Another high-profile case regarding sexual harassment claims surfaced this past week at ABC News with allegations against the former head producer of the iconic Good Morning America.
Sadly, complaints for sexual harassment continue to rise, yet organizations continue to fail to adequately deal with allegations of employee misconduct, especially when it involves a prominent member or executive. ABC has just become the latest alleged culprit, as it was recently named as a defendant in a lawsuit where the company failed to respond to complaints of sexual harassment against former executive Michael Corn.
Anytime there’s a case where a clear failure to about an allegation of misconduct, then an organization will be considered negligent and it will only further exacerbate the issue. Once allegations of employee misconduct are reported, an organization should conduct thorough and impartial investigation of the allegations. Generally speaking, when dealing with a prominent member of an organization, investigations by in-house counsel will be presumed biased despite their result.
The reports about the ABC case clearly requires not only the necessity to bring in outside counsel, but also expressing this to everyone, so the viewing public may be better informed of the facts. Also, by having an unbiased law firm conduct the investigation, any organization is in a better position to withstand challenges by the complainant, shareholders, or the public at large. This important action step also is important to provide corrective measures in addition to ending any inappropriate behavior it uncovers.
Too often, investigations conducted with in-house personnel improperly exonerate key personnel based upon their position of power within the organization, as the investigators are intimidated or afraid to “rock the boat”. In today’s world, mere allegations of inappropriate behavior outside the workplace can also cause significant damage to an organization’s reputation. In contrast, a properly conducted internal investigation by an unbiased investigator can in part shield principals, c-suite executives and senior management against additional allegations of complicity and protect the overall brand.
Today, the public demands that serious allegations must be dealt with in a swift, decisive and transparent manner in a response to claims, especially when it may involve a brand where trusted employees are involved. Organizations of all sizes are confronted with allegations of potential misconduct daily. For this reality, the need to be transparent along with protecting the organization and its employees’ futures require timely action steps.
At the same time, dismissing employees based upon mere allegations is fundamentally unjust and likely will lead to litigation or potentially false allegations. Of course, the final steps include preservation of all relevant materials, documents and electronic files. Advance consultation with IT professionals is one way to ensure that appropriate outcome takes place. Prior to a firestorm, have a data storage and return policy and establish specific duration time for emails and electronic files.
Organizations face ever increasing battles to preserve their brand and maintain their image in a positive light. The actions of one individual may be attributed to an entire company if not addressed in an appropriate manner, or worse, completely ignored.
Robert F. Lasky is a partner at Cole, Scott & Kissane law firm and a retired FBI special agent in charge, who led the agency’s Miami Division.
Article was published in the Biscayne Bay Community Newspaper.
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