Every week as SmallBizLady, I conduct interviews with experts on my Twitter talk show #SmallBizChat. The show takes place every Wednesday on Twitter from 8-9 pm ET. This is excerpted from my recent interview with Deb Muller @hracuity
Deb Muller is the founder and CEO of HR Acuity, the employee relations case management solution that companies trust to help them track, investigate, and analyze issues the right way.
SmallBizLady: In today’s #MeToo environment, we have heard about allegations made in big companies, but what about small businesses. Is this something they need to be tuned into?
Deb Muller: YES! Employee issues of all kinds–do not discriminate based on size of an organization. But for small business owners the impact and cost can be even more devastating. So, considering the “what if?” or “what now?” is a great first step.
SmallBizLady: But we don’t really hear about such incidents in small businesses.
Deb Muller: They are handled internally and don’t make a good headline. Yet HR training & policies are often absent. An @SourceMediaCo study showed organizations of less than 100 Employees are 16% more likely to report a high prevalence of #MeToo incidents than larger organizations.
SmallBizLady: What is the potential impact of a harassment claim on a small business?
Deb Muller: In 2015, a Hiscox Small Business study reviewed EEOC claims and found the average damage in small and medium firms is $125K with 25% resulting in judgments over $500K. Those are the hard costs. Other costs include loss of productivity, absenteeism and turnover.
SmallBizLady: What are some of the first things that a small business should be doing?
Deb Muller: Small firms don’t often have HR department to handle #MeToo or other complaints. Plus, the federal government doesn’t regulate firms under 15 Emp. Small firms can still create a culture of expected behavior and an anonymous reporting system. Make it easily accessible.
SmallBizLady: Is training important to prevent sexual harassment?
Deb Muller: NYC just passed a law requiring harassment training for any company with more than 15 employees. Even if it’s not mandatory, you should do it! It will give your team an understanding of even more subtle forms of harassment. This can protect you and your employees!
SmallBizLady: Are there other factors that put small businesses at risk and what can they do to mitigate those?
Deb Muller: You don’t have the luxury of a team of HR pros to handle complaints. Complaints happen and don’t go away. Be prepared with a list of questions to investigate. We have a great intake template if you visit us at www.hracuity.com
SmallBizLady: Why is that first meeting so critical?
Deb Muller: The first meeting sets the tone! Your initial response can make the difference between fact-finding and resolution or legal action. Be empathic, but stay neutral. Don’t make assumptions. They want to be heard. And plaintiff’s attorneys are happy to listen!
SmallBizLady: How can you avoid an EEOC complaint?
Deb Muller: Retaliation is the most common complaint made to the EEOC, even if no merit is found on the initial charge. It can be any negative job-related action (discipline, firing, demoting) or subtler like excluding an employee from activities.
SmallBizLady: We hear a lot about zero tolerance. Does that mean if someone is found to harass someone do we need to fire them?
Deb Muller: Of course there are times when the behavior is so egregious that termination is warranted. But, zero tolerance doesn’t mean firing in every instance. What was the action? What is their position? Is this the 1st time? Ultimately, it must stop.
SmallBizLady: What are the most important steps to follow so that your employees who make a complaint feel supported?
Deb Muller: Have an investigation plan! In the event of a complaint, document your conversations, and the steps you take to review the situation and any action and the resolution. Communicate throughout the process! Making a complaint is hard. Do the right thing for your business and your employees.
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