Vicki Sweeney of KPMG Presents Best Practices in Preventing and Monitoring Workplace Retaliation

The EEOC reported 22,555 retaliation related charges in 2006, jumping all the way to 33,613 charges in 2009.

Posted by Joe Gerard in Ethics & Compliance, Human Resources on June 30th, 2010

Over the past three years, the number of workplace retaliation charges has significantly increased. The EEOC reported 22,555 retaliation related charges in 2006, jumping all the way to 33,613 charges in 2009. Most organizations include a statement of non-retaliation in their corporate policies and outline a zero tolerance rule towards discrimination, harassment and other misconduct in the workplace. However, I’ve always wondered what measures companies use to protect those who have reported workplace misconduct from retaliation. Do companies expect employees to come forward when they feel retaliated against? Are organizations taking action themselves and developing programs to detect possible issues of retaliation?

For many companies, developing a plan to deal with retaliation is still a work in progress. At KPMG, they have developed an industry leading program to address retaliation in the workplace.

KPMG’s Proactive Approach

This week I attended a very informative webinar hosted by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE). The webinar was titled “Monitoring for Retaliation: An Essential Part of Your Compliance and Ethics Program,” and was presented by Vicki Sweeney, Principal at KPMG and Carrie Penman, V.P. at the Ethical Leadership Group. Vicki Sweeney provided insight into a proactive approach deployed at KPMG for monitoring retaliation against those who are known to have raised an issue requiring further investigation.

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Sweeney stated that at KPMG, they monitor past cases to better identify issues of retaliation. When an employee reports workplace misconduct to a supervisor or through a hotline system, the risk of retaliation increases as the employee is no longer reporting the issue anonymously. Retaliation can come from peers in the workplace, as well as supervisors. At KPMG, they encourage employees to report issues involving all forms of workplace misconduct. By asking this of employees, KPMG acknowledges the vulnerable state this leaves employees in when it comes to the possibility of facing retaliation. The retaliation monitoring program at KPMG tracks those who raise issues by evaluating and analyzing data related to the investigation and the nature of the complainant’s job in order to determine the likelihood of retaliation.

Signs and Symptoms

In the webinar, Sweeney mentioned the typical monitoring period is a minimum of one year and can continue on for 2 or more years if necessary. A key factor to the success of the program at KPMG is the direct access to HR systems containing employee information. Access to these systems is critical for receiving information when it is needed, as well as reducing the number of information requests sent to the company’s HR department. Some examples of job related data to gather for review that Sweeney mentioned consists of:

  • Employee Performance- Review employee performance appraisals conducted before and after an investigation. If an employee consistently scored high on their reviews and is now receiving negative feedback, find out the root cause. Has the employee’s performance actually decreased or is a resentful supervisor attempting to have the employee demoted or located to another department? Understanding reporting relationships is extremely important in identifying potential sources of retaliation.
  • Termination- It’s important to understand why an employee is leaving their position. Sweeney mentioned that with the effects of the recession, new jobs can be difficult to come by. If an employee suddenly gives their two weeks notice, it’s best to find out if they are moving on to bigger and better things, or do they find the existing workplace intolerable due to acts of retaliation?
  • Improvement Plans- Find out the reasoning behind placing an employee on additional training or an improvement plan. Does the employee actually lack some of the skills and competencies for completing the tasks associated with their job or are they being placed on training as a form of retaliation?
  • Job/ Task Assignments- Is the employee receiving tasks and assignments that are at the same level they were prior to the investigation?
  • Personal Observation- Remain on the lookout for changes in the complainant’s behaviour. Sweeney mentioned that changes in social patterns, attitude, attendance and other factors usually signal that something isn’t right.
  • Interviews or Meetings- Chances are, it’s going to be difficult for an employee to reach out and report retaliation once they have already com forward with a previous issue. It’s advised that the department handling investigations and reports reach out to the employees they are monitoring for potential retaliation. Sweeney recommends meeting at a time and place convenient for the employee, as discussing the issue may be difficult to do in the workplace. Removing them from the environment allows them to speak more openly and they may likely respond better to questions related to retaliation.

This anti-retaliation best practices example exercised at KPMG strongly raises the bar for other companies when it comes to protecting employees from retaliation. In many companies, they might focus on protecting the complainant while an investigation is taking place, however, many of the risks of retaliation remain the same for the complainant once the investigation has concluded. If there is a chance an employee will face retaliation for bringing an issue forward, monitoring programs are one of the best defenses for detecting and putting a stop to retaliation.

Joe Gerard
Joe Gerard

CEO, i-Sight

Spend my days showing off the i-Sight investigative case management software and finding ways to help clients improve their investigations. Usually working with corporate security, HR & employee relations, compliance and legal teams.

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