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

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