Local company helps prevent, deal with workplace misconduct

HOOVER – With news of sexual harassment making waves in Washington, D.C., Hollywood and workplaces in between, a local company’s services have been in high demand.

First Response Workplace Conduct Solutions was founded in 1998, but President Terry Gray said recent publicity about harassment has caused an increase in the company’s activity.

“If you’re going to eliminate these issues, you have to get all of your employees to buy in,” Gray said. “You have to be proactive in these measures. It’s not going to go away. We’re dealing with human nature.”

The human resources compliance company First Response was founded by H.P. Stith, Gray’s father-in-law who retired about five years ago. It is now headquartered near the intersection of U.S. 280 and Alabama 119.

At the time Stith was getting First Response off the ground, a landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court had sent shockwaves through the business community. According to Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, there are circumstances under which an employer can be liable for the acts of a supervisor whose sexual harassment of subordinates has created a hostile work environment.

“That set a new standard,” Gray said, and First Response was intended to help employers navigate these uncharted waters.

First Response developed the Professional Workplace Conduct Program that could be part of a company’s affirmative response—that is, an effort undertaken by the company to prevent harassment and ensure the company had no liability for supervisors’ behavior.

“We give you a way to raise that affirmative defense,” Gray said.

Once an annual contract is in place, training is usually conducted live over the course of hours or days, depending on a company’s needs.

Then, additional training is offered at least once per year.

Among other initiatives, wallet cards are provided for supervisors that give them a summary of how to handle harassment that has been brought to their attention.

Inaction in such a situation is a common problem, Gray said.

“Usually they told somebody and nothing happened, or if something did happen, it was mishandled,” he said.

If needed, First Response can host a hotline that employees can call to report harassment. The First Response staff is trained to go through a set of questions to gather information about the incident and then route the case to the appropriate channel.

First Response can also investigate the incidents.

Other services include background checks and drug screenings, and HR outsourcing and assistance.

First Response clients include Buffalo Rock Company of Birmingham, Gorrie-Regan, Service Master, the Memphis Grizzlies and Jim ‘N Nick’s Bar-B-Q, among others, with the largest employer having more than 8,000 employees.

“We’ve been passionate about this message from the beginning, and that’s what’s gotten us to where we are,” Gray said.