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Teach Me

Written by
Mike Wilson, NAECP President
Director - Employee Concerns, BP America

I recently had the “talk” with my fourteen year old daughter. My overall plan was to have one discussion that covered every possible topic. I tried to keep it fairly high level hoping to teach her every important life’s lesson in 45 minutes. I included sections on dating, driving, peer pressure, prom night and the bad intentions of teenaged boys. She listened with a horrified look on her face just occasionally shaking her head in disbelief.

Throughout the whole conversation, I used myself as an example of past bad behavior. I carefully talked about her 32 year old brother being born when Mom and I were just teens, about driving my brand new souped-up 1979 Camaro too fast and narrowly missing a park bench and about my “mission” in life when I was 16.

My intent, of course, was to hopefully prevent her from making the same mistakes that I made at her age. I urged her to learn from my experiences and to trust me when I give advice that may seem weird now, but will make more sense when she is having the same discussion with her kids someday. “Trust your Dad. He was really lucky. You be smarter.”

Last month Houston-based KBR, a global engineering and construction firm, was charged by the US Security Exchange Commission (SEC) with violating whistle-blower protection laws by requiring employees involved in internal investigation to sign confidentiality agreements. According to the Government, the KBR documents said that employees could face discipline or firing for discussing internal investigations with outsiders without permission from KBR's legal department.

"By requiring its employees and former employees to sign confidentiality agreements imposing pre-notification requirements before contacting the SEC, KBR potentially discouraged employees from reporting securities violations to us," said Andrew J. Ceresney, Director of the SEC's Division of Enforcement.

According to the Houston Chronicle report , this was the first time that the SEC filed enforcement against a company for language that could prevent whistleblowing in such an agreement. The report also said that the SEC did not actually find particular instances where KBR prevented employees from contacting the SEC.

"The SEC's order acknowledges that it was not aware of KBR having ever prevented anyone from reporting to the SEC nor has the company taken any action to enforce the agreement and that is because we have never done so," said KBR CEO Stuart Bradie. "We are pleased to have amicably resolved this matter and look forward to putting it behind us."
KBR agreed to pay $130,000 in penalties to the SEC and changed the confidentiality language.

When I read this story, I shared it with my Legal folks and requested a current review of our similar documents. We were okay. However, I also sent it to a network of external colleagues in the spirit of sharing learnings. I had several people follow-up that their companies had questionable and similar language to KBR so the “heads-up” was much appreciated. Hopefully, the KBR situation helped someone avoid a serious mistake.

The moral of both stories is that understanding mistakes made by others is a safe and efficient way to learn. Additionally, understanding the failures (and successes) of others can help us make better decisions thus avoiding negative outcomes and unwanted consequences. In my family situation above, I want my daughter to think about my near misses, or mistakes, before she decides to race another car around the park, or to sneak out with friends.

In the last newsletter, I highlighted the real value of being part of the NAECP – the networking opportunities. Part of this, is the sharing of experiences. In our membership, we have a deep pool of experienced employee concerns professionals – most if not all – are willing to help other members. The truth of the matter is that all of us have faced challenges, or have been exposed to dilemmas that have ultimately caused us to be better practitioners. We should be sharing these stories and helping each other to be more successful.

With that said, I hope you attend our next conference and share your ‘war stories”, experiences and case learnings with others. The NAECP is considered a safe forum to teach and to learn. I encourage every member to look for ways to help all of us to be better Employee Concerns Professionals and I will continue to encourage my daughter to avoid young men with new shoes and shiny sports cars.

Scully, Sarah, “KBR charged with anti-whistleblowing violation”, Houston Chronicle newspaper, April 1, 2015. Click Here to View Article

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