Column: Risk Management

Opinion | HR’s Long Overdue #MeToo Moment

By: | October 15, 2018 • 2 min read

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

Here is a story about a former work colleague. I will refer to him as “Tim.” Tim was an old-school senior executive with a brash personality. Employees were often cornered by him and one could often hear the groaning in the hallways after hearing his jokes that usually crossed a line.


Tim especially liked “entertaining” the women in the office. I was no exception. We were executive peers, however, so I felt I had more power to simply tell him when his jokes were sad, and I tried to say so in a way that wouldn’t leave permanent scars. I liked Tim. Tim liked me. We got on just fine.

One afternoon in the coffee room, three of us were talking about an upcoming, out-of-town conference for the executive team: Tim, myself and the head of Human Resources, “Sue.”

Tim made some smarmy comments about the proximity of my hotel room to his and made salacious comments about his intentions with me late at night. I swiftly shot back a comment along the lines of “keep dreaming, buddy.” He laughed. I rolled my eyes and left the coffee room. Didn’t think twice about it.

What came next shocked me. I was called into HR by Sue. I was “scolded” for my comments to Tim. I was warned not to encourage his inappropriate behavior. “Sue, you were there. You heard him. Have you spoken to Tim?” “No. You know his temper. And you know how he is. I don’t want to aggravate him.” My head almost spun off my neck.

HR held me responsible for another adult employee’s inappropriate behavior. In truth, HR did not have the courage or political presence to take on this executive.

Sadly, this is not the only story I have regarding inappropriate behavior in the workplace. And with most of the stories, I was shocked at the clumsiness of HR’s handling of the situation. In fact, it was HR’s ineptitude that directly contributed to me leaving the organization to take another job.

Personally, I am not surprised at the avalanche of complaints that have come to light with the #MeToo movement. It was time.

Revealed through the movement have been weak or absent HR functions that help foster a breeding ground for troublesome behaviors. Victims accuse HR of not adequately dealing with complaints. They often further claim that HR staff have covered for or even aided harassers.

Victims claimed HR seemed to care more about protecting the corporate image and the employers’ practices liability line item. #MeToo, I agree.


So, it is good to see HR undergo a makeover now. Processes and policies are under review in the wake of widespread revelations of toxic behaviors at organizations of every size. Under review are anti-harassment, retaliation policies, reporting and investigation procedures.

HR is working overtime to step up awareness and compliance training efforts. In fact, requests for trainings have increased threefold since 2017. Organizations are reaching out to independent firms to perform workplace culture audits, risk assessments and provide whistleblower and reporting services.

In fairness, there is only so much HR can do. A long, hard look at management is due, especially the management that is often engaged in bad behaviors themselves.

Acceptable workplace behavior — that tone is set by management. All training, audits and fixes are inconsequential if management doesn’t live and breathe good behavior everyday. #YouTooTim. &

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

4 Companies That Rocked It by Treating Injured Workers as Equals; Not Adversaries

The 2018 Teddy Award winners built their programs around people, not claims, and offer proof that a worker-centric approach is a smarter way to operate.
By: | October 30, 2018 • 3 min read

Across the workers’ compensation industry, the concept of a worker advocacy model has been around for a while, but has only seen notable adoption in recent years.

Even among those not adopting a formal advocacy approach, mindsets are shifting. Formerly claims-centric programs are becoming worker-centric and it’s a win all around: better outcomes; greater productivity; safer, healthier employees and a stronger bottom line.


That’s what you’ll see in this month’s issue of Risk & Insurance® when you read the profiles of the four recipients of the 2018 Theodore Roosevelt Workers’ Compensation and Disability Management Award, sponsored by PMA Companies. These four programs put workers front and center in everything they do.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top,” said Steve Legg, director of risk management for Starbucks.

Starbucks put claims reporting in the hands of its partners, an exemplary act of trust. The coffee company also put itself in workers’ shoes to identify and remove points of friction.

That led to a call center run by Starbucks’ TPA and a dedicated telephonic case management team so that partners can speak to a live person without the frustration of ‘phone tag’ and unanswered questions.

“We were focused on building up a program with an eye on our partner experience. Cost was at the bottom of the list. Doing a better job by our partners was at the top.” — Steve Legg, director of risk management, Starbucks

Starbucks also implemented direct deposit for lost-time pay, eliminating stressful wait times for injured partners, and allowing them to focus on healing.

For Starbucks, as for all of the 2018 Teddy Award winners, the approach is netting measurable results. With higher partner satisfaction, it has seen a 50 percent decrease in litigation.

Teddy winner Main Line Health (MLH) adopted worker advocacy in a way that goes far beyond claims.

Employees who identify and report safety hazards can take credit for their actions by sending out a formal “Employee Safety Message” to nearly 11,000 mailboxes across the organization.

“The recognition is pretty cool,” said Steve Besack, system director, claims management and workers’ compensation for the health system.

MLH also takes a non-adversarial approach to workers with repeat injuries, seeing them as a resource for identifying areas of improvement.

“When you look at ‘repeat offenders’ in an unconventional way, they’re a great asset to the program, not a liability,” said Mike Miller, manager, workers’ compensation and employee safety for MLH.

Teddy winner Monmouth County, N.J. utilizes high-tech motion capture technology to reduce the chance of placing new hires in jobs that are likely to hurt them.

Monmouth County also adopted numerous wellness initiatives that help workers manage their weight and improve their wellbeing overall.

“You should see the looks on their faces when their cholesterol is down, they’ve lost weight and their blood sugar is better. We’ve had people lose 30 and 40 pounds,” said William McGuane, the county’s manager of benefits and workers’ compensation.


Do these sound like minor program elements? The math says otherwise: Claims severity has plunged from $5.5 million in 2009 to $1.3 million in 2017.

At the University of Pennsylvania, putting workers first means getting out from behind the desk and finding out what each one of them is tasked with, day in, day out — and looking for ways to make each of those tasks safer.

Regular observations across the sprawling campus have resulted in a phenomenal number of process and equipment changes that seem simple on their own, but in combination have created a substantially safer, healthier campus and improved employee morale.

UPenn’s workers’ comp costs, in the seven-digit figures in 2009, have been virtually cut in half.

Risk & Insurance® is proud to honor the work of these four organizations. We hope their stories inspire other organizations to be true partners with the employees they depend on. &

Michelle Kerr is associate editor of Risk & Insurance. She can be reached at [email protected]