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Those who say it cannot be done, should not interrupt those doing it.
— Chinese Proverb
 
 

Reporting Culture: Would yours stand up to scrutiny?

When an employee approaches HR or management with a workplace concern about another employee, what happens? 

The answer to that depends upon a lot of things, here are a few:

  • Existence of written, up-to-date company policies relating to reporting workplace concerns.
  • Awareness of said policies and whether, or not, they are defensible and followed.
  • Relationship between the employee and the person to whom they are reporting the concern.
  • Standing of the reporting employee in the workplace: position, performance, time in position, use of PTO, gender, race, personal circumstances, and a multitude of similar factors.
  • Standing of the person accused of the wrongdoing: position, performance, time in position, use of PTO, gender, race, personal circumstances, and a multitude of similar factors.
  • Political and cultural climate within the workplace.

Recently, Susan J. Fowler wrote a blog in which she made serious sexual harassment and retaliation allegations against her former employer, Uber. We note that Workplace FactFinders does not know if any of Fowler’s accusations are true.

As you read this article, please understand that, yes, the types of events described by Fowler do happen in the workplace and we have seen them. A broad review of Fowler’s allegations is noted below.

  • Harassment started almost immediately, after two weeks of training.
  • Fowler does not mention being aware of a reporting policy, but took her concerns to HR whom she expected would handle the situation appropriately.
  • Fowler showed HR documentary evidence of sexual harassment by her manager.
  • HR and upper management agreed that the conduct was ‘indeed sexual harassment’ but refused to make the manager accountable for his actions. HR and management insisted that this was a first offense.
  • As a new employee, Fowler did not have standing or leverage when speaking against a long-term employee with an excellent performance record.
  • Fowler was given a ‘choice’ to move to another team or stay where she was and most likely receive a bad performance review.  A lawyer might be able to argue that giving Fowler this ‘choice’ is a retaliatory act in and of itself because her conditions of employment were affected no matter what choice she made.  Coupled with HR’s remark that giving her a ‘choice’ negated a retaliation charge, should send teams of lawyers scrambling to represent Fowler.
  • Uber put the team’s interest at risk by removing someone with the experience needed for the ‘struggling project’.  Fowler continued to excel on her new team and wrote a book about her processes.
  • Later, Fowler came to realize that other women had suffered the same sexual harassment under the same manager.
  • Corporate culture rewarded a system of deception and destabilizing behavior which caused waste and a high level of ambiguity.
  • Fowler’s request for transfer was blocked due to undocumented performance problems, even though her documented performance was stellar. She was told that her performance problems could be because of her personal life. After another performance cycle and an excellent rating, Fowler requested transfer again and was denied.  This time her review score had been changed after the fact with no explanation, making her ineligible to participate in the graduate program she was enrolled in.
  • Women engineers left Uber in large numbers.
  • Fowler continued to report sexism in the workplace to HR, including an incident where management refused to buy leather jackets for the women because they cost more than the men’s’ jackets. 
  • HR suggested that Fowler was the problem and said there was no record of any of the incidents she had reported. HR then tried to gain specific information about conversations between the female engineers, a potential violation of the National Labor Relations Act. When Fowler pointed out the small number of female engineers at Uber, HR suggested that certain genders and ethnicities were better suited for some jobs.
  • Fowler was threatened with termination for reporting to HR. Her manager misrepresented the context of an at-will employment arrangement, and later HR and the CTO agreed that threatening to fire her for reporting an incident to HR was illegal.

Fowler alleges that she repeatedly reported sexism and harassment to HR and has documentary evidence to support her claims. She states that HR and executive management agreed that some of the conduct was illegal.  According to Fowler, Uber did not take accountability for the conduct; instead, repeatedly retaliated against her for reporting it.

Whew. If these allegations are true, how would you like that as your company reporting culture? Fowler’s claims paint a picture of a culture that is rife with what not to do when someone comes forward with a concern.

An experienced investigator knows, however, that this is only one side of the story.  Workplace FactFinders would not be surprised to learn of an equally dramatic account from Uber’s perspective, including the possibility that some, or all, of these events did not occur.

In either case, companies can learn a lot from Uber’s predicament and the fact that similar situations do occur in the workplace. So, how do we get this right so that things like this don’t happen?  One way is to develop a reporting culture that is ethical and defensible.

Stay tuned to our blog for future articles on how to set up, manage, and enforce an ethical and defensible reporting culture as well as updates to this developing story.

For more information about our services contact Cynthia Fenton or Stephanie Woodhead at (844) 321-9733 or email us at info@workplacefactfinders.com

The information contained in this article is not legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.  Employers should consult their attorney for legal advice. 

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