The Chicago Blackhawks scandal serves as a grim reminder of the consequences of mishandling workplace investigations, particularly those involving sexual assault. This case study offers invaluable lessons for HR professionals, especially those in government and the private sector, who are often tasked with conducting or overseeing such sensitive investigations.
In 2010, just before the Stanley Cup Final, the Chicago Blackhawks received a complaint of sexual assault by a player against the team’s video coach. According to the investigation report, the leadership team met to discuss the complaint and decided it was not something that should be addressed at the time because it would distract the team heading into the final.
The Independent Investigation
An independent investigation report released by the Chicago Blackhawks organization details the sexual assault and the organization’s response. We have included a copy of the report here but warn you the details are graphic.
The Absence of Leadership
One of the key failings of the organization was the absence of leadership. Despite the NHL having the right policies in place, despite the leadership group understanding their obligations, the “leaders” in the room failed to lead. Instead, they covered up the controversy and eventually let the video coach walk away from the organization with a letter of recommendation and a severance offer. In contrast, the victim was pushed to the side and his allegations ignored.
What Can Employers Learn?
If management is not authentic in living out the values of the harassment and violence policy, those tools are meaningless. The absence of authentic leadership can lead to a toxic work environment where employees feel unprotected and unheard.
The Human Cost
A lack of integrity and empathy has negatively impacted a series of lives. By sweeping this issue under the rug, the victim suffered for a decade before filing a civil claim against the Blackhawks organization. Stan Bowman, the current General Manager of the Blackhawks, resigned with other resignations likely to follow. The video coach went on to abuse other young hockey players. There is a massive human cost to this tragedy that is difficult to quantify.
Financial and Legal Repercussions
Failing to lead with integrity can result in significant damages. The Blackhawks organization faces a civil suit from the Complainant that must be resolved and will cost seven figures. This is in addition to the fine of 2 million dollars already imposed by the league.
The Importance of Third-Party Investigators
For HR professionals in Canada, contracting unbiased third parties like Dorian Persaud and his team can be invaluable. They specialize in workplace investigations and can provide an impartial perspective, ensuring that personal biases and relationships do not cloud the investigative process.
The Value of Continuous Training
Regular training sessions, both free and paid, can equip HR professionals with the tools they need to conduct proper investigations. Dorian Persaud and his team offer a range of educational webinars and courses tailored to the Canadian market.
The Role of Documentation
Maintaining meticulous records is crucial for transparency and can serve as a reference point should the investigation be questioned later. This is particularly important in cases involving sexual harassment or assault, where legal repercussions are likely.
Workplace issues should be identified and addressed with an investigation; not swept under the rug. As the Blackhawks found out, the trauma and the consequences do not disappear; they get worse over time.
For those in Canada seeking expertise in workplace investigations, Dorian Persaud and his team offer unparalleled experience and knowledge.
Please join us for one of our upcoming workplace investigation training sessions to learn how to conduct a proper investigation. Click here to see our training dates and to register.