THE MAGAZINE

When Ex-Workers Won’t Stay Away

By Mary Alice Davidson

CSG systems, headquartered in Englewood, Colorado, provides support services to the convergent broadband and satellite industry’s leading providers, including Comcast, Time Warner, Cox Communications, DIRECTV, and Verizon. Through one type of CSG service, digital subscribers across North America can order and purchase Video-On-Demand. Through another service, CSG Care Express, users of broadband and direct broadcast satellite can view and pay bills online.

The complexities of the services provided require that CSG retain a cadre of technical experts. Remaining fully staffed was sometimes a challenge. During one expansion several years ago, an employee whom we will call “John Smith” was added to the work force. “He interviewed very well around the technical end of things,” says Rae-Ellen Hamilton, CSG’s vice president of human resources. “He sold himself very well.”

Before being hired, Smith was vetted through the company’s preemployment screening checks, including a review of criminal, academic, and employment history, as well as a check of Social Security records. While Hamilton noted that he had held most of his positions for about a year, his technical skills outweighed any concerns, and Smith was hired.

Within a year, it became apparent that Smith could not deliver what he had promised, and he was terminated. CSG management thought that was the end of their association with Smith. But Smith had other ideas.

E-mail threats to former coworkers came first. Because of their technical background, they could block his e-mails. But Smith upped the ante by driving into the company parking lot, watching members of his work group, and delivering verbal threats to supervisors and peers as they were going to their cars. He also targeted Hamilton “because he knew I was the one who had helped get him terminated,” she says.

Smith had billed himself as a former Marine and had told stories of being a sniper or in special operations. So employees became alarmed when Smith confronted them with such threats as “I’m watching you,” and “I’m going to get you.” When the threats escalated, the employees came to Hamilton. “Employees don’t go to HR until it’s really pretty bad,” she says. At that point, she called Business Controls, Inc. (BCI), a consulting firm that CSG had used for background screening and various investigations.

This time, Hamilton wanted to plug into BCI’s MySafeWorkplace service, a third-party incident reporting system that offers employees an anonymous way to communicate with their employer and provide details on any issue of concern.

CSG had used MySafeWorkplace in the past, but those cases had primarily involved reports of policy violations, such as office romances. In the Smith case, the company needed an anonymous way for employees to report any future contact with their former coworker to an investigative resource.

The service offers employees several communication options. One is a secure Web site. The site is available around the clock and can be accessed in nearly 170 languages, according to Steven Foster, executive vice president and chief operating officer for BCI, also headquartered in Colorado. Employees can also call toll-free telephone numbers from virtually anywhere in the world.

MySafeWorkplace was developed several years ago at the behest of Toyota Motor Corporation, USA, says Foster, when that company was not satisfied with the current state of employee hotlines. BCI’s answer was to develop a Web-based protocol in addition to the telephone option.

Today, more than 60 employees monitor the MySafeWorkplace call center and Web site. Recently, BCI replaced its first generation databases with Microsoft server software and developer technologies. In 2006, the software received Microsoft’s Global Technology Award.

BCI also offers training to its clients aimed at developing corrective actions on frequently reported incidents such as sexual harassment, ethics violations, and workplace violence.

Employees submitting a report create a personal password and receive a randomly generated access code. Using this information, employees can re-enter the MySafeWorkplace Web site or redial the call center to check the status of their report and receive updates.

When employees set up an account, they can remain completely anonymous, reveal contact information to MySafeWorkplace only, or give identifying information with permission for it to be passed to the employer.

Once a report is received, it is encrypted, forwarded electronically to appropriate individuals within the organization, and handled in accordance with the company’s internal policies.

Hamilton says that the anonymity of MySafeWorkplace gives workers a comfort level that permits them to overcome any fear they may have about giving a tip that sheds light on a problem to their employer. She finds, however, that employees eventually reveal their identity when they see that the company is responding proactively. Once employees begin communicating with her office through MySafeWorkplace, she says, “in every instance the employee comes forward later” to acknowledge that they initiated the report.

Reports submitted to MySafeWorkplace in the Smith case were handled by investigators from Business Controls. Through a more thorough background check and surveillance, they determined that his outlandish stories of bravado were not true and that he had a home and young children. “He had a lot to lose if he messed up,” says Hamilton.

CSG made him aware of the legal consequences if he continued his behavior. With the help of Business Controls, CSG’s internal counsel immediately obtained a temporary restraining order warning Smith to stay off any property that CSG owned or leased in the United States. That order is now permanent.

“He’s been told that the only way he can keep from breaching that restraining order is to deal with Business Controls,” says Hamilton. He still calls on a roughly annual basis, but not with what Hamilton considers good news. “He asks BCI to lift the order because he wants to buy a gun.”

Although Hamilton is notified each time Smith calls, the work force as a whole is not told, because there’s no reason to scare them, she says. Initially, employees were told that Smith was not to be on the property and that if they saw him, they should report it. “From their perspective, that was the end of it,” says Hamilton.

Hamilton is proud of the immediate action taken by CSG to obtain the restraining order and involve BCI. In retrospect, however, she realizes that there were red flags even before he was hired. “When you are in a hiring crunch, it’s pretty easy to overlook personality and fit if you think [the applicant] has the necessary technical skills.”

They are more careful now.(For more information: Steven Foster, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Business Controls, Inc.; phone: 800/650-7005; e-mail: sfoster@businesscontrols.com.)

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