Niren Nazareth, the co-founder and chief financial officer of Jersey City-based PeopleFirst, created a mobile phone application to help company managers resolve workplace harassment incidents and protect their employees. The app allows organizations to build trust, improve culture and save money, according to PeopleFirst.
“The mission of our company is to provide safe, inclusive, and equitable workplaces for everyone,” Nazareth said. “Our product roadmap is to work on discrimination and unconscious bias. We are working on preventing harassment.”
He provides the training, calling it foundational because it describes what is appropriate in the workplace. “There is a gap between telling employees what you want and actually measuring and managing that workplace behavior,” Nazareth said. “A policy helps mitigate corporate liability but it generally does not teach your employees anything.”
Nazareth’s software service allows for a transparent reporting procedure. “It is on your phone so it lowers the behavioral hurdles so you do not have to go anywhere or tell anyone,” Nazareth said.
“In places where you would assume there is a very clear reporting procedure, there is often no reporting procedure whatsoever,” he added. “At most schools if a teacher is harassed, it is not clear if she goes to her union representative or to human resources.”
Victims of harassment often do not report the problem because they fear being subjected to retaliation, Nazareth said. The PeopleFirst app can protect employees from retaliation and assure them that complaints will be acted upon.
“A company can close an internal investigation and mark a case resolved without asking for an employee’s consent,” Nazareth said. “In my app, the employee has to agree that the case has been resolved. It does not get closed unilaterally by the company.”
At the same time, employers get real-time data about what’s going on in the company.
“Our clients come to us because they want to take advantage of the training they have provided,” Nazareth said. “They want to manage and measure office behavior and then decide if more training is necessary.”
Nazareth founded PeopleFirst in August 2018. He launched the software in April 2019 and now has 25 clients covering about 1,000 employees.
“Our clients resolve their complaints within 18 days,” Nazareth said. “The national average is 275 days. It takes a long time. Our clients realize the best return on investment is happy employees.”
Lauren Paxton, a business and employment lawyer at OlenderFeldman LLP in Summit, advises New Jersey companies on human resources issues, including workplace harassment, discrimination and employee hiring practices.
“I have seen first-hand what happens when companies do not have controls in place to respond to employee complaints,” Paxton said. “They have major issues in the workplace. Much of my perspective is guided by the fact that I have seen the worst-case scenario.”
She cannot endorse the platform directly, as she has not had first-hand experience with it. Nonetheless, Paxton considers the PeopleFirst application “extremely useful.”
“When matters go to litigation, one of the key questions that is raised very early in the case is how the employer responded when it learned there is an issue in the workplace,” Paxton said.
“Whether it is a formal complaint or rumors or internal discussion that put management on notice that there was some sort of workplace harassment unfolding.”
Paxton said companies can face significant exposure if, after being put on notice of an issue, the matter is not handled properly. “Either the right folks are not involved in the discussion — individuals who are representative of human resources, legal, and management — who have been trained to respond to these scenarios or the matter is not addressed immediately and resolved in a timely basis.”
PeopleFirst helps with both potential problems, Paxton said. “It ensures there is a standard operating procedure in place in advance of any complaints or issues in the workplace. By using this tool, they have previously identified who will be involved in the process and how the process will go,” she explained.
“It takes the uncertainty out of when and how management should be responding to workplace instances,” Paxton added.
PeopleFirst allows for anonymous reporting, a feature Paxton considers beneficial. People can be reluctant to use their names when reporting inappropriate behavior in the workplace, she said.
“In some respects when a claim goes to litigation, the fact that there has never been a prior report of an incident can be evidence of whether the claim has merit,” Paxton said. “In other words, if an individual claims upon being terminated for a performance reason or due to their own conduct in the workplace, they may retroactively claim that within the two-year prior statute of limitation they were the subject of harassment or discrimination. Now if a company does not have an anonymous reporting platform, it may be challenging for the company to dispute an allegation that the person felt intimidated and that’s why they did not support it.”