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17 June 2010 @ 03:20 pm
On a non-LJ forum, I wrote something about sexual harassment and a specific case of problems continuing despite reports to HR.

Somebody wrote me back with the following observation:

One of the things I've learned is never report things like that to HR. Report them to the police.
The job of HR is not to help you, the employee. It is to protect the company. The more credible your complaints to HR look, especially if there was some negligence in your management chain, the more they will try to damage your story or credibility. That's their job.

Wow. This is unquestionably a reasonable worry. And I've never heard that conflict of interest brought up by HR. Which means it is very, very likely to be true. And I'd simply never thought of that.

I think this is advice I'm going to give more often, starting with posting it here. I'm not sure whether to give the advice "report it to HR *and* the police." But then, if he's right and HR will try to damage your credibility if you have a credible complaint, then that's the worst thing you can do. Because fundamentally, they can do that if they have time to gather resources.

I'm conflicted on that, too, since it requires the HR folk in question to be somewhere between "fairly mercenary" and "evil." So the answer is probably "that's only sometimes true."
geekgirlwarsop on June 17th, 2010 11:26 pm (UTC)
An ex-officemate (female) had a problem with a massively senior engineer (male) at my previous company. It got to the point where our manager would run interference for her if she saw the senior engineer coming. (The manager's office was at the top of the hallway, our office was at the very end of it.) When the officemate and our manager complained to HR, they simply called the senior engineer into the office, and he explained that he simply "had a lot of respect" for my officemate and "wanted to mentor her". HR told her that she was being overly sensitive and that she should be grateful that someone so senior was taking an interest in her career. How "overly sensitive" can cover him commenting on how great her breasts are, or him feeling her up during meetings, or the other dozen things that happened in front of plenty of witnesses. She transferred departments, which wasn't successful because the guy was senior enough to simply insert himself into her new project. She ended up leaving the company and moving across the country.
vito_excalibur on June 18th, 2010 01:34 am (UTC)
Well, that's depressing, plausible, and good to be warned about.
Davidtsgeisel on June 18th, 2010 04:31 am (UTC)
Any behaviour serious enough to be reported to the police probably should be. That said, there are also government agencies that aren't the police who take a dim view of things like this, who can also be called in to investigate, especially if HR is not doing their job.
Anthonyterpsichoros on June 18th, 2010 04:39 am (UTC)
Given my experience with HR departments, I'd agree with Somebody. The only exception will be if the person complained about is a problem employee in other ways (many of which won't be obvious). In that case, the "protect the company" instinct will cause no end of hurt to the person complained about.

There was a brief period in a small industry where HR's job was to get lots of people into the company as quickly as possible. That's over now, and even IT HR people will have reverted to type.
Angela di Tenebreditenebre on June 18th, 2010 06:34 am (UTC)
Angela, MS HRM, SPHR
As an HR professional of over 20 years, I take exception to the generalizations represented in the comments here. I have observed ~ and been involved in ~ investigations of sexual harassment and other hostile work environment-type complaints, and I have never seen the kinds of behavior from HR management described here. I'm not saying it doesn't ever happen, because I'm not prone to making sweeping generalizations. I'm just saying I have never participated in, nor have I observed in the HR circles I have moved in, the kind of "conflict of interest" asserted by some of the other posters. Catbert, Evil HR Director, is a humorous comic character, but not representative of my profession, in my experience.

I'm not sure where that "report it to the police" advice is coming from. There are agencies, such as the DFEH in California, or the EEOC at a Federal level, which deal with complaints of this nature. In fact, if there is any possibility this might result in your taking legal action, you would need to exhaust those administrative remedies first, before filing suit.
Roman Mitzrmitz on June 18th, 2010 12:54 pm (UTC)
Re: Angela, MS HRM, SPHR
I have to agree. It seems to me that "protecting the company" is easiest by taking the situation very seriously and getting rid of the offender quickly if needed.
Noahangelbob on June 18th, 2010 03:42 pm (UTC)
Re: Angela, MS HRM, SPHR
In general, I agree. For a counterexample, see the first comment on this thread.

"Protecting the company" indicates that the company is more worried about the threat of legal action (how likely is the employee to actually sue? How severe are the consequences?) versus the threat of losing/alienating the employee doing the harassing (is he, say, a senior engineer when they're hard to find?).

You would hope that there would be no real question, and it would always go in the "enforce the law" direction. That doesn't seem to be true in practice, and the fact that the decisions are made by somebody being paid by the company makes that a conflict of interest.

That doesn't guarantee that HR will always call in the company's favor, merely that it's a pressure for them to do so. Insurance agents don't always fight reasonable claims, despite having a basic conflict of interest there. But their overall statistical behavior makes a lot more sense if you take the conflict of interest into account.

I worry (and anecdotal evidence from friends supports the idea) that HR may have that same conflict of interest, and so that same type of bias.
i_am_dshi_am_dsh on June 18th, 2010 06:07 pm (UTC)
RE the first comment - YIPES! HR should at least do a "restraining order" equivalent on the senior engineer.

Regarding whom to notify (or whom to notify first) I'd say, in part it depends on what behavior the person reporting harassment wants from the company.

*** If they want the perpetrator counseled and request behavior modification only, then telling HR first is probably the way to go.

*** If they want the perpetrator fired or arrested, going to the police first may be the way to go.
rbus: brarbus on June 20th, 2010 10:39 pm (UTC)
now that i'm not at work let me post something.

with apologies to any HR professionals out there...

after 35 years in the workforce, (much of it at fortune 500 and 100 companies) i have found HR departments to be the single biggest point of failure when it comes to fairness in the workplace.

at first, they deny, deny, deny.
if faced with documentation, they stall, stall, stall.

this has been true in *every single time* i've ever gone to them - whether it's problems with ergonomics, harassment, medical claims, worker comp, safety, e.e.o., and issues of general fairness.

i actually had one say "I can't confirm you typing 8 hours a day is having any ill effects on your arms because, if I did, everyone who types 8 hours a day would be in here complaining." when i went to that person's boss (a senior v.p.) he said "yes, that's correct."

they hide behind catch-phrases and jargon: how about this one; "you're not working with four less *people* in your department. you're working with four less *FTE* (full time employees)."

or... "We didn't eliminate any people from your group. We eliminated their positions."

huh? excuse me?

i've been in meetings where i've *heard* them say "the names marked in red are near death (with work-related diseases). we won't have to worry about any claims from them if we can put them off a few more months."

the company i work at now recently lost it's *very best hr person* who quit after 20 years and without having another job lined up. i saw her a week after her departure (looking about a decade younger). she told me: "i started in hr to help the people i worked with and i just couldn't take it anymore."

i have met *individuals* in the profession who are stellar people, like the person above, wanting to help. but the *department* is protecting the company, not the worker. anybody who thinks otherwise is living in a fool's paradise.