By David D. Dodge
NBA Commissioner, Adam Silver, announced last month that the league was setting up a confidential hotline for league and team employees to report improper behavior in the workplace. The league made the announcement in a memo sent to all of its 30 teams.
The NBA’s action came in the wake of Sports Illustrated’s damning report that portrayed the Dallas Mavericks as “a picture of a corporate culture rife with misogyny and predatory sexual behavior.”
In Silver’s introduction of the new hotline, he reminded the teams of the NBA’s commitment to providing employees a safe and inclusive work environment. He went on to reiterate the NBA’s core values, respect and integrity.
Silver, in his memo to all franchise owners, team presidents, general managers, HR directors, and general counsels said that both the league office and the teams should be aware of the following:
- The NBA was set to launch a confidential hotline available to all league and team employees to report any concerns arising in the workplace, including but not limited to sexual harassment, illegality, or other misconduct. Teams were to be given specific information and a form of announcement to send to all employees.
- A model Respect in the Workplace Policy was also shared with the teams for their review and potential adoption. Teams were asked to share their review of the model policy and any other policies related to respect in the workplace with the league office.
- Earlier, the league had announced its plans to conduct a series of mandatory small group discussions for employees to ensure that all have a full understanding of sexual harassment and the league’s expectations for workplace behavior.
Compliance professionals know all too well that a hotline itself means little. The manner by which the hotline functions is critical. The announcement of a hotline is like a statement of intent that raises expectations. In fact, the NBA’s announcement raises a few questions, some are included below:
- How will the hotline be staffed? It needs to be well managed and staffed with people professionally trained.
- Will the hotline be staffed 24/7 by league personnel or outsourced to a professional hotline operator?
- What type of quality control, oversight and testing is built into the hotline operation?
- Will employees be able to report concerns online as an alternative to reporting by telephone to a hotline operator?
- Will a designated league employee (compliance/ethics/integrity officer) have overall responsibility for the hotline and all related activities? Will this individual have direct access to the NBA board of governors?
- Will each team have a designated employee (compliance/ethics/integrity officer) to coordinate all compliance activities with the league office? The Mavericks have already begun a search to fill such a position.
- Who will conduct investigations of concerns reported via the hotline, or online if that alternative is available?
- Will annual training of all team employees including owners and players be mandatory?
- Will the league and each team adopt a non-retaliation/non-retribution policy to assure that those who report concerns are protected?
It is likely that many of the above questions have already been addressed by league officials. But the key question is this: Is the NBA and its board of governors just launching a hotline or it is committed to developing, implementing and maintaining an effective compliance program for league employees and the employees of all of its 30 teams? Remember, a hotline by itself means little.