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  • 05.11.17

Can Using An App Help End Workplace Harassment?

Anonymous harassment reporting apps aim to help more people speak up about bad behavior, but by the time it gets to that point, has a toxic culture already gone too far?

Can Using An App Help End Workplace Harassment?
[Photo: courtesy of STOPit]

Stories of toxic company culture have become commonplace recently, including serious ethical breaches at Wells Fargo, Volkswagen, Uber, and more. 

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Often, a big contributing factor is the lack of ways to report bad behavior. For example, one in four women (out of 10,000 surveyed) in tech said they’d been sexually harassed at work. And a broader study by Cosmopolitan in 2015 found that as many as 1 in 3 women were sexually harassed on the job. But the EEOC finds that only 40,500 cases were reported in 2015. That’s likely because it’s hard to define exactly what constitutes harassment, the reporting process is often overwhelming, and because employees fear retaliation

Todd Schobel, CEO of STOPit, says their reporting app was created to facilitate the process of reporting bad behavior and help companies address abusive behavior proactively. “Organizations are realizing that the investment in hotlines is simply not generating the return they need to protect them from the significant financial and reputational risks that come with behavior-based incidents,” he tells Fast Company. “They need to invest in their most valuable asset: their employees.”

Using the STOPit app, employees are able to report incidents such as harassment, intimidation, bullying, discrimination, and workers’ comp fraud anonymously. That includes attaching screen shots, photo, or video evidence. “We collect absolutely no information from the user or their device,” Schobel underscores. “At any point in the investigation, ‘upstanders’ [the person reporting the incident, often a bystander] have the ability to self-identify if they wish.”

Schobel explains that when an employee submits an incident report, they do not know who is receiving that report. “Organizations will designate people in HR, compliance, general counsel’s office, etc., to be report managers,” he says. Report managers receive and address the anonymous reports via STOPit Messenger that acts as an anonymous two-way chat so they can then ask questions or gather more information. “Traditional 800-number reporting lines do not provide for direct and immediate follow up and often create more work for organizations and cost them valuable time when investigating an issue,” Schobel points out.

[Photo: courtesy of STOPit]
Katie Smith, the chief compliance officer at Convercent, a software provider for reporting and analyzing a variety of compliance issues, cautions that employers need to pay attention to how employees are reporting. “An overabundance of anonymous reports can be a red flag that your culture needs work,” she explains. “It likely means your employees fear backlash or don’t trust leadership to listen and respond appropriately.”

Smith believes that a stronger level of trust is signaled when employees understand how to make a report, that they are speaking up, and that the majority of reports are being relayed face to face to leadership or HR in the office.

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Kaiser Permanente just partnered with STOPit (employees can opt in to download the app, says Schobel) and Convercent has worked with Airbnb, LinkedIn, Petco, and a variety of others. However employees choose to report, Schobel maintains that the average cost of a settlement associated with behavioral-based liabilities outweighs the initial investment in software or apps.

Last year there were over 46,000 retaliation claims that made it to the EEOCup from about 22,000 10 years ago, says Schobel, and that doesn’t include state or local claims. “The problem exists, it’s clearly growing, and companies need a way to change behavior,” he says. “Not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because it is costing them in many ways.”

About the author

Lydia Dishman is a business journalist writing about the intersection of tech, leadership, commerce, and innovation. She is a regular contributor to Fast Company and has written for CBS Moneywatch, Fortune, The Guardian, Popular Science, and the New York Times, among others.

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