Jody Houton

Do companies care as much about their people as they do their profits? We look at two news stories on misconduct in the workplace that suggest they may do soon…

The ramifications of employees breaching compliance laws range from massive regulatory fines, to business disruption, and negative press coverage. These threats are heightened and strengthened by global laws and regulations, which act as further motivators for employees to operate compliantly, thereby protecting their firms’ brand and profits in the process. 

Ensuring the same staff do not communicate in a racist, sexist, or sexually inappropriate nature has, unfortunately, not historically been seen as potentially damaging to the firm, and therefore not as important. A lack of regulatory laws or financial penalties related to misconduct in the workplace has erroneously led to the perception that such comments are merely office banter, water cooler chat, or harmless flirting. While the vast majority of the modern workplace recognizes that such exchanges, whether in the office kitchen, or on the office Slack chat, are not always benign, there are many who do not. In fact, Behavox has discovered that the potential for such misconduct has only increased during the pandemic and the introduction of mass work-from-home conditions.

Traditionally, with such “boys will be boys” incidents, companies have either turned a blind eye, or issued an obligatory “rap on the knuckles” reprimand, and it’s been business as usual. 

Weathering the Twitter Storm

However, the tide does appear to be changing, with certain abusive or inappropriate behavior no longer deemed as acceptable. Rumours of Ellen DeGeneres’ “mean” streak began when comedian Kevin T Porter tweeted that he would donate US$2 to a food bank for every “insane story” that was posted about her. It caught on, and soon people, and even alleged ex-staff members, were recounting tales, such as being sent home if they had neglected to chew gum before speaking to her.

For a while, it seemed that Ellen was to be cancelled, both literally and metaphorically. Nonetheless, the Ellen show did return to TV in September, and it seemed that she had emerged unscathed. This proved not to be the case, though, when it was revealed that following a poorly-judged opening monologue where Ellen addressed the allegations with awkward attempts at humour, her audience figures dropped by a third. Although she wasn’t fined, the impact of her alleged misconduct will have huge financial repercussions for her as a brand in the future.

Google, What is the Definition of Misconduct?

Google’s recent $310 million sexual harassment settlement is also likely to have huge ramifications for the perception of misconduct in the workplace, mainly because of the tangible financial implications.   

In what many are calling a landmark ruling, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has agreed to more than 80 updates or changes to its policies and procedures around sexual misconduct and harassment, after shareholders accused the leadership team of mishandling employee complaints.

In 2018, Google made a company-wide announcement that it had fired 48 people over the previous two years for sexual harassment, including “13 senior managers and above”, stating that none of whom had recived an exit package. An interesting, seemingly curious clarification to have to make. That is until you discover that just four years prior, despite Android founder, Andy Rubin being asked to resign following a credible sexual misconduct claim, he had also been given a $90 million exit package.

Everyone to Get Their Day in Court

New changes to Google policy include the elimination of mandatory arbitration, and a limitation in its use of non-disclosure agreements, which had typically been used to prevent aggrieved employees’ testimonies. Workers, both current and former, are now able to discuss cases related to harassment and discrimination, and those with legitimate misconduct concerns will now be permitted to take their cases to court. 

Another change prohibits Google “providing severance to any employee, including a senior executive, terminated for sexual harassment, sexual misconduct, or retaliation”.

The ramifications of these changes are huge to both the search engine giant and to the tech world in general. Google has sent a clear message that it will not tolerate misconduct. A likely consequence will be an increase in claims of sexual harassment and racist and sexist misconduct, and not only from the victims. 

Whistleblowers already play a huge part in motivating financial firms to take preventative action regarding financial compliance breaches or risk being held accountable for their inaction. The same thing is likely to happen with misconduct, so woe betide any company that does not treat their employees with the same level of care and respect as they do their profits. 

The Future of Misconduct in the Workplace

If other organizations follow suit, then the workplace of the future will likely start to treat incidents of misconduct with the same degree of seriousness as they do non-compliance. As such, organizations need to utilize the same communication monitoring tools that financial firms have been using for years to ensure suspicious conduct is flagged and addressed — before it’s too late.

Before disgruntled employees take their grievance to court or perhaps even worse these days, Twitter, as the financial implication of a damaged brand can surpass even the heftiest fine.

Failure to do so sends a message to those both inside and outside the company that the organization cares more about protecting its profits than its people. 

A line has been drawn in the sand and you need to decide which side you want your organization to reside in the future. As CEO of Google, Sundar Pichai said of the changes and updates to policy, “I hope these commitments will serve as a strong signal to all of you that we are not going back in time.”

There will be two types of organizations in the future; with two types of HR practitioners, legal departments and CEOs. The first will be those who bury their heads in the sand, ignoring misconduct or non-compliant behavior, and hope for the best. The second will want to know what goes on, and will use the technological tools at their disposal to deal with issues head-on to preserve the integrity and trust of their employees and shareholders.

In the era of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, companies should be aware, not only from a moral standpoint, but also in a reputational and business sense, of the importance of equality, and the dangers of misconduct, in the workplace. 

Misconduct is defined as unacceptable or improper behaviour, especially by an employee or professional person. Examples of misconduct are racism, discrimination, sexual harassment, bullying or manipulating. None of this behavior is acceptable in the modern workplace.

The world has changed. You need to change with it, or be prepared to face the consequences.

Behavox offers the most advanced compliance and conduct solutions on the market, covering more than 150 data types pertaining to dozens of voice and text applications in 10 languages and counting.