Uber board adopts firm's advice on harassment, other concerns

When an employee makes a sexual harassment complaint, management has a duty to investigate that complaint reasonably and to refrain from retaliating against the person who brought it. Uber, the ride-hailing giant, was facing a public accusation by a former employee that she experienced sexual harassment and that management failed to respond appropriately.

This wasn't Uber's first public scandal. Drivers in a number of areas, including in Hamilton County, have filed legal claims that they are misclassified as independent contractors when they should be considered employees. A group of employees has also claimed Uber underpaid them by at least $45 million by miscalculating the basis of their commissions.

According to a Reuters source, the company has earned a reputation for playing fast and loose with employee compensation, regulations and even regulators. It is currently under criminal investigation for misleading local regulators using a technology called "Greyball." In January, the company settled claims that it exaggerated the prospective earnings and downplayed the costs of the job when recruiting new drivers. It settled for $20 million.

Then there's the Uber-Waymo scandal. Waymo, Google's self-driving car division, accuses Uber of hiring a former Waymo engineer and then taking the benefit of trade secrets he had pilfered before he left.

What can a company do when it faces another public scandal?

One option is what Uber did to deal with the sexual harassment complaint and other employee concerns. It brought in an outside law firm to investigate. In this case, it brought in former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's firm in February.

The results of that investigation are back and are expected to be released to employees today. A Reuters source familiar with the subject says that Uber's board unanimously approved the recommendations over the weekend.

Primarily, the issues seem to stem from a culture driven by brash young CEO Travis Kalanick and an executive suite that has retained a surprising amount of autonomy as the company has grown into the world's largest venture capital-backed business. Uber now employs 12,000 people.

While few details are available yet, it sounds like the report calls for reining in the executive suite and professionalizing the company's human resources department so it can respond more quickly and productively. Reining in spending was also mentioned.

Uber has grown quickly and upended many norms of operation. One investor said these recommendations will give the company an "opportunity to reboot."

It's positive when a company takes proactive steps internally faced with a sexual harassment complaint or indications of a problematic culture. If you are concerned that you are experiencing illegal treatment at work, we recommend discussing your concerns with a lawyer.

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