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Microsoft Makes Broad Changes To Workplace Investigations

By Christina S. Capizzi - McMahon Berger, PC

April 30, 2019

Microsoft’s action plan to address workplace investigations into complaints of harassment and discrimination was announced on April 15 after reports of employee concerns surfaced in the public. Microsoft’s response follows the similar pattern we have seen from many other corporations facing accusations of unfair treatment, harassment and discrimination after the #metoo movement began nearly two (2) years ago – public reports of unfair treatment surface, company announces commitment to take action and do better in the future.

But is waiting for your company’s #metoo moment in the press the best time to implement plans to address unfair treatment in the workplace?

The Microsoft story began in early April, when executives were alerted to employee concerns that human resources was not addressing instances of harassment and discrimination.  On April 4, 2019, Quartz reported the concerns were raised in an email chain where “[d]ozens of women then shared their own frustrations about discrimination and sexual harassment.”  Quartz described the allegations as “ranging from sexist comments during work trips to being told to sit on a coworker’s lap in front of a human resources leader. Another woman said on one project she was only given tasks like booking conference rooms, taking meeting notes, and making dinner reservations despite being in a technical role.”  You can read the original Quartz report here.

Following the initial report, Microsoft has revamped the way it handles human resources response to complaints of harassment and discrimination.  In a follow-up report, Quartz shares Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella’s April 15th letter to employees expressing disappointment in the reported behavior and detailing changes to the way Microsoft addresses human resources complaints and expectations for leadership and employees moving forward.  The plan includes a new “Employee Advocacy Team” to assist employees through the investigation process, publishing statistics on reported concerns and how often a violation is found, required manager training on leading diverse teams, an improved investigation process, additional human resources staff and investigators, centralized investigations, goals to shorten the investigation timeline, and more consistent discipline.

Microsoft’s action plan comes after reports surfaced in the public, similar to the public announcements we have seen from many other corporations facing accusations of unfair treatment, harassment and discrimination after the #metoo movement began nearly two (2) years ago.

But there is another way – perhaps even a preferred option – to make headlines in the #metoo movement.  Your company can address unfair treatment in the workplace before a public scandal arises.  A comprehensive plan to prevent and adequately address discrimination, harassment and unfair treatment should be more than just a response to a major scandal – it is required under the law and a sound business practice.

So how do you do this?  Your company can review existing policies and procedures, put new plans in place, and train your employees and management on expectations moving forward. The most effective anti-harassment policies focus on ending harassment, and the best way to protect your company is to prevent the problem before it develops into something pervasive.

Turn #metoo on its head by leading the way to a fair and respectful workplace.  Take action now to prevent your company from becoming the next headline.

The St. Louis employment attorneys at McMahon Berger have been representing employers across the country in labor and employment matters for over sixty years. We are available to discuss and assist employers with issues such as training, policy review and implementation, and investigations. As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation as every situation must be evaluated on its own facts. The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements.

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