Risk Management Suggestions for Suggestion Boxes

A well-known Silicon Valley company got caught in media firestorm last week when it fired an employee for what he posted on an internal (i.e., non-public) “Suggestion Box” discussion forum.

 

I use the word “caught” advisedly.  It appears the now-former employee was following company policy when he submitted his analysis of the employer’s diversity program. Someone else leaked the analysis, adverse publicity ensued, and the CEO very publicly fired the analyzer. The ex-employee has reportedly filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

 

Here are our suggestions for managing the (now obvious) risks of having an internal discussion forum:

 

1. First, decide whether it even serves a clear company purpose to have such a forum. Your company’s statement of values might place a high value on open communication in the workplace. Even so, is a forum the best vehicle for such communications?

 

2. Assuming there is a clear company purpose, go ahead and design a forum that facilitates such discussions for a company of your size and geographic scope.

 

3. Then, publish clear rules of engagement for the forum.  Specify what content is and is not off limits, as well as the consequences for violating the rules.  In the case last week, it appears the company was sending mixed messages by (i) inviting comments but also (ii) deciding after-the-fact that the comments violated the company’s code of conduct.

 

4. Include a dispute resolution process.  Tell people how to flag comments they think are out of bounds, and tell them how those complaints will be handled.

 

5. Have an all-company meeting to introduce or re-introduce the forum. Communicate clearly ahead of time the types of conduct that will be OK for that meeting!  The key is to make sure you don’t put anyone in the position of getting fired for asking discomforting yet still clearly lawful questions.

 

6. Designate several members of the management team to read and respond to the employee suggestions. Demonstrate that the employees’ contributions are given timely consideration. Don’t make employees wait too long for feedback, or they will conclude you’re not serious nad will stop participating.

 

If you aren’t willing to put in the sorts of up-front and on-going efforts described above, return to point #1 and revisit whether having a forum is in alignment with your actual (as opposed to stated) values.

 

 

Contact us if you’d like help making and implementing such decisions.

 

Stuart Blake

Mobile – (949) 842-9379

sblake@innovacounsel.com

 

Michael Oswald

Mobile – 208.914.3086

moswald@innovacounsel.com

 

www.innovacounsel.com

 

© 2017 InnovaCounsel

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