When Top Employees Misbehave

With Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s resignation announced earlier this week, many of the thousand cuts that spelled death for Kalanick’s career are resurfacing. Arguably one of the biggest blows, Susan Fowler’s reflection on her year at Uber, published earlier this year, exposed sexist behavior inside the multi-billion dollar company’s engineering department.

While there are many examples of inappropriate HR behavior to note in Fowler’s exposé, one of the most troubling is the fact that Uber’s HR department repeatedly excused the sexual harassment Fowler and other female employees reported. Why? Because the repeat offender was a “top performer” and the HR department didn’t want to destroy his career.

While you might not provide HR for a huge, money-raking disruptor like Uber, ignoring any inappropriate behavior because of high work performance is not only immoral and illegal, it can have huge ramifications for your organization. Here are a few tips to avoid an epic HR mess-up and ensure compliance with policies and procedures.

Keep perspective

Sure, you’re working hard for the dream—whether that’s creating the world’s best jalapeno jelly, providing top-notch dentistry, or disrupting the mass-transit industry. But don’t let the drive for success develop into an ends-justify-the-means mentality where employee abuse is written off as acceptable.

One way to help your organization keep its moral footing during competitive times is to develop and stick to organizational values. For instance, one of our company values is Do the Right Thing. Every decision made at Bamboo is measured against this value to help us remember that doing what’s right and moral is more important than gaining an advantage.

Especially in HR, it’s important to keep perspective and not let the pressure of success cloud our judgment. Of course, we should do all we can to help the organization succeed, but not at the expense of creating a workplace that’s safe for employees and compliant, so the organization stays out of trouble. Plus, an organization that stays out of trouble can enjoy more long-term and steady success than the organization that stumbles when its hidden problems come to light.

Plan the process, process the plan

Even organizations with the best culture and values experience questionable behavior occasionally. So, instead of waiting for an incident to pop up, put a plan and policies in place now for handling the inevitable reports so that all situations are treated equally.

Be sure that your organization has policies regarding equal opportunity employment, discrimination, and harassment. A Code of Conduct Agreement or Employee Handbook are great places for this information, and storing them online makes them easy to access.

After policies are outlined, take a look at the way your department handles reports of inappropriate behavior. The steps should be clear so they can be consistent for each situation. Steps should include:

Note: no part of this plan should involve looking at performance reviews, as employee performance should not influence the investigation at all.

Train to increase transparency

After your plan is laid out, communicate it and your policies to the organization regularly. Providing a little training on conduct gives everyone clarity and can prevent situations that make employees feel unsafe and put the company in legal jeopardy.

First, teach employees which behavior is acceptable and which isn’t. While you may be surprised by some employees’ behavior, they may be just as surprised to find out that it’s inappropriate to continually proposition a coworker or tell a discriminatory joke.

If everyone in the organization understands the rules, employees who do act inappropriately can’t claim ignorance and employees who encounter it won’t have to wonder whether or not they have grounds to report. Employees should also know how to document and report behavior that violates company policies. Provide managers and leadership with additional training about compliance specifics, how to advise employees, and the process outlined for handling investigations.

Susan Fowler’s experience at Uber is a prime example of why HR departments are so vital to both employee experience and organizational success. Employees depend on us to ensure that their work environments are safe and organizations depend on us to avoid legal action and backlash. With a little thought, planning, and training, we can ensure both.