Monitoring for Retaliation: Protecting Your Employees

Many companies encourage their employees to report misconduct, but what happens when employees have to raise their hand a second time and report retaliation?

Posted by Joe Gerard in Ethics & Compliance, Human Resources on September 28th, 2010


Many companies encourage their employees to report misconduct, but what happens when employees have to raise their hand a second time and report retaliation? Will the employee come forward immediately and report the retaliation? Will they deal with the stress of retaliation privately while their performance suffers? Will they quit their job? At the SCCE Compliance and Ethics conference, I had the pleasure of finally meeting Victoria Sweeney from KPMG. Vicki is a Principal at KPMG and along with her team, launched the company’s retaliation monitoring program. I have previously blogged about the retaliation monitoring program at KPMG, in the post titled “Vicki Sweeney of KPMG Presents Best Practices in Preventing and Monitoring Workplace Retaliation.” At the conference, Vicki presented on the topic of retaliation monitoring and how companies can implement retaliation-free cultures within their workplace.

Here are some of my notes from the session, as well as information gathered from my post-session interview with Vicki:

Addressing the Fear of Retaliation

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Following the session, I asked Vicki a few questions about the program she has developed at KPMG. One of the questions I asked her was if there was a particular event that sparked her interest in developing such a  proactive program. She told me that there wasn’t a particular event, but a desire to provide employees at lower levels with the resources they need to make reporting misconduct or retaliation easier. The project began as a pilot, with Vicki looking at cases to determine if there were any signs of retaliation against employees involved in the cases. When the program was first taking shape, a new team had been put in place at KPMG. The team gave immediate buy in on the proposed program, which has grown significantly more complex in scale since its inception. While speaking with Vicki, she was very passionate about the program, communicating to me how important it is to provide support to employees who report misconduct. At KPMG, employees are obligated to report misconduct, and in return, Vicki feels strongly that those employees should never be punished for doing the right thing.

During the session, Vicki stated that the minimum standards for addressing retaliation are

  • Written Policy- Put your policy in writing. A policy communicated through word of mouth isn’t enough.
  • Training- Training is essential and must be tailored to the specific departments within your organization. Each group faces different risks, therefore, identify solutions to manage these risks through your training program. Training must be relatable and scenario based in order for employees to fully grasp the concepts being communicated and to understand the differences between subtle and blatant retaliation. Provide supervisors with increased training, as sometimes supervisors may be upset at en employee for not reporting an issue directly to them.
  • Survey Questions- Use surveys or other methods to collect information and feedback from employees relating to their concerns about retaliation in the workplace.
  • Leadership Tone- Take steps to reprimand those who retaliate against others.

Building a Culture Free From Retaliation

In Vicki’s words, “if an employee sees something, say something.” Internally, the actual number of retaliation reports is fairly low, which is believed to be a result of employees hesitating to raise their hand a second time.

Obstacles to overcome in creating a culture free of retaliation include:

  1. Code doesn’t equal culture-Some employees encounter a disconnect, as they are obligated to report misconduct, yet, some employees are retaliated against and reprimanded for doing so.
  2. Don’t want to be a tattletale.
  3. Folklore has the memory of an elephant: stories last forever.

Retaliation can be difficult to prove- this is where access to employee data comes in. Indicators such as an employee’s reason for leaving, performance review information, failure to be promoted or be granted a raise may signal retaliation. At KPMG, the retaliation monitoring program is actively advertised. There is a message on the company hotline, as well as a face to face message to the employees during investigation interviews, directing them to go to her immediately should they feel they have been retaliated against. KPMG publishes an Ethics and Compliance Annual Report that contains statistics and information about hotline cases and investigations, including outcomes for  those who have been found to have engaged in violations of law or firm policy, including retaliation. This shows the employees that the tone from the top remains inline with the messages communicated from the the leadership of the firm.

Establishing a Retaliation Monitoring Program

Some of the specific challenges the group at KPMG had to overcome when developing the retaliation monitoring program include:

  • Large number of employees to track and follow.
  • Resource allocation.
  • Finding the best person to be in charge of preparing retaliation reports (proper skill set, ability to demonstrate judgment, etc.)
  • Keeping the process continuous.
  • Access to data.

Vicki explained to me that access to data was very challenging. She stated that in order for this type of program to work, “HR and compliance need to be woven together like a piece of fabric.” She then went on to discuss that in order for the program to be successful, she has to ask HR the difficult questions- Why did the employee’s rating drop? Why were they denied a raise or promotion? If performance drops due to stress, provide support for the employee to help them get back on track and reach their full potential. Vicki and her team report to the board and other internal committees at KPMG, reiterating the risk of retaliation. Leadership is very supportive of the efforts and resources devoted to this very important compliance process.

I want to take this opportunity to thank Vicki for taking the time to meet with me and for being so transparent about this state of the art program implemented at KPMG.

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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