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How to avoid the kinds of headlines that are haunting Herman Cain and Penn State University

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danapearlAs the saying goes, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” I am certain that Herman Cain and Penn State University would dispute that at the moment.

There are several things that employers can and should do in order to avoid negative publicity, and create hostile-free workplaces. Many articles have been written over the last several decades about this, but it is clear that not all employers heed the advice. Yet, it is easier than many people think. It takes a commitment to creating an environment where all employees are treated with respect and dignity;

given jobs in which they can excel and make a contribution to the mission of the organization; and where those who violate the rules suffer consequences. In these work environments, employees will view their employers as fair, and will reward them with hard work and loyalty.


The first thing to do is to create policies and procedures that strongly prohibit harassment and discrimination. There are many great examples and templates of these policies available. Once written or revised, they should be reviewed by a knowledgeable employment law attorney.


Along with having good policies and procedures goes a well-respected grievance/complaint process. All complaints must be taken seriously, and investigations into these complaints must be prompt, and sufficiently thorough, to make a proper determination. If there is evidence to support the allegations, employers need to be willing to take disciplinary actions, up to and including termination. If criminal behavior is involved, the employer should notify the police. Protecting the reputation of the organization must be more important than protecting someone who may have committed a crime.


The individuals who conduct the investigations must know how to do them correctly, and maintain a neutral viewpoint throughout the information-gathering process. Employers who do not have personnel able to conduct these investigations, or who need an unbiased party due to the sensitive nature of the complaint, should hire outside third-party investigators such as attorneys and HR consultants with a good track record and reputation.


Employers should provide adequate training for all employees, and must do so for supervisors and managers. The actions of supervisors and managers are legally considered the actions of the employer. As the Penn State scandal proves, how managers handle complaints is as important as how they treat those whom they supervise (i.e.: those over whom they have power). Larger employers often have in-house trainers and/or employment law firms on retainer, who can provide excellent training programs. Employers who do not have access to these resources and/or have limited budgets, still have many options. There are Human Resources consultants who specialize in anti-harassment/discrimination training, and independent employment law attorneys who also provide this service.

While there are many training providers and products in the marketplace, employers need to do their homework, by making sure that the program will truly educate their employees. Sitting by oneself in front of a computer screen, reading materials and answering written questions, without an opportunity to interact with co-workers and ask questions of an expert, probably won’t suffice.


Communication is the key element of all of these steps. Communicating the importance of having a hostile-free workplace must come from the highest levels of management, and must be applicable to them as well. “Do as I say, not as I do” is not going to cut it. Lead by example.


Going through all of these steps should be an untouchable part of the budget. Internal communications and training are cost-effective ways to reduce problems in the workplace. Also, some providers of Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) require training before they will offer liability coverage. Depending upon the size of the workforce, training can cost anywhere from $1,000 - $20,000. But just one complaint of discrimination can cost as much as $70,000 - $100,000 (per some defense attorneys) just to win on summary judgment – which means without going to trial. The cost goes up significantly if a trial is necessary

When it comes to creating a hostile-free workplace, it is best to be proactive. Investing in the labor force should be at least as important as investing in other aspects of the organization. It is an investment that will pay off in both the short and long-run, and hopefully lead to only positive publicity and headlines.



Dana M. Pearl is the President and founder of The HUMAN Organization, Inc., an Equal Employment Opportunity consulting business that provides training programs for all sizes and types of companies and organizations in Illinois since 1992. She is a former EEOC investigator and a former Human Resources Manager in both manufacturing and non-profit concerns. Ms. Pearl earned a BA from Northwestern University and a MBA from Loyola University. She conducts awareness and prevention training programs on various types of employment discrimination and harassment in both Spanish and English. She can be reached at 847.869.9516 and and via the website at:


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