Bad Behavior

If you are a sole proprietor with a staff of one, you don’t have to worry about workplace issues among employees.  If you work in any other size office, you may have to deal with issues between employees.  I’m not talking about honest disagreements about how to best serve customers or grow the business.  I’m talking about the possibility of one employee intimidating, discriminating against or harassing another employee.  It seems like every day another headline comes out about a high-level individual either committing those acts or not handling the situations appropriately when it was brought to their attention.  The list seems to be endless; John Schnatter, Les Moonves and Urban Meyer are just the latest high-powered individuals to be caught up in the results of bad behavior.  But, bad behavior does not just occur at the top.  Behavior that can disrupt or even take down a business can occur at all levels.  That is why every business must do three things.

First, have a policy about such behavior.  Having such a policy sounds obvious, but many smaller businesses don’t bother with such things because “everyone knows what to do.”   The short answer is if you don’t tell them what is wrong, the defense will be “I didn’t know we couldn’t do that.”  The policy does not have to be a detailed list; a few sentences will do.  And, have every employee acknowledge they have read the policy every year.

Second, have a way for people to report incidents, a process for investigating the incidents and a plan for taking action based on those investigations.  While asking the person to first report incidents to their supervisor is good, there have to be other paths because it might be the supervisor or the supervisor’s supervisor that is exhibiting the bad behavior.  Asking someone to confront their perpetrator does not work. While some people do make up charges to get a person in trouble, a vast majority of the time, the reported behavior really occurred, so the behavior must be dealt with.  Telling people to just act better is not enough, especially if the offense is truly serious or has occurred multiple times.  Every business needs to be prepared to discipline or even fire the offending employees.

Third, make sure everyone knows it is their responsibility to report bad behavior.  The person suffering at the hands of another employee may first reach out to a co-worker or a different supervisor.  It is not enough to tell the person they need to report the employee harassing them.  Employees need to know if they are told about bad behavior, they need to report the behavior as well.  Reporting bad behavior is not about retribution.  Reporting is about doing what is best for the business and making sure all the other stakeholders are protected.  That protection is everyone’s responsibility.

As CPAs we take pride in our integrity and our pledge to put the public interest ahead of our personal gain.  In today’s world, where business reputation is as important as publishing accurate financial results, are you ready to step up and make sure the business is protected from employees doing bad things?

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