Best Practices in Employee Relations: Iron Mountain

best practices in employee relations

Today, we continue our “Best Practices in Employee Relations” series, a series of episodes featuring interviews with movers and shakers at companies you know and love, to find out how they handle this critical topic. In this episode, we are pleased to be joined by Cindy Westervelt, the Director and Senior Counsel, Employment and Labor, North America for Iron Mountain. Here, she explains:

  • Iron Mountain's Employee Relations philosophy
  • The critical balance between legal compliance and ER teams
  • Ways that companies can respond to calls for pay equity and transparency; and
  • How training and culture, together, can help prevent lawsuits!

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About Iron Mountain

  • Iron Mountain prides themselves on being their customers’ trusted partners in securing and unlocking the value that they have in their assets.These assets may be digital, paper, or otherwise.
  • Iron Mountain has secured data centers located all over the globe - storing data for their customers, but also helping customers to understand what their data means.
  • Iron Mountain has billions of assets placed in their care around the world. They maintain an art storage business as well as an entertainment services business that works with events like The Grammys.


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Employee Relations Best Practices, From Industry To Industry

  • Ms. Westervelt began her career in the retail industry like many do, and the employee relations best practices strategies used in different industries can vary slightly.
  • Employee relations best practices are largely universal when it comes to the “big picture” strategies, but the demographics of your employee population can change elements of your strategy and its deployment. 

Iron Mountain’s Employee Relations Philosophy

  • There are two keys to Iron Mountain’s employee relations philosophy: Fairness and Consistency.
  • Iron Mountain strives to ensure that employees understand what is expected of them so that they know how to advance themselves and thrive in their respective roles, ultimately leading to better engagement and better company performance as a whole.
  • Iron Mountain’s corporate culture plays an essential role in their employee relations strategies and best practices. 
    • Culture is incredibly important to developing an effective employee relations strategy because if there is not a strong culture, many of the practices used in employee relations will fall flat.
    • Your company’s corporate culture should serve as the foundation of your employee relations strategy.

Employee Relations Strategies For Unionized Workers

  • From a big picture standpoint, Iron Mountain’s employee relations best practices do not really change for their unionized workers and locations. 
    • This goes back to their two key factors: fairness and consistency. 
  • Regardless of unionization status, employee benefits and other policies remain the same for workers across the board.
    • There are obviously some slightly different methods to achieve this consistency when dealing with unionized workers, but in the end, Iron Mountain strives to achieve that consistency across the board.

Employee Relations Issues & Legal Counsel

  • In the United States, investigations into discrimination and harassment typically should involve a legal team.
  • This legal team does not always need to be the ones conducting the actual investigation, but it can be helpful to have a lawyer guide the investigation along the way.
  • Wage and Hour issues can also be tricky and legal representatives can be helpful in this area.
  • With the pandemic, leave and time off have become a greater concern for employers and employees and they have become much more complicated to navigate successfully, prompting the inclusion of legal teams in these larger discussions.
  • The best place for legal counsel to play a role is either in the table-setting for the objective and/or serving as a “sounding board” to bounce ideas off of.

The Intersection Of Legal Compliance & Employee Relations

  • The balance between too much or too little of either practice is something that is very difficult to find and maintain with the constantly shifting landscape of employee relations.
  • “Legal cannot drive. Employee relations strategy compliance should not be the number one goal employee relations should be about empowering employees and getting them engaged and providing the right environment for people to succeed and compliance is never going to do that.”
  • So too much compliance can impede empowerment, but too little can feel disjointed and chaotic, which can lead to disengagement and disgruntled employees, which can lead to more lawsuits.
  • The perfect balance is difficult to find, but when found, it can foster the healthiest and most successful workplace possible. 

Communication In Employee Relations

  • Communication is an absolutely vital aspect of employee relations strategies. 
  • Ensuring that your employees are in the know is important for transparency and trust between employees and leadership.

On Harassment & Discrimination Lawsuits

  • Training on these issues is important and actually legally required in many states - but it’s not a magic bullet.
  • Unless you get the right kind of training, it can become a “check-the-box” exercise for employers and employees alike.
  • Training sets the groundwork and the framework, but to supplement your training, it's important that you have a culture that reinforces respect in the workplace and allows you to speak up through a variety of avenues.
  • Once a concern is received, it’s imperative for the HR team to act quickly to investigate. This shows employees that their opinions and concerns are valued and that they are taken seriously.

Conflict Management

  • Employee relations absolutely has a role in conflict management and the key is ensuring that employees understand that leadership values their opinions.
  • Bridging the gap between HR and employees is vital to mitigating conflicts in general. 
  • Being able to effectively influence both sides and creating viewpoints from either side of the conflict can prevent a small conflict from becoming a larger one.

Pay Equity and Transparency

  • At both the state and federal levels, there’s an increased focus on pay equity and transparency, and boards of directors are receiving pressure from activists and shareholders alike to become more transparent about compensation.
  • To address this, Ms. Westervelt suggests adopting a compensation policy, if you don’t already have one, and then consistently apply this policy throughout your organization.
  • She also suggests conducting a pay equity audit with your legal department, to look for opportunities to achieve or improve fair and equitable pay for employees.

Enforcement Of Company Policy & Discipline Strategies

  • For most issues, Iron Mountain uses progressive discipline, hoping that if employees fully understand the expectations, they will course-correct before termination is required. Again: it’s all about being fair, transparent and consistent.
  • There are times, however, when behavior undermines Iron Mountain's company culture or values and that’s taken very seriously.  Often those instances will result in immediate termination.

COVID-19’s Impact

  • Moving to remote work has been a struggle for many companies across the world since the pandemic began, and Iron Mountain was no exception.Trying to keep people connected was a serious challenge!
  • During this time, employers have needed to pivot, to hear employees and understand the issues they were and are facing as human beings -- and in doing so, Iron Mountain has adapted their employee relations best practices to meet those concerns. 
  • The law has also been constantly evolving to meet the challenges of the pandemic, providing another example of why maintaining that balance of legal compliance and employee relations is so important. 
  • Remote work is likely here to stay, and employee relations will need to continue to adapt to that.

Legal Info For Those Without Legal Teams

  • There are numerous resources from large national law firms that provide updates when the law changes or is updated, so companies can access those to help stay up to date.
      • Present legal opinions for those wishing to read more about a judge’s decision. 
      • They offer assistance in two ways:
        • Via a subscription to their updates and webinars; and
        • Via a subscription to their Employment page's News & Insights
      • Their landing page has easy-to-search trending topics
  • Another key strategy is to tap into a network in which people both give and receive advice.

The PRO Act

  • If the PRO Act is passed in its current form, the bill will be a challenge for companies, providing challenges for both unionized and non-union work settings.
  • Whether The PRO Act passes or not, Ms. Westervelt predicts a shift back toward the Obama era when it comes to NLRB provisions and changes.

Cindy Westervelt Background & Path To Iron Mountain

  • BA in Philosophy from Colgate University
  • Doctor of Law (J.D.), focusing on employment law, from the Boston University School of Law
  • Ms. Westervelt spent a good portion of her career with office supply megastore Staples, where she served as Vice President, Human Resources. 
  • She is currently Director and Senior Counsel, Employment and Labor, North America for Iron Mountain.


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