Investigations of workplace harassment or sexism claims have intensified under ‘#MeToo scrutiny’ but that doesn’t guarantee they’re legitimate

Empty office coronavirus
  • There is no one standard way to conduct a workplace investigation, experts told Insider.
  • But generally, they must include an impartial investigator who interviews all parties involved, quickly secures all evidence and is able to reach “reasoned” conclusions.
  • The focus on workplace investigations heightened amid the #MeToo movement, urging boards of directors to better screen their companies and nonprofits for issues.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

The process is familiar: A complaint or allegation is lodged or publicized. Calls for action are made. The accused party makes a statement and announces plans to launch an investigation.

That was the case earlier this month when McDonald’s announced it would look into sexual harassment claims brought forward by its employees. And when the MLB released a statement saying it would investigate claims of inappropriate behavior by former Cleveland Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway. As well as when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo referred sexual harassment allegations brought against him by multiple women to the state’s attorney general.

These internal and third-party investigations are generally designed to determine the validity of serious allegations in the workplace.

But there are many ways they can be invalidated or illegitimized, according to employment law experts and workplace investigators. Some even say companies and organizations sometimes conduct sham investigations that might amount to nothing more than a PR stunt.

Here’s what we learned:

Most workplace issues don’t get reported because of fear of retaliation.

Oftentimes an investigation is launched when an employee contacts an HR rep or reports an allegation to management. That’s the case for about 90% of employers, according to Jared Pope, HR attorney and founder of Work Shield, an employer strategy company that conducts workplace investigations.

Still, about 75% of workplace issues don’t get reported because of a fear of retaliation or other negative repercussions, Pope told Insider.

“Members of management teams have an obligation to ensure that employee complaints are taken seriously and properly investigated to bring a halt to misconduct and apply appropriate remedies,” said Natalie Ivey CEO of HR development firm Results Performance Consulting and author of “How to Conduct Internal Investigations.”

Other times, investigations sprout after allegations arise in media reports, such as Insider’s report that found top male leadership at United Way had engaged in misogyny for decades.

“It’s a toss-up,” Pope told Insider. “Most issues don’t get reported due to fear and those that get covered in the media are those that were once raised to a supervisor, manager, or HR (human resources), but not acted upon or dealt with appropriately in a prompt and reasonable manner.”

Just “a fraction” of companies actually follow up on anonymous allegations, said Juliette Gust, president of Ethics Suite, a workplace misconduct reporting channel.

The goal of all investigations is to determine the credibility of misconduct claims. But credibility is hard to quantify and depends on a lot of factors like how public and exhaustive the results are, according to experts who spoke with Insider. And the investigation’s credibility also depends on whether companies and organizations take allegations seriously as soon as they are disclosed.

Additionally, employers and third-party investigators can often employ different protocols, leading to inconsistency in how investigations are carried out.

There is no one way to conduct an investigation.

But experts generally agree that a valid investigation must meet the following parameters:

  • There must be a known system in place that employees feel able to use to come forward with any allegations.
  • Investigators must quickly collect and preserve any physical and digital evidence that pertains to any allegations.
  • Investigators are expected to interview all complainant(s), witnesses, and subjects.
  • After collecting evidence, investigators must analyze it and reach reasoned conclusions.
  • The investigator must be impartial and well-trained.

“While there are no nation-wide codified standard practices governing how internal workplace investigations are conducted, there are standard practices,” said workplace investigator Lorene Schaefer.

Such standards often derive from guidance from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the agency that investigates workplace sex discrimination and retaliation.

For publicly traded companies, the Justice Department has a document outlining the steps to carry out a proper investigation, Gust of Ethics Suite said. Private companies, however, don’t have a single method to turn to. And variables like geographic areas and type of entities can also alter the course of an investigation and its results.

“So while there are some standards for preparation, collection and analysis of evidence, reaching conclusions and presenting findings – there are going to be some differences in how investigations are conducted even within different parts of the same organization because of those variables,” Ivey told Insider.

There’s an argument in favor of enforcing set standards to conduct an investigation. Pope, for example, said a standard “by which to judge others” would be helpful and a solid step in allowing “employee’s voices to be heard” more efficiently.

Gust told Insider she believes it would “not be realistic to expect all organizations to adhere to the same codified set standard for investigations.” Different organizations and companies, she said, have different resources and skillsets, which complicates the notion of a set standard across the board.

Ivey said it’s far more important that a well-trained investigator handles the case than it is for there to be a codified system in place.

Without well-trained investigators who are able to remain impartial, collect documents effectively, and analyze evidence, the results of an investigation might not be complete or present an accurate portrayal of internal affairs.

In the event that an investigation is carried out unjustly or without adhering to these general standards, afflicted parties can often seek recourse in state and federal courts, Schaefer said.

The ‘#MeToo scrutiny’ intensified workplace probes.

According to Schaefer, boards of directors across the country felt “intense scrutiny” resulting from the #MeToo movement, which galvanized a culture of speaking out against sexual abuse and misconduct.

The “scrutiny” came as investors alleged “Board of Directors were aware of executives’ alleged harassment and misconduct and failed to take action or disclose it,” Schaefer said. In nonprofits, the same pressure ramped up.

In turn, boards of directors began to more heavily question whether they provide sufficient oversight “to mitigate and manage claims of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, retaliation,” she said.

“This #MeToo scrutiny of boards of directors and their response to the #MeToo movement is not going away,” Schaefer said. “If anything, I predict the spotlight of scrutiny is going to get brighter and more intense with more investor/donor activism.”

A 2020 report published by the National Women’s Law Center and the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund found that 72% of people who experienced harassment in the workplace were retaliated against when they spoke up. Of the people surveyed who reported the harassment, nearly two in five said their perpetrators had not been held accountable.

United Way in February released the results of an investigation into allegations of misogyny and retaliation from former employees.

Three women who spoke up about sexual harassment said they faced retaliation for doing so in a November report from HuffPost, and more former employees came forward to Insider in December with allegations that the nonprofit’s culture of misogyny spanned decades.

United Way CEO Brian Gallagher.
United Way CEO Brian Gallagher.

The investigation carried out by a third-party law firm at the behest of United Way Worldwide found “the employment decisions made with respect to the three employees at issue were found to be based on legitimate, non-discriminatory, and non-retaliatory reasons.”

Neither United Way nor Proskauer Rose, the law firm that conducted the investigation, returned requests for comment asking whether the investigation hit the standards outlined by these experts.

Shortly after its release, United Way’s CEO Brian Gallagher resigned. But the women who had come forward with the allegations to Insider said they were never contacted to participate in the internal investigation.

That could be for several reasons, investigators said. An organization might deliberately choose not to contact former employees because they “may be in an adversarial position against the company,” Gust said.

It could also just be a public relations stunt, Pope said.

Workplace investigations that do not contact complainants generally have little merit and are “suspicious,” Merrick Rossein, an employment-law consultant and professor at the CUNY School of Law, told Insider.

“If the people who made the complaints have not been interviewed by this third party, then you can say there was no real investigation,” Rossein added.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Leadership at United Way Worldwide consistently ignored allegations of inappropriate behavior, former employees said

Hello everyone! Welcome to this weekly roundup of stories from Insider from Business co-Editor in Chief Matt Turner. Subscribe here to get this newsletter in your inbox every Sunday.

United Way CEO Brian Gallagher.
United Way CEO Brian Gallagher.

Hello 2021!

I hope you had a restful holiday season and started the new year in good health. I’ve come away from the past two weeks appreciating simple pleasures: my family, good food, and hikes with my daughter asleep in a carrier. 

As I catch up on the news, I keep returning to Anthony L. Fisher’s column from December 5, titled There’s light at the end of the COVID tunnel, I just don’t see it yet. He wrote then:

The COVID vaccine is coming and “normalcy” is on the way. But everything’s still awful right now and a brutal winter lies ahead. 

With the respite of the holidays now passed, it looks set to be a really tough couple of months. Here’s the latest:

Allegations of inappropriate behavior at United Way

From Yelena Dzhanova:

Leadership at United Way Worldwide, one of the largest nonprofits in the US, has consistently ignored allegations of inappropriate behavior, even engaging in bullying tactics to suppress women coming forward with them, nine former employees said.

These former employees accused the organization’s CEO, Brian Gallagher, of working hard to preserve a boys’ club that excludes women and often promotes men who engage in sexist behavior.

Ex-employees also allege that the exclusion of female employees is facilitated by the organization’s human resources department, which is run by women.

Multiple women say women of color, in particular, have been dismissed and treated as “inconveniences” despite having advanced degrees and being well-respected in their fields.

United Way Worldwide’s board of trustees said in a statement that it was “deeply disturbed by any allegations of misconduct and pledges to eradicate such behavior from our organization.”

Read the full story here:

The race to create an autonomous car

google uber self driving race 2x1

From Alex Davies:

On January 7, 2016, Anthony Levandowski emailed Larry Page to wish him a happy new year and to pitch him on a new approach to the search giant’s self-driving-car research project.

“Chauffeur is broken,” Levandowski wrote, using the code name of the effort he had helped launch. “We’re losing our tech advantage fast.” The Google founder and Alphabet CEO was used to Levandowski’s griping. But the engineer had a point. His team had spent seven years and billions of dollars yet had produced nothing close to a commercial product. 

In his email, later revealed amid the Waymo v. Uber self-driving lawsuit, Levandowski floated the idea of starting a “Team Mac,” a callback to a bit of Silicon Valley lore: In the early 1980s, Apple was working on a new PC to be called the Lisa, but development was slow, the price tag was approaching $10,000, and IBM was dominating the personal-computer market. Steve Jobs wanted to make a much cheaper and superior product. While the main team kept going with the Lisa – which turned out to be a flop – he put a few employees to work on what became the Macintosh, one of the most successful computers of all time. 

A few weeks later, on January 27, Levandowski emailed Page again, saying “there’s just too much BS,” with Urmson and other Chauffeur leaders.

“I want to be in the driver seat, not the passenger seat, and right now [it] feels like I’m in the trunk,” Levandowski wrote. He was striking out on his own, he said, with a self-driving-truck outfit.

When Urmson heard the news later that day, he showed no hint of hesitation. He marched Levandowski to his desk and had him pack up his things. Then he called the human resources department to deal with the details of the resignation of the man who had over the past dozen years been his competitor, his teammate, his roommate, and his chief rival in a world they had helped create.

Read the full story here:

Also read:

Inside PayPal’s record-breaking year

dan schulman paypal success leadership 2x1

From Shannen Balogh and Marguerite Ward:

In 2017 PayPal’s chief executive, Dan Schulman, along with other company executives, began hearing that some of the company’s hourly and entry-level employees were facing financial hardship.

Schulman conducted a financial-wellness survey of his employees in 2018 that found many were barely making enough to save, despite being paid what the company says were at or above market-rate wages.

He decided to invest millions of dollars to lift hourly workers and customer-service employees’ wages, lower their healthcare costs, and give them company stock.

Several C-suite executives told Insider that the investment in talent was core to the company’s success in 2020, in that it boosted employee productivity amid record demand.

This year PayPal’s stock price and market cap soared to all-time highs. Adding record new accounts, it’s processing the highest payments volumes in its history.

Read the full story here:

Also read:

ICYMI: Startups to watch

Several Insider teams spent the latter stages of 2020 asking venture capitalists to identify the startups they’re most excited about. From enterprise tech to climate tech, and healthcare to cybersecurity, here’s a sampling:

REMINDER: You can search through more than 150 pitch decks that startups including Uber, Postmates, and Airbnb used to raise millions right here. 

INVITATION: How to make the most out of PPP

The Paycheck Protection Program is back. 

To find out what that $325 billion in funding means for you, please join our small business reporter Jennifer Ortakales Dawkins and entrepreneurship editor Bartie Scott in conversation. 

If you’d like to submit a question to be answered, please fill out this brief form. The journalists will also be taking reader questions live. 

You can sign up to attend right here.

Here are some headlines from the past two weeks that you might have missed.

– Matt

We created a searchable database of the people behind QAnon, including its supporters and enablers

A 29-year-old ‘California girl’ moved to Nova Scotia with her husband last year. She says it’s been a culture shock, but living in Canada meant they could finally afford the American dream.

The rise and fall of Crispin Porter Bogusky: How the hottest ad agency lost its mojo

From getting laid off to making six figures a year: How a single mom built a rental portfolio and started a house-flipping business with just $8,000 in savings

The 12 most prestigious preschools in New York City and how to get in, according to parents and consultants

Elon Musk and other tech powerhouses are flocking to Texas, pushing an already bonkers real-estate market to new heights. Take a look inside Austin, which is quickly becoming the next Silicon Valley.

After a Twitter thread exposed the mistreatment of Black employees at Google, I ended my company’s partnership to connect HBCU students with the tech giant. Here’s why we decided to pull the plug.

Biotech investor Brad Loncar shares 10 predictions for 2021, including a more than 30% drop for gene-editing stocks, a $3 billion acquisition by Vertex, and a new big threat to society

Read the original article on Business Insider