A New Trend in Investigations

Employers begin to recognize the importance of investigating and responding to behavior that erodes culture and breeds more severe misconduct

As we highlighted in our April article, a national discussion of sexual harassment in the workplace has been underway following allegations against powerful and public figures.  That discussion has been joined by a dramatic increase in complaints of sexual harassment in 2018. For example, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing received 86% more complaints from January through March 2018 than it did during the same period last year. While that dramatic upward trend has led to the need for more workplace investigations of sexual harassment, ILG has noted another important, if more subtle, trend developing: the desire and need for investigations of problematic conduct that falls short of a legal or policy violation.

Employers are investing in the investigation of disrespectful, abusive, or inappropriate behavior, even where there are no clear allegations of policy or legal violations.  That trend reflects a growing understanding of certain truths that ILG recently discussed in a public report, i.e., that there is a spectrum of behavior between the highest expectations of workplace behavior and pervasive or severe workplace harassment.  But employers should not wait until conduct approaches the severe end of the spectrum to respond.  Rather, as more employers have come to recognize, they should strive for a culture of higher expectations, and stand ready to respond to unprofessional, disrespectful, or disruptive workplace behavior before it rises to the level of harassment.

As a recently published study of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found, the strongest predictor of sexual harassment is “organizational climate.”  To protect and advance a strong climate, we have seen a growing recognition that employers must get to the bottom of allegations of bullying and persistent disrespectful behavior, regardless of whether certain policy provisions or legal requirements may yet be implicated.

Not only does doing so help prevent more severe conduct from brewing, it roots out behavior that is destructive and costly in its own right.  Strong, safe, and inclusive cultures are critical to recruiting and retaining top talent.  As Mitchell Gold, the former CEO of MGBW Home has said in an interview, “if you want the best employees . . . you have to have equal opportunity.”  And the environment of a company is now more transparent to the public and job candidates than ever before.  (For an examination of this phenomenon, see Lizzie Widdicombe’s piece in the January 22, 2018 issue of The New Yorker entitled “Improving Workplace Culture, One Review at a Time:

With its emphasis on transparency, the jobs site Glassdoor aims to upend corporate power dynamics,” found here

Recognizing this trend, ILG is committed to helping employers strengthen and protect their cultures through both strategic human resources consultancy and training, as well as sophisticated, in-depth investigations.