Policies and procedures are an essential component of any organization.
Policies are important because they address pertinent issues, such as what constitutes acceptable behavior by employees.
Procedures, on the other hand, clearly define a sequence of steps to be followed in a consistent manner, such as how the organization will respond to any policy violations.
However, these policies and procedures are rendered useless if employers neglect to adhere to them or fail to effectively communicate them to employees. Utilizing both policies and procedures during decision-making ensures that employers are consistent in their decisions.
The latter part of this dilemma, communication with employees, should be easy to address. Your organization should provide easy access to policies and trainings, and utilize tools to document employee communication and attestation. To bring it full circle, it is important for compliance officers to develop a communication procedure so your employees aren’t left in the dark regarding important policies.The more difficult piece for employers is to adhere to and enforce the established policies and procedures.
The following case study demonstrates how an organization failed to act in accordance with their policies and procedures, and the significant impact this failure had upon the organization.
An employee of a large organization reported to the organization’s Human Resources (HR) department that a co-worker “harassed” her based on her gender.
The HR Manager concluded that an internal investigation should be conducted to understand the details of the allegation. The HR Manager further concluded that a third-party was best suited to conduct such an investigation.
This decision is consistent with best practices, as a third-party can often present itself as more neutral than an internal investigator can. For that reason, employees may be more inclined to be forthcoming with information.
Moreover, because the alleged harassment and other problematic behavior on the part of the accused had spanned several years and encompassed a Title VII claim, the organization lacked the necessary time and resources to conduct a thorough investigation.
The organization agreed with the HR Manager and contracted a third-party organization to conduct an investigation into the allegations.
An on-site investigation was conducted in which numerous employees were interviewed and documentation was reviewed.
During the interview process, it became clear that there was a consistent theme that the accused individual has a history of problematic behavior spanning the last several years. The problematic behavior included both verbal and physical altercations with fellow co-workers, insubordinate behavior, and numerous customer complaints.
Further, interviews revealed that many employees had concerns for their own, and other employees’ safety because of the frequency and severity of the accused employee’s behavior.
While employees were able to clearly articulate these concerns, the individual’s personnel file contained minimal information regarding disciplinary behavior to correct the described issues. Instead, the employee had been transferred among several departments over the past seven years, during which each new manager gave the employee “the benefit of the doubt,” or a “clean slate.”
THE UNDERLYING PROBLEM
This case clearly exemplifies that this organization, rather than address the employee’s problematic behavior, ignored it and simply transferred the employee when a problem arose.
Further, despite having clearly articulated written policies and procedures regarding discipline and employee conduct, the organization did not respond in accordance with these policies.
Specifically, the accused employee was involved in a physical altercation within the first 90 days of employment. While there is a no-tolerance policy regarding violence in the workplace and the behavior was sufficient cause for termination, the employee was suspended and then transferred to another department.
The employee was allowed to continue his employment, despite numerous behavioral problems, most of which were undocumented.
Little or no corrective and disciplinary action was taken for any of the documented incidents.
THE END RESULT
This organization invested significant resources in engaging a third-party to investigate an employee who should have been terminated years earlier. Based upon all information gathered by the external investigators, the organization terminated the accused employee; however, the effort and expense to the organization were significant.
The organization spent tens of thousands of dollars to terminate an employee, whom they had sufficient grounds to fire only months into his employment.
This case illuminates two poignant issues: organizations need clear and consistent company policies regarding acceptable employee behavior; and organizations need to enforce workplace policies when employees fail to comply with the acceptable standard of behavior.
Properly addressing employee behavior begins by training managers on workplace policies to ensure a thorough understanding of what behavior is acceptable and how to remediate inappropriate behavior.
Further, if your organization is able to show that efforts were taken to educate and train employees, through policy and education, it can provide an affirmative defense in the event that a case, such as the one above, may go to litigation.
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