You’ve seen the headlines lately — the media and public are rife with stories about harassment suits from high-level executives and movie stars. Allegations from employees are coming out in the open on what it seems to be a daily basis and more corporations are dedicating resources to developing solid policies about these issues.
But what if you’re a small business owner? Do you have the essential processes in place to train, prevent, and in the case of an incident, follow up correctly on an accusation from an employee?
Renee Barnes has been in corporate training since the late 90’s. A serial entrepreneur, she’s worked with large enterprises and startups alike to help them navigate the complex world of HR compliance.
However, the idea for her startup ComplyTrain came after an entrepreneur friend was sued and fined by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for age discrimination. Due to a lack of proper training, the recruiter said during an interview with an older candidate that they were “a young and hip startup”, a statement that kicked off a costly age discrimination investigation which went on for several months.
Small businesses don’t usually have the funds to allocate for proper ongoing training for employees on sexual harassment and hiring practices; many startups don’t start thinking of HR personnel until they are in the double digits.
“Most startups are a tight-knit group, they’re like family,” says Barnes. “But when it comes to legal issues, you can’t underestimate the importance of being protected. This is a company that you’ve invested your life into, so taking a little precaution and paying a few bucks to get the right policies will go a long way if something happens and you want to be protected. That’s the bottom line.”
Barnes shares more on how ComplyTrain, launching this week, can provide a safe space for workspace harassment claims, how to use the platform as an affordable one-stop shop for training, and what she really thinks about those awkward role-playing training videos.
What’s the main problem you’ve seen with HR compliance in startups and how can ComplyTrain help?
The main problem is that small businesses and startups don’t have an HR or legal department to build a strong HR compliance program. That’s the major problem that we’re solving, and we’re doing that with one platform.
This includes custom-written policies for your employee handbook. We don’t just give you a template where you download it and sign it. We actually give you a questionnaire to get to know your company, work with an employment attorney who actually crafts the policies for us, all catered to your business.
How did you validate your idea?
In talking to small businesses and running a startup myself, I started to think through what could make this an easier process. It was just pulling from the community. We would sit down, have coffee, and just kind of talk through, “Hey, listen, you’re busy. You run a startup. How can we make this in a way where it’s so easy it’s all done for you?” That’s really where I started in terms of designing the solution, ease of use and, obviously, affordability.
How does the training integrate into the platform?
I’m in this field, so I could go on and on to discuss bad training. Often it is click and get lectured and watch a corny role play, which I literally hate. When you’re doing sexual harassment training, the worst thing you can teach is a corny role play where the guy is creepy. It doesn’t happen like that in real life. I’ve talked to so many victims of workplace harassment and discrimination. We don’t have those, which is important to me.
We do give you training customized to your handbook and policy. We give you easy monthly compliance bites for reinforcement. It’s not a once-a-year thing. It’s something that you build your company culture on.
One of the main features of the platform is the submission form for employee complaints. How does this help the company and employee keep communication open?
It’s so uncomfortable that people don’t usually say anything. Often they go hire a lawyer, and the first time the founder hears about it is when the attorney calls. ComplyTrain gives you a safer way to issue a complaint. You can submit your complaint to your supervisor through the platform and submit evidence and media. This is vital in giving victims courage to share their stories and reduces the fear of going to a supervisor directly.
With our platform, we have a lot of content built by the legal team as well as HR professionals that talk to you about what to do when they issue the complaint. How do you investigate it? How do you communicate with them? Because that’s what gets companies in trouble, the investigation and what happens next. When they retaliate or they fire you or they send you home, usually that’s why they end up losing the case.
What’s your revenue model?
A simple, recurring subscription model that can be billed monthly or annually. You can cancel at any time. We do have a seven-day trial period, so you get on the system for seven days and we provide you with sample policies. Right now, we are $199 a month for up to a 10-person company.
What’s your current funding situation?
We’re bootstrapped. We are currently in the Founder Institute’s Founder Lab, which is next after graduation. I’ve talked to investors — they really, really love it. I do think we can penetrate the market more effectively with raising money. We’re going to start pitching in late January to angel and early-stage investors.
What’s next for ComplyTrain?
It’s an all-out launch next year. I’m presenting on compliance and learning at a conference in January because these are small businesses in the food service industry — one of the industries that’s getting hit the hardest with harassment because they don’t have the structure in place. It’s going to be a lot of pushing the narrative and actually sharing the story of what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.