His mission: Raising moral bar in workplace

Published 4:05 pm Tuesday, June 16, 2009

H.P. “Buddy” Stith III is on a mission: Raising the moral bar in American businesses.

Stith, chairman and CEO of First Response, which offers compliance and human resource services, said his company’s principal product and service is to help businesses address the issues of harassment, discrimination and retaliation in the American workplace.

“In 1998, when I started this company, I knew of no other company in America that was taking this issue head on,” Stith said.

His is not a company of lawyers. Rather, Stith has developed a system of training managers and employees to recognize those issues and to take quick action to bring them to resolution. In addition, his company offers a third-party means for employees to report those sensitive issues.

“Growing up in Birmingham and seeing the civil rights movement up close and personal, and seeing the kind of money being spent on defense costs and unproductive time for companies and employees,” Stith knew there was a need among large and small businesses for someone to teach them exactly what steps to take to operate a non-threatening workplace.

“This year alone, more than 100,000 claims will be filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” Stith said.

That’s a waste of money and productive time, he said.

“I also knew there just might be individuals who own companies who would say, ‘I’m going to raise the bar on morality in my business,’” Stith said.

According to Supreme Court rulings, employers must exercise reasonable care to prevent the issue from occurring to begin with. However, if it occurs, employers must promptly correct it.

Stith’s company helps businesses make certain they are exercising that reasonable care and offering a non-threatening way for employees to report issues.

First Response offers a training program for management and employees, as well as a national call center, so that an employee being harassed by a supervisor always has a third party to report that to. The call center is available for English and Spanish-speaking employees.

“If you have a group of 15 employees or more who come to work every day, the likelihood of you being involved in an issue like this is about 100 percent,” Stith said. “If your workplace is one where jokes, slurs and innuendo are a part of the culture, you need to start changing that.

“What I’ve asked employers all over the country to do is conduct a blind survey and ask their employees if they would want their sons or daughters, grandsons or granddaughters, friends or neighbors working at the business. If not, you have issues. If your employees wouldn’t recommend your business as a place to work, they are not being as productive as they can be for your business.”

He said making the American workplace a more civil environment would save billions of dollars each year in needless litigation and unproductive costs.

“Litigation costs and unproductive time they create is a national disaster,” he said.

First Response customers are located nationwide, are publicly traded and privately held, Stith said. The largest employs 15,000.

“Companies want to make certain their supervisors and managers are 100 percent sure of what to do, and what not to do, when confronted with a harassment, discrimination or retaliation issue,” he said. “Today, more than ever, it is important for companies to recognize the reporting system is the biggest single flaw because in most instances, the people the company asks their employees to report an issue to are totally untrained.”

First Response also offers a third-party to whom employees can report wrongdoing, like “whistle-blowing.” It also offers employee assistance services and other human resources services.

Stith’s passion is telling the First Response story, as well as “getting in a classroom, instead of a courtroom, and trying to talk to employers and employees across the country about raising the bar of morality.

“The bar of morality is not something to play with. For employers large and small, particularly in these times, their most valuable asset is not their recipe for barbecue sauce or how they grill a great steak or sell the greatest running shoe. Their employees are their greatest assets. The cost of providing a more morally responsible environment is surprisingly low. If the Buffalo Rocks and Jim ‘n Nick’s, who are our clients, weren’t getting value, they wouldn’t be using us. Our costs pale in comparison to the cost of litigation.”