover up their own lack of performance when they see a performance meeting on the horizon.  Investigators should not make up their minds about a complaint received until both sides have been spoken with and the complaint investigated.

Employment counsel can help ensure the company has implemented proper policies and best practices to help their values-based environment flourish.