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Covington Report Tells Uber to Fix Workplace Practices as Kalanick Steps Aside

Updated on June 14 at 3:30 pm

Uber Technologies Inc. today released 12 pages of recommendations stemming from Covington & Burling’s months-long investigation into the company’s corporate culture, a process that included more than 200 interviews with current and former employees about how the San Francisco-based ride-hailing giant’s workplace environment could have played a role in allegations of harassment and discrimination.

Minutes before the company began an all-hands meeting to discuss the investigation with employees, chief executive Travis Kalanick sent a memo about his decision to take a personal leave of absence for an indefinite period of time. The 40-year-old wrote in the memo that he buried his mother on June 9, after she died in a boating accident weeks prior.

Covington’s investigation, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and partner Tammy Albarrán, produced 47 recommendations—which Uber’s board unanimously approved in a Sunday meeting that reportedly lasted nearly seven hours. The recommendations fall into several themes, including changes to senior leadership, board oversight, internal controls, employee and manager training, diversity and inclusion efforts and human resources policies and procedures.  

The investigation was prompted by a complaint from former Uber engineer, Susan Fowler Rigetti, who published a blog post in February portraying the company’s work culture as biased against women and alleging that managers ignored sexual harassment complaints that she and other women working at Uber made.

When reached for further comment, the company directed The Recorder to Uber’s newsroom web page.

Covington’s analysis comes at a challenging time at the company. The Recorder reported Uber fired 20 employees last week at the conclusion of a separate investigation by Perkins Coie into Fowler Rigetti’s harassment and discrimination claims.

Some labor and employment attorneys and experts previously expressed doubt that the investigation alone will be solve the company’s internal problems. Other observers have described it as a chance for Uber to “draw a line in the sand,” and show maturity. And some questioned whether the company’s legal department could have done more to address harassment and discrimination complaints.

Uber’s legal department isn’t named often in the report, though. Instead, Covington’s investigation places some blame on the human resources department. The report said human resources at Uber should be trained on when complaints or disciplinary decisions need to be brought to the legal department’s attention.

“A complaint that implicates unlawful harassing or discriminatory conduct but does not result in termination should be brought to the attention of the legal organization,” the report said.

The report also said the legal department should review decisions to fire any employee who has claimed “harassment, discrimination or retaliation, is in a protected category, has taken any protected leave, or has requested a workplace accommodation for a disability.”

The report points to gaps in human resources policies and procedures at the company, noting that human resources should ensure it has proper recordkeeping policies and tools.

The Covington attorneys wrote that Uber should also create a more “robust and effective complaint process” for employees, which includes installing “complaint tracking software that is robust, secure and accessible by those who need information on a need-to-know basis.”

The report also portrays a human resources department that needs both an “owner” of “resources related policies” and also increased staff head count. The report reminds Uber that companies of its size have, on average, 57 human resources “business partners.”

Employees at all levels need improved training, the report said. Executives need leadership coaching, managers need to beef up on helping direct reports to meet personal goals and providing strong feedback, interviewers need to address unconscious bias and everyone needs to know how to spot human resources issues, the report said.

The report added that employee evaluations should use internal metrics to substantiate performance.

The report also addresses the broader cultural issues at the company. Some of the smaller recommendations to directly improve culture include ridding the company of select cultural values, which the report said are either redundant or “justify poor behavior”—“Always Be Hustlin’,” “Meritocracy and Toe-Stepping” and “Principled Confrontation” included—as well as a call to move the nightly company-provided dinner up in the day’s schedule.

Uber also needs to be clearer about alcohol consumption, according to the report, and should restrict managers’ budgets for purchasing alcohol at after-hours work events. 

This story has been updated to correct the number of recommendations in the Covington report on Uber.

Copyright The Recorder. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Contributing Author

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David Ruiz

David Ruiz is the in-house counsel reporter for the San Francisco-based legal affairs paper The Recorder. Ruiz has written for The Sacramento Bee,...

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