We're HR and We're Here to ... Ahem ... Help
December 12, 2017 9:53 AM   Subscribe

The New York Times reports on the growing dissatisfaction with HR departments' responses to sexual harassment allegations. Inspired by the #MeToo movement, more victims of harassment are coming forward to report incidents after they've taken place. But story after story suggests that HR may not only be ineffective, but actually be part of the problem.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says 70% of employers provide sexual harassment training and 98% of companies have sexual harassment policies. But are they effective?

As the New York Times reports today, many of those who have suffered from harassment look at HR with wary eyes. "The lack of trust manifests itself as a self-perpetuating quandry: Women are hesitatnt to approach human resources departments and those departments cite the absence of complaints as proof of a respectful workplace."

Former Fox News anchor and sexual harassment victim Gretchen Carlson has a solution: take sexual harassment reporting and response out of HR: "I actually believe that reporting sexual harassment should go to a different part of the company. In fact, it shouldn’t even be a part of the company. Remember who is signing the paycheck, because that’s who you’re beholden to. And if the harasser is the boss, then forget it. You as the employee have no chance.”

HR professionals are not reacting well.
posted by zooropa (78 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
 
One must always remember that HR is working for the corporation and not for you. If your issue coincides with the aims of the corporation then they will assist.

If you're working against the machine, with perhaps a sexual harassment complaint against someone in the C-Suite, expect them to be working against you.
posted by AnodeCathode at 10:00 AM on December 12, 2017 [69 favorites]


HR is a CYA tool for the company, not a support system for its employees. Sad but true.
posted by grumpybear69 at 10:03 AM on December 12, 2017 [42 favorites]


HR professionals are not reacting well.

That's because they are under the mistaken impression that they are deserving of trust. Like the police, contact with HR should be avoided at all costs.

also, I'm a white,cis,straight,professional male. If I know I can't trust HR...
posted by Dr. Twist at 10:04 AM on December 12, 2017 [45 favorites]


Even the idea of a third-party harassment handling company is dubious, as they will not be able to remove troublemakers unless the company agrees, AND how are they going to get funded? They're not going to want to bite the hand that feeds them...
posted by Samizdata at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]


One of an HR Department's primary responsibilities is to manage and minimize liabilities. When HR Execs who downplay or work against accusers have the same civil exposure as the harassers themselves, things will change really quick.
posted by tclark at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2017 [9 favorites]


“They want to resolve these disputes,” he continued. “But they’re stuck in this middle ground between are they kind of advocating for employees, or do they represent management.”

They want to resolve them by making them go away. Advocating for employees isn't what they do.

You can't spell "union" with HR.
posted by AlSweigart at 10:06 AM on December 12, 2017 [77 favorites]


A dozen of us went to HR en masse about one specific employee who was also sexually harassing numerous female clients. HR told us that we were misunderstanding. That was the last time I worked full-time for a company. I'd rather be struggling to pay my bills as a freelancer than put myself through that conversation again.

The first time I had that conversation? At a different company I was violently attacked and assaulted by a colleague. HR told me I misunderstood what happened.

I think a lot about how these incidents meant that I never had the chance to make as much financial headway as my male peers.
posted by A hidden well at 10:07 AM on December 12, 2017 [68 favorites]


And I am not even GOING to mention the helplessness of the employee in this culture that allows anyone to terminate employment at any time and for any reason.
posted by Samizdata at 10:08 AM on December 12, 2017 [32 favorites]


You know how you get a weird 'vibe' from some teacher or wrestling coach and later they turn out to be a monster?

I've never met anyone in HR who didn't give me that vibe. Scandals and potential scandals seem to come from that department more than any other.
posted by poe at 10:08 AM on December 12, 2017 [10 favorites]


Here in 2017 in America the culture still doesn't accept that women are full human beings who have a place at work the same as everyone else. We have put on a convincing face about it, and women sure are REQUIRED to go earn their own rent, but you still don't deserve to be there and therefore I will feel free to treat you however the fuck I want to treat you and good luck getting anyone to give a shit. Trying to go to work and just work and get paid if you're a woman is really fucking hard to do. It's 20 fucking seventeen already. Even if no one is deigning to touch your butt, you are still treated like a child, ignored, blamed, stolen from, with no recourse. I'm ready for the asteroid.
posted by bleep at 10:11 AM on December 12, 2017 [33 favorites]


During exit interviews, I have told two different HR departments detailed information about how supervisors were abusing their positions, treating staff horribly, and in one case, about some serious violations. Both times the HR person made placating noises at me and did absolutely nothing. Even after saying, "This individual in management is the single reason I am leaving." the HR person, smiled uncomfortably and said, "Oh. That's a shame." and nothing has changed in that workplace.

Management and the higher ups in corporate America do not care about the worker in any way, shape, or form. HR is merely an extension of that.
posted by teleri025 at 10:15 AM on December 12, 2017 [30 favorites]


You can't spell "union" with HR.

Exactly. "Third party harassment handling companies" will also be primarily working for their own interests, not those of another company's workers (though these will coincide more than with those of the workers' employer). The solution to this issue is not some innovative restructuring of corporate responsibility. It's just unions. It's not HR departments that got workers the 40 hour week, after all. Would it be possible to create a non-industry specific women's union against workplace harassment?
posted by demonic winged headgear at 10:16 AM on December 12, 2017 [24 favorites]


This is our entire culture. People don't get chosen to work for HR from an identified pool of cowardly dirtbags. Look at this anonymous askme question. All of AskMe came out to inform this person that they were imagining things, they were in fact NOT the victim of bias, they were clearly wrong, and even if they were right, there was nothing they could do about it. This is just who we are as a people and it sucks.
posted by bleep at 10:18 AM on December 12, 2017 [22 favorites]


I've said it before, I'll say it again. OSHA standards for handing sexual misconduct complaints are long overdue. They can ensure has a safe and healthy workplace free of sexual misconduct, that complaints are handled in good-faith, and that penalties are appropriate.

If an employer can't provide that, they have no place hiring workers.
posted by mikelieman at 10:23 AM on December 12, 2017 [24 favorites]


This is our entire culture.

Well some very well-to-do people have spent a great deal of money and a great deal of time shaping their business culture and the laws surrounding it to benefit them and make it so they could do what they want with impunity.

You really think the culture won't slowly reflect the people who shape it?

It's kind of hard to keep people under your boot if they're aware of it. It's much better to buy out the entire media structure and tell them that they're not under your boot, they just need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.

Which is basically why we're seeing the net neutrality repeal.

"What, poor people are talking about rights and not wanting to be sexually assaulted in the workplace and wanting better pay? Better nip this in the damn bud. Can't have these poors talking to each other! They might actually organize!!"
posted by deadaluspark at 10:24 AM on December 12, 2017 [15 favorites]


I worked at law firm with a rainmaking partner who was legendarily abusive. One story, which I absolutely believed, had him throwing a bagel at his secretary because she put the wrong kind of cream cheese on it. He drove out associate after associate after associate over a course of many years. His behavior, as well as his propensity for driving away good lawyers, was well-known not only to the everyone in the firm, but in the entire New York City legal community, but he had a huge book of business, so. Finally, he started to turn his abusive behavior on his partners instead of on associates and support staff; that, of course, wasn't acceptable, and it was finally aloha on the steel guitar.

None of this will change, of course, until companies and firms start outsourcing HR duties so that HR is independent from the company or firm structure. And that, of course, will not happen for obvious reasons. And here we are.
posted by holborne at 10:27 AM on December 12, 2017 [19 favorites]


Ooh yes, as an employee at a corp with incredibly regressive, back to the seventies sort of leadership, and an HR director who was the male CEO's best man, this is a thing almost every woman of significant role has found out immediately after the first time she's complained about any significant issue. Fun!
posted by ominous_paws at 10:29 AM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


I am a consultant, and have been trained on many clients' sexual harassment policies. Sometimes the training has been good, sometimes less so, but one piece of advice one never hears is one that always crops up on work-related Ask MeFi posts: when something sketchy happens, document everything.

I suspect, now, that's because careful documentation makes it easier to sue the company (or at least force them into concessions), and HR's job isn't to protect the workers, it's to protect the company.
posted by Gelatin at 10:59 AM on December 12, 2017 [15 favorites]


(That said, the one time I, a male, made a report about an event I witnessed, the HR person took my report and then asked if I was okay after having seen it, so that was a bit of all right.)
posted by Gelatin at 11:00 AM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


About the only words that will get HR to act on anything are "[Individual] is potentially exposing the company to a lawsuit." And even then, they may not do anything.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 11:04 AM on December 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


About the only words that will get HR to act on anything are "[Individual] is potentially exposing the company to a lawsuit."

Which is why I suspect advice to document harassing behavior -- as opposed to just putting the onus of dealing with it on individual employees -- is conspicuous by its absence. Well documented claims must be acted on, or they expose the company to serious liability.

I suspect, but can't prove of course, that the reason MPR severed its relationship with Garrison Keillor after what was reported to be one report of an ongoing pattern of behavior is that the one individual presented them with documentation. Facing that -- and the possibility that said documentation may be released to the press, the EEOC, or whomever -- MPR probably saw little option.
posted by Gelatin at 11:10 AM on December 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


Former HR guy here - spent 7 years working for a division of a huge, multinational finance company you've likely done business with.

I handled a few harassment situations and feel they were all handled appropriately - depending on severity, either a documented final warning or termination or employment. I can't tell you how many employee emails I read and due diligence (essentially, proving our case to corporate counsel before proceeding) we had to do in these situations.

A lot of it has to do with if the CEO is on board with empowering HR to handle things. My boss (the head of HR) was willing to go toe-to-toe with the CEO and not back down. HR overall has the reputation it deserves - so many treat it as merely "personnel" instead of a strategic part of the company.
posted by Twicketface at 11:10 AM on December 12, 2017 [17 favorites]


Gee, I wonder if skipping HR and going directly to the cops might be a better approach. Cops may not pursue the matter, but when the police start coming into the office it might get management's attention a little more.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:18 AM on December 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


I will say that I've had personal experience seeing a successful male financial adviser at a bulge-bracket firm being shown the door almost instantly after inappropriate behavior with a new female hire on his team (she actually quit so she wouldn't have to work with him, and after that he still went to her apartment to talk to her, shoving his foot in the door when she tried to close it). She's still at the firm (rehired after everything came out).

I suspect really big companies might be much better at this stuff, both because they've got better HR people, and because basically NOBODY is irreplaceable at a multinational corporation.
posted by leotrotsky at 11:19 AM on December 12, 2017 [21 favorites]


Gee, I wonder if skipping HR and going directly to the cops might be a better approach. Cops may not pursue the matter, but when the police start coming into the office it might get management's attention a little more.


You're joking, right? The cops would show up and there'd be a big scene. Within seconds of the last squad car leaving the parking lot, a single question would be asked/demanded: "WHO CALLED THE COPS?"

How quickly do you think that person would be rooted out and fired?
posted by zooropa at 11:41 AM on December 12, 2017 [12 favorites]


One huge problem is, a lot of the time, HR isn't staffed with anyone actually schooled/trained/certified as an HR professional. They're just secretaries or office managers who get "promoted." As such, they're definitely aware of who butters their crumbs of bread.
posted by Thorzdad at 11:43 AM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Twicketface > I handled a few harassment situations and feel they were all handled appropriately - depending on severity, either a documented final warning or termination or employment.

First of all, thank you for coming on here as a HR professional and sharing your story.

When I read the stories like the one in the NYT article, I get so furious because I know that these companies all have extensive processes and poclies with detailed steps like warnings and termination. What do those processes and policies mean if they aren't followed? Bupkes.

I just don't get it. By and large, HR will go strictly by the book when it comes to everything from hiring to having holiday parties. But when it comes to something truly egregious like harassment, why does HR throw the book away (or deliberately ignore it)?
posted by zooropa at 11:47 AM on December 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


The HR person at my last job didn't believe that chronic pain existed and sneeringly told a bunch of people, "in confidence," that I was actually just an alcoholic who could get away with it due to being a minority.
posted by poffin boffin at 11:50 AM on December 12, 2017 [38 favorites]


Gee, I wonder if skipping HR and going directly to the cops might be a better approach. Cops may not pursue the matter, but when the police start coming into the office it might get management's attention a little more.

Suggestions like this focus on what the person being harassed should do and I think that's not usually a great way to approach these things. People being harassed, like people being abused or assaulted, are making choices and calculations based on what's best for them. When people say "why don't they leave their abusive partner?" sometimes the answer is "they believe they will be killed if they do so and they are right." If someone's being harassed at work, maybe they are afraid they'll lose a job they really need or they'll get blacklisted or get attention they don't want or nothing will change or they'll be harassed by other people too or they just would prefer not to think about it. People being harassed might make mistakes or be incorrect about what actual outcomes will be but they are making considered choices based on their priorities and knowledge of their own situation. I think it's a real problem when we make suggestions about what people who are being harassed can or should do instead of thinking about how we can create an environment where they don't have to make these calculations because their jobs and reputations and lives will be safe.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 11:50 AM on December 12, 2017 [37 favorites]


I just don't get it. By and large, HR will go strictly by the book when it comes to everything from hiring to having holiday parties. But when it comes to something truly egregious like harassment, why does HR throw the book away (or deliberately ignore it)?

Because their mandate from on-high is "Cover our asses, and don't rock the boat"
posted by Thorzdad at 11:53 AM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


I've been watching carefully and waiting for revelations to come up about the first company I worked for out of college. It was just the most systemically toxic workplace I've encountered, which is saying a lot in my industry. The culture of sexual harassment came from the top down, aided by HR. I don't have enough concrete to say anything because I wasn't directly subjected to the worst of it, probably because I yelled at my boss loud enough for everyone to hear during my first quarterly review because he told me I should wear shorter skirts. But yeah, HR's response was always shit like telling you he can't help it, and/or that you should be flattered.

Every once in a blue moon, I see some fawning story about the company founder and worst offender pontificating about his insights into managing productive workplaces, and it's just enraging. He even hired some little toady to write a sycophantic Wikipedia page for him, which I deleted almost all of. My fondest wish is that someone will come forward with documented sexual harassment so I can update his page again.

But there was another company later where HR was probably the worst offender when it came to discrimination. They'd do shit like pad job requirements to exclude people with disabilities, and it came back to me that the head of HR had roundfiled a guy I recommended for a job because we had too many "boat people" already. I ended up going to the C levels to report HR opening the company up to potential lawsuits.

I believe that there are good, conscientious people working in human resources somewhere, but I have never seen it in real life.
posted by ernielundquist at 11:58 AM on December 12, 2017 [16 favorites]


I suspect really big companies might be much better at this stuff, both because they've got better HR people, and because basically NOBODY is irreplaceable at a multinational corporation.

I was harassed at a MegaCorp a decade or so ago. HR said it couldn't be sexual harassment because I'm a guy and he's a guy and isn't gay (how they knew or why that mattered I don't know) and then when I said "fine but it's harassing" the answer was basically "We can fight about this if you want but we have a lot of lawyers and many people would love your job." The best part was when I got a talking to for my 'outburst' after he came up behind me yet again and I said (admittedly very loudly) "NO $NAME. I was serious when I said I didn't want you to touch me!"

So I'm a bit skeptical about really big companies being better, but I can see it going either way because nobody being irreplaceable could be empowering if HR wants to do the right thing.
posted by Clinging to the Wreckage at 12:02 PM on December 12, 2017 [16 favorites]


I reported harassment - disability, age, gender - to HR, with specifics. They worked with my supervisor to try to get rid of me. The State Human Rights Commission was much more responsive. It was unpleasant and stupid and they could have worked on a resolution instead of being jerks. Never trust HR. Use them, just don't trust them.
posted by theora55 at 12:06 PM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]


I have exactly once reported harrassing behaviour by a coworker. I told their line manager exactly what I thought about it, the manager cracked right down on it immediately and it never happened again. It would never have occurred to me in a million years to go to the HR department; for sure they have no power over that guy, and no incentive to change his behavior.
posted by quacks like a duck at 12:12 PM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


i think this is 10000% correct:

even if they were right, there was nothing they could do about it.

that askme was sad bc there is literally nothing that person can do. as soon as you tell HR, i'm being discriminated against or harassed, in most places, they will act like you are the problem. and to them, you are. just like in the bad lawyer example. they see the staff who complained as problems, not the bad lawyer throwing fits about his cream cheese.

i've seen this in other companies as well, really big ones and even warm fuzzy ones. Even if you are right about how you or someone else is being treated, you cannot win if the powers that be don't want to see it that way.

You are shouting into the void because no one wants a fuss. Especially not an expensive fuss. As soon as they even give a hint of agreement that you are correct, they are open to lawsuits.
posted by sio42 at 12:17 PM on December 12, 2017 [9 favorites]


I was fired for reporting sexual harassment against me. Six of my co-workers resigned the next day in support of me. I was threatened by HR to stay quiet. This wasn't some big corporate entity–it was the university at which I was also a student at the time.

HR chased me for years until I graduated, every time I brought up what had happened or was critical of the institution. I am the least vulnerable in the work environment, being white and male. It is unimaginable the precarity that other people face. Oh–and fuck HR.
posted by moink at 12:20 PM on December 12, 2017 [18 favorites]


In my exit interview for a prior job, the HR Director tried to get me to confirm which of several staff members in a particular department was pregnant.
posted by desuetude at 12:32 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


HR is not a leader, it is an enabler of bad outcomes. I have both corporate and academic experience. Corporate was just generic bad i.e., corporate CYA while academic was just wow. It takes a lot to counterveil a crappy HR group. In retrospect, burn it all with fire. Nuke it from space, just to be sure.
posted by jadepearl at 12:37 PM on December 12, 2017


HR is all low paid women too. They don't have any power over men's behavior either and they know it. They'll be dismissed by management just as all the women in this thread were.

I'm very lucky to work at a great organization but I will add one thing from a managers perspective. 99% of the time when someone comes to me and complains about a co-workers actions they immediately following it up with "but I don't want to get them in trouble or be involved" and they refuse to document the behavior or go on the record. Men and women do this, even when complaining about their direct reports. Which really ties my hands. Now I personally have never had to deal with a sexual harassment complaint but over the years I've heard of many that have gone unreported for that reason. And I have had to deal with some pretty egregious behavior. Articles about managerless workplaces made me laugh grimly to myself every time I see them as most people have no idea how much time good managers spend on interpersonal conflict and coaching people
posted by fshgrl at 12:39 PM on December 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


You're joking, right? The cops would show up...

Speaking of toxic cultures, expecting the cops to show up in a case of harassment is the joke in many places.
posted by clawsoon at 12:39 PM on December 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


the HR Director tried to get me to confirm which of several staff members in a particular department was pregnant.

"You mind if I record this conversation?"
posted by rhizome at 12:45 PM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]


I went to HR one time exactly. The woman I spoke to told me that a work colleague touching my hair, trying to get me to drink from his hip flask, rubbing my shoulders, and making suggestive comments about what I get up to after work was just "playful." She then suggested that I might enjoy a different working environment, strongly implying that they were totally up for finding someone more "fun" to sit in my chair.

Never again.
posted by xyzzy at 12:55 PM on December 12, 2017 [14 favorites]


"Even the idea of a third-party harassment handling company is dubious, as they will not be able to remove troublemakers unless the company agrees, AND how are they going to get funded? "

The thing to do is create a state-level agency under the purview of the attorney general, that routinely handles all sexual harassment reports, a sort-of cross between how workers comp and civil rights violations are handled. All reports of harassment to a company are mandatorily reported to the SOSH (state office of sexual harassment); employees may also independently report to the SOSH, by filling out a form on a website. SOSH sees you've got a handsy salesman with a vulgar sense of humor, sees you've sent him to mandatory training after first offense, put him on probation after second, and fire him after third, no problem, they don't need to intervene, they just audit how it's being handled. SOSH sees a report of a forced sexual encounter with a C-suite executive, SOSH initiates its own investigation.

The thing about this is that SOSH would have a lot of data -- company internal data and their own direct reports and investigations. SOSH would be able to make yearly reports highlighting complaints by industry, region, even individual company. SOSH would be able to identify the base-level of sexual harassment at car dealerships, and note that Joe's Dealership has four times the base level and go see what's up there. SOSH could identify companies that were firing female employees for making reports. SOSH would have the ability to levy fines against companies who failed to remediate ongoing harassment problems, or who retaliated against reporting employees. SOSH could bring a civil suit on behalf of the state against an employer who routinely flouted the law; it would also, because it was in the AG's office, be empowered to directly bring criminal charges when its investigation of a complaint uncovered criminal sexual harassment (assault). SOSH would also have the power to oversee settlement procedures, to provide companies and complainants with a table of typical settlement amounts for typical complaints, and to object to confidentiality on any settlement where the found it contrary to the public interest, with a judge making the final decision but giving great deference to SOSH. Confidential settlements in sexual harassment cases are a huge, huge problem -- and to that end, even in the case of a confidential settlement, SOSH would be authorized to pull professional licensing for individuals in licensed professions (lawyers, teachers, doctors) who are found to have sexually harassed (to some statutory degree or some statutory number of times, with the ability to regain licensure or limited licensure in some cases if they complete a remediation program) -- one big issue with confidentiality in sexual harassment or sexual assault settlements is that a doctor who's sexually assaulting can just move on to the next hospital if it doesn't get reported to the licensing board. SOSH would remove that possibility; it'd all get reported to the licensing board.

Complainants could be required to report their complaints to SOSH before filing suit, and SOSH would have to sign off on the complaint. Without impairing complainants' ability to move forward with a lawsuit, each lawsuit would move forward with a designation that SOSH supported their complaint, had no opinion on their complaint (i.e., couldn't find evidence either way), found the complaint unfounded, or found the complaint was in bad faith -- incentivizing corporations to get on board because it would help protect them from frivolous litigation.

With a state oversight board empowered to audit company handling of internal complaints, publish reports of their findings by industry and company, levy fines for failure to properly handle sexual harassers, and bring direct criminal charges when the harassment is found to be criminal, C-suite executives would get religion about complaints to HR real quick and HR's job to "protect the company" would suddenly be aligned with "from massive fines and penalties from a state auditor if we fuck up on sexual harassment."

I've worked with a bunch of state administrative boards who use various combinations of these systems, and while you'd have to hammer out a bunch of details, I think it could work, and work really well. And protecting citizens' safety at work and enforcing the laws of the state is a natural role for state government.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 12:56 PM on December 12, 2017 [66 favorites]


HR isn't staffed with anyone actually schooled/trained/certified as an HR professional.

A decade of experience of dealing with HR Professionals says that that really doesn't matter much for competence. Credentialism doesn't guarantee a decent HR advisor any more that it does for any field. A degree doesn't get you empathy, competence or someone with a strong sense of professionalism. Some are great, most are middling, at least one has advised me to break the law that they are supposed to be experts in conforming to.
posted by bonehead at 12:57 PM on December 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


What do those processes and policies mean if they aren't followed? Bupkes.

I just don't get it. By and large, HR will go strictly by the book when it comes to everything from hiring to having holiday parties. But when it comes to something truly egregious like harassment, why does HR throw the book away (or deliberately ignore it)?
posted by zooropa at 8:47 PM o


In order for the process to be followed, they have to believe there is a reason to start the process.

In the example provided by Clinging to the Wreckage, he said he was being harassed, being touched when he didn't want to be touched.

hr said "that's not what's happening".

So the process never gets started.
posted by sio42 at 12:59 PM on December 12, 2017 [8 favorites]


[…]going directly to the cops[…]
Good god, don't call the cops. Please don't call the cops.
posted by moink at 1:00 PM on December 12, 2017 [1 favorite]


(Oh, and SOSH would hand out yearly awards to companies that were handling sexual harassment well -- you'd get to be a blue-ribbon workplace and invited to a governor's lunch or some shit -- and SOSH could also block you from various state tax incentive programs if you have an ongoing sexual harassment problem. Why should you get corporate tax benefits if you're breaking the law on the regular?)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:01 PM on December 12, 2017 [10 favorites]


During exit interviews, I have told two different HR departments detailed information about how supervisors were abusing their positions, treating staff horribly, and in one case, about some serious violations. Both times the HR person made placating noises at me and did absolutely nothing. Even after saying, "This individual in management is the single reason I am leaving." the HR person, smiled uncomfortably and said, "Oh. That's a shame." and nothing has changed in that workplace.


Well, the employee always has options: report the harassment while she or he is working there, and be fired for of-course unrelated reasons; or report it after leaving, and be marginalized and dismissed as a disgruntled ex-employee.

When I had an exit interview from a job where my boss was dropping hints about his prowess, the exit interview turned out not to be with the HR person for logistical reasons, but with the boss himself. I didn't bring up his recounting tales of past erotic adventures, but neither did he. The closest we approached the subject was at the end when he thanked me for being professional. "I suppose one of us has to be," I thought.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 1:02 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Damn, eyebrows
I'd love to see that. Your whole plan

I will vote for it
posted by sio42 at 1:04 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


Alison Green of Ask a Manager fame is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Although she's best known for her work advice blog, she previously worked as a HR person who supported a sexual harasser.
posted by daybeforetheday at 1:09 PM on December 12, 2017 [13 favorites]


If you're a union member being harassed by a fellow union member don't expect things to go much better for you than it would if you were non-unionized and just negotiating with HR.

As for Alison Green, she is very pro-corporation and I've noticed she has a tendency to shut down suggestions of bias or sexism as possible reasons that a letter writer is being treated poorly at work.
posted by Stonkle at 1:33 PM on December 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


leotrotsky: I suspect really big companies might be much better at this stuff

You're wrong.

I used to work for a multinational conglomerate with nearly half a million employees.

You're wrong.
posted by tzikeh at 1:35 PM on December 12, 2017 [11 favorites]


HR works for the company. If the company's interests and the employee's interests align, HR also works for the employee. If they diverge, HR still works for the company.

You can also substitute "key executives" or "top salespeople" or "revenue generators" for "the company" if you wish. If you print reams of money for the company, you can do what you want (until something really big happens, a la Harvey Weinstein). If you are a highly replaceable cost-center, not so much.
posted by theorique at 1:37 PM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


In the vein of Eyebrows's idea to tackle the problem using existing formats of government, a while back I came up with the idea of tackling it with existing formats of capitalism. I wanted to start a harassment-insurance company for potential victims — I think sexual-harassment-lawsuit insurance for perpetrators unfortunately already exists. I was just going to start by focusing on highly-qualified tech workers from under-represented groups because there is such a demand for good tech talent and the salaries are high, and also that's who I know (I was going to do it for queer and trans people specifically). But you could choose to focus on people in C-suite positions, for example. Anywhere that people are making enough money that paying into the fund is affordable but where they also deal with a highly toxic culture.

By having a big enough pool of people we'd cover the severance/unemployment pay to the victims so they wouldn't be forced to sign an NDA. And we'd pay for fancy lawyers to take the offending people or company to the cleaners, and a hard-hitting PR team to advise the victim. It would be like a combo of private employment insurance and a union. It's not ideal, justice-wise, to make a potential victim pay for their own harassment-insurance, and to focus on only highly-paid potential victims. But it would have to just be one of many remedies, and I know from my enviro-campaign experience that it's effective to hit corporations where it hurts: legal and PR. The threat of the victim having a well-funded backer that can go public, and oppose their legal team effectively, would function as a stick — instead of the limp carrot of 'awareness training.'

And then some good, progressive tech companies could pay us for the awareness-training carrots, too. But if there's one thing I learned from the corporate training sessions I've been forced to take, it's that nobody pays attention or changes any of their behaviour, but the training company makes obscene amounts of money. So it'd be more of an income source to go towards filling the pool than a real remedy for the problem. The perpetrators are already gorging themselves on all the riches of the world, after all, they aren't hungry for any sad little carrots of social approval. Sticks are what they pay attention to.

Silicon Valley loves industry disruption, and in my vision, the pool would very much pursue the role of disruptor. But I realized it would require HR / insurance / harassment lawyer skillsets to build this company, and I am not those things. I think it is beyond me. Anybody want to take this on? Or would this never work for a reason I can't see? Or is someone already doing this?
posted by it's FuriOsa, not FurioSA at 2:38 PM on December 12, 2017 [7 favorites]


HR guys used to openly hit on my girlfriend at one of her old jobs (in the casually-mention-having-a-really-big-dick kind of way). They’d also do stuff like walk by her desk and say stuff like “*cough*missionaryposition!” all day. She said it was this bro clique that would high five each other over that shit. Fucking disgusting. Where was she going to report them, to HR? This was a major company, too.

God, almost nothing makes me as furious as hearing about those fucking dicks.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 3:08 PM on December 12, 2017 [9 favorites]


If you're a union member being harassed by a fellow union member don't expect things to go much better for you than it would if you were non-unionized and just negotiating with HR.

often a union exists to protect a certain group of members while others can fend for themselves - and yes, that can be women who are being harassed by those who are in with the union leadership

i haven't seen anything that exactly maps to this, but after seeing the kind of favoritism and social ostracism my union practices, i don't doubt it could happen

remember that a union might not be inspired by fighting for its workers, but by maintaining the status quo and the perks the union leadership is getting from the company - anyone who rocks the boat might find themselves alone in their fight against the company, as often the union just wants peace and quiet, even at the cost of someone losing a job

so, don't be so sure a union's going to be a good alternative to HR
posted by pyramid termite at 3:21 PM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


Without impairing complainants' ability to move forward with a lawsuit, each lawsuit would move forward with a designation that SOSH [provided]....

Which effectively makes them into a police force specializing in sexual assault (or would at least in Canada ---police make findings of credibility here). Presumably to make their finding, they would need to gather evidence and investigate independently. Which would require staff, with powers similar to officers of the law. So a quasi-police force that investigates matters of civil law at the behest of private litigants.

I work closely with folks who have police powers and work on civil regulation enforcement. But that's usually driven by a government mandate, failure to comply with a statute, not on behalf of civil damages to a member of the public. For civil damages resulting from a statutory breech, the public is on their own for that.

So this is a bit of a new thing. Government investigators---police or prosecutors---working as their primary focus on private damage claims, not breeches of the law, criminal or civil. My feeling is that this would require statutory civil regulation and penalties for non-criminal sexual harassment and abuse of power in order to work.

Sorry, just running with this idea to see where it goes.
posted by bonehead at 3:22 PM on December 12, 2017


They’d also do stuff like walk by her desk and say stuff like “*cough*missionaryposition!” all day.

I had a manager who'd occasionally make *cough*[harassment] comments. One time he did it as the Hallowe'en parade passed by. (I work in animation - Hallowe'en parades at work, by employees, are a thing). He didn't see the look of pure disgust on the face of the woman who had just passed him, at whom the comment was directed.

When I told him afterwards how her face looked, he was crestfallen. I'm pretty sure that it wasn't because he had been overheard, or because he recognized that he had done a bad thing, but because she wasn't turned on by his manly virility.
posted by clawsoon at 3:45 PM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


Eyebrows McGee, please run for office with SOSH as your main platform plank. Not kidding even a little bit.
posted by schadenfrau at 3:53 PM on December 12, 2017 [6 favorites]


I also support eyebrows' idea, not least because I am Canadian and so here it would see techbros and hedge fund manager assholes accountable to the POSH. Call me a sentimental royalist.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 4:12 PM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


This one time, at cubicle camp, leadership brought in an outside HR consultant to investigate the cause of widespread disgruntlement.

The disgruntlement was not actually mysterious. A company of 60 people went into the Great Recession, and a company of 12 came out. When the economy and the company recovered wages remained frozen, Christmas bonuses remained indefinitely suspended, and the hiring freeze was relaxed in only a highly specific way: hiring the boss a personal assistant who was paid more than the most senior people left standing.

The HR consultant told us we could speak to her candidly, and she would present an anonimyzed report to leadership upon which to base next steps.

Everyone had a lot of pent up misery, so in general we had a lot to say to the consultant. We had suggestions. We had tips. We identified systemic failures, and named names.

The promise of privacy was, of course, a fib. The HR consultant told leadership all of the juicy gossip we had let loose. After which we had a sort of round table discussion which quickly degenerated into leadership making clear he knew who was giving him sideways stink eye now.

My colleague had prepared for the meeting. He had gone to the HR consultant’s website, and called with an inquiry, and determined her rates. At the sort of round table meeting he said, “If you had simply taken the money you’ve paid to this consultant, and instead divided it among us as a Christmas bonus, we’d all be two third appeased. Why did you pay somebody else money to pass along what we’ve been telling you for months? We’d like the profit sharing programme you promised, and cost of living raises. What about that requires a consultant to understand?”

“This isn’t constructive,” claimed leadership.

My colleague and I quit and started our own company. It’s been five years, and we just gave each other ridiculous Christmas bonuses. Fuck HR consultants, fuck greedy white dudes in suits, fuck the cubicle farm.

/rage porn
posted by Construction Concern at 5:51 PM on December 12, 2017 [58 favorites]


Living the dream, Construction Concern!
posted by rhizome at 6:30 PM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


An associate of mine reported a hostile manager once to HR. Not sexually harassing her, but definitely harassing her and berating her and being a dickhead. She was let go for a "bad culture fit."
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 8:56 PM on December 12, 2017 [5 favorites]


Regarding pyramid termite's comments about unions... yes–they can also be a problem. Lots of unions are trash... why would you want your usual awful boss, and a union boss?? Two bosses?

I imagine mentions of unions above are envisioning a democratic union, where there's a deliberate, democratic form of workplace control, or at least a deliberate, democratic form of managing the union... (see IWW, UE, etc). You may not have meant it this way, but your comment about unions sounds like this to my ears: "Corporate HR is bad, but sometimes unions are too, so don't do anything!"

Whether or not I've misunderstood you, correct! A little tweak here and there will never fix this world! But trying to reorganize things around a more democratic ideal–and I think "union" is shorthand for, and an example of, that here–is something we have to try for.
</grouchgrouchgrouch>
posted by moink at 9:23 PM on December 12, 2017 [2 favorites]


When I was in my twenties a drinking buddy (ie, not close but friendly enough) got involved in a big HR investigation. There was a female colleague who was being treated like an unpopular kid in middle school--silent treatment, not helping, etc. The biggest overt thing is she claimed he called her a "bitch." I didn't know anything about it--either the clique bullshit or the HR stuff, I can be truly oblivious--until buddy unloaded indignantly how the HR guy unilaterally found him guilty sans other evidence and just told him "I believe her and not you." He was an American! What about due process?! Buddy got a formal reprimand or something.

When I shared the story as gossip with another woman--friendly to him and not her--she told me he 100% did say it. He admitted it when she asked him. He was still sincerely outraged over dealing with what he said.

(So an HR-doing-good story, though the HR guy later left and the vague rumor was for sexual harassment on his part, go figure . . . )

I just don't get it. By and large, HR will go strictly by the book when it comes to everything from hiring to having holiday parties. But when it comes to something truly egregious like harassment, why does HR throw the book away (or deliberately ignore it)?

Unsurprisingly my old buddy, while a decently paid educated & competent professional (in job terms, if not behavior), was in the scheme of things low in the pecking order and they did follow the book.

In my experience HR doesn't really do things by the book. They may start out projecting complete inflexibility but if the right person tells them it's important to get the offer out right away or we need flexibility on the signing bonus or the team deserves a better party they will help you find a way to do that. This is good, in the narrow sense that rules that are counterproductive shouldn't be blindly adhered to.

Same thing I assume in sexual harassment. When it's peer-to-peer they might follow the book but their job is more challenging when it's someone with clout.
posted by mark k at 10:09 PM on December 12, 2017


“But they’re stuck in this middle ground between are they kind of advocating for employees, or do they represent management.”

Oh, that one's easy. Who signs their paychecks?
posted by JackFlash at 10:15 PM on December 12, 2017 [3 favorites]


A few things:

(This is all aside from the human aspect, which is to say, I believe you all, and I'm sorry, and #metoo.)

HR certification measures your ability to memorize things and take an exam.

HR departments represent the best interests of their employer. Some executives can be convinced that the experts in sexual harassment law know how best to handle a horrible situation in a legal and safe manner. Some executives listen to their IT employees and pay extra for backup servers. Other executives don't.

Not every HR employee works directly in these areas involving sexual harassment complaints, etc. The person who set up your health benefits might work in HR. I've worked in payroll for ten years total, and the only upsetting issues I've handled involved pay discrepancies. Yet it's an extremely isolating job no matter what your specialty; people look at you sideways and whisper if you pass them, nobody trusts you, and you get hit with the blame for anything that came from your department as if it was your personally conceived idea. All that to say, I agree - we need a new system. We need better ways to handle these things. I don't think it's working, and I do really like the idea of a separate agency for reporting purposes. But please don't blame your HR front desk person or your recruiting manager. All of HR isn't a hive mind, and people being people means that some of them suck. Some of them are harassers, too.

I don't blame anyone for being wary of HR. But if you haven't talked to your current company's HR, don't take it for granted that they're infected with the evil virus. Ask around and trust your instincts.
posted by knitcrazybooknut at 10:22 PM on December 12, 2017 [4 favorites]


: "(Oh, and SOSH would hand out yearly awards to companies that were handling sexual harassment well -- you'd get to be a blue-ribbon workplace and invited to a governor's lunch or some shit -- and SOSH could also block you from various state tax incentive programs if you have an ongoing sexual harassment problem. Why should you get corporate tax benefits if you're breaking the law on the regular?)"

So, a NH corp? (Non Harassing)
posted by Samizdata at 11:28 PM on December 12, 2017


Agreed with that askme linked above being sad. I was one of the commenters, though one who thought she was right (there was bias), and yeah, in her specific case there was no way she could have contested it with a surefire positive outcome.

It needs to be kept in mind, it is an AskMe – the question was regarding her specific situation, not how to change general work culture. We can't do generalized discussion there, and I didn't want to add anything that would have put her into a riskier situation. Given what she had written, it was too early and too unclear to do much. And yes, that is a fault of the larger culture.

The comment I left talked about being given a blatantly sexist evaluation – fraula is too maternal as the sole (single, only, unique) feedback for my management, finished off with a "needs to improve" rating that is generally only given when people are expected to get out, whether by being fired or quitting. A year's worth of management of a fifteen-person team spread across two different sites that was in budget, on time, and had not one single sick day. Ours was the only team in our department to do all that. The only one in budget. The only one that hit all our targets. The only one without a single sick day. fraula is too maternal.

I was an elected employee representative when I got that review. What I didn't add to that comment, because it would have been gross assumptions and serious overkill in comparison with the asker's situation as she described it, is that I had gone through nearly two full years of documented, witnessed harassment by the point I got that review. I was elected to employee representative because my team saw it, they talked to others about it, and they wanted to see me work towards improving our conditions. I did.

Our management denied, prevaricated, ignored, and outright insulted us (this is also documented) in employee representative meetings. (In France, there aren't just unions, there are also independent employee representation groups – I was in one of the latter type.) All of my efforts resulted in nothing. So I quit, and am taking legal action that I won't write about because it's still in progress.

There's a strong move in management in France to destroy unions/employee representation as well, and it is scary. So far it hasn't worked too well. So any time you hear lulz about French strikes and unions – thank them instead for standing up for workers' rights.
posted by fraula at 3:01 AM on December 13, 2017 [18 favorites]


Human Resources are neither humane, nor do they offer resources. Discuss.
posted by DrAstroZoom at 8:51 AM on December 13, 2017


When I was laid off from a job as a manager in regulatory compliance for a bank, I decided to try to move into the HR field. I quickly discovered I wasn't a good fit because I'm a man. When I had an informational interview with a male head of HR (a rarity), he came right out and told me that as a man I'd be an "odd duck" in an HR department.

What's paradoxical is how very little support the women who are victims of sexual harassment receive from the women who run HR. When you're being paid by The Man, you tend to do his bidding.
posted by A. Davey at 10:03 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I was in HR for awhile for a large shipping company. I did workers comp and disability paperwork, as a temp. I was there for a year and half, during which time they fired me for a day and then rehired me, because they had an internal rule about not using temps for more than a year without hiring them, which was negotiated by the union, and this was how they (apparently routinely) got around it.

Anyway, my thinking was that they didn't pay me well enough to buy my integrity, so I made sure every one of our employees whose file passed my desk fully understood what they needed to do to keep their benefits. Often, people wouldn't understand that they needed to provide a doctor's note every so-many months, or things like that, and the company would use that to fire them. Often, our employees didn't speak English, and I would spend a ridiculous amount of time talking to their 7-year-old child who did, who would translate. Every time something like that happened I felt like a goddamn champion of the people.

Anyway, they fired me (or rather, told the temp agency they didn't need me anymore) after I reported an accident to OSHA that the employee's manager insisted was no big deal. I don't *know* that those two things are related, but.
posted by joannemerriam at 10:38 AM on December 13, 2017 [16 favorites]


Laurie Reuttimann is an HR writer and consultant who had a pretty good piece in Vox back in October where she makes it clear HR fails on handling sexual harassment. From the piece:
So in my experience, HR departments in America operate under a dubious mandate: Keep workers engaged and happy, but make sure nobody sues the company. Unfortunately, that’s nearly impossible.

It's no wonder people like Susan Fowler and her colleagues complained numerous times to Uber's HR department and felt like they didn't have an employee advocate. They didn’t.

So how can HR change in the wake of the Uber sexual harassment scandal? I'm not sure it matters. Instead, I think women need to look to other places for solutions knowing that HR often isn’t on their side.
She also talks about the rise of HR departments in relation to the decline of unions and the reliance on HR by companies. It would be interesting to see if workers could organize to prevent/punish harassment, but that seems like it would be a long way off.
posted by kendrak at 11:05 AM on December 13, 2017 [1 favorite]


I've known good HR people, but they weren't in companies where harassment was rampant. I've seen no signs that HR, well-intentioned or not, can do a damn thing to curtail harassment if upper management thinks it's just "guys being guys."

One of the problems with the fact that "98% of companies have sexual harassment policies" is that you have no way of sorting out which ones support and even encourage harassment. They've all got employee handbooks full of boilerplate that nobody's read and has nothing to do with how the office actually functions.

The 2% that don't have policies, are less likely to be large sleazebag companies and more likely are just small enough that it hasn't come up. (The diner-and-ice cream-shop I worked at as a teen didn't have a policy.)

Of course, there is no way to ask during an interview, "so... tell me about how effective your sexual harassment policies really are," and expect a callback for a second interview.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:43 AM on December 13, 2017 [2 favorites]


DrAstroZoom: Human Resources are neither humane, nor do they offer resources. Discuss.

They offer humans as resources to the companies they work for.

The resources are extracted by other company departments.
posted by clawsoon at 11:52 AM on December 13, 2017


From the article: "The H.R. focus has been twisted into people who had titles like 'chief of fun,' " he said. "If you've hired someone more for their ability to retain or attract people, but aren't capable of dealing with complex employee relations, those are the companies I see really rethinking what the H.R. role is all about."

HR people whose main job focus is "keep everyone's payroll and insurance paperwork up to date" are less likely to be aiding and abetting than those whose main focus is "keep workplace gossip from interfering with profits," but they're also less likely to have the skills to deal with a serious complaint; they may fall back on "er, we'll have an investigation, I guess," because they don't have any way to evaluate a valid complaint vs an exaggeration vs outright criminal behavior.

And of course they're mostly women. Women are more likely to react to a complaint with, "well, of course it's like that; we all have to put up with that." Men are more likely to think "I'm sure you just misunderstood" - but if they can be convinced it really happened, they're likely to decide to Be The Hero and insist that things get fixed. Women in HR are much, much less likely to put their own job and future on the line to end harassment that they know is everywhere.

Women who wish to be feminist heroes rarely look for jobs in HR. Even if they'd like to - they know that being effective requires support of upper management; they're likely to believe they could do more to help in a different role.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 12:09 PM on December 13, 2017 [3 favorites]


Eyebrows, I was so enthused about your idea for a State Office of Sexual Harassment that I just sent it to both of my (very progressive) California state legislators asking that they sponsor legislation to create that very thing. Thank you for sharing that really excellent idea!
posted by kristi at 12:20 PM on December 13, 2017 [9 favorites]


(Oh, and SOSH would hand out yearly awards to companies that were handling sexual harassment well -- you'd get to be a blue-ribbon workplace and invited to a governor's lunch or some shit -- and SOSH could also block you from various state tax incentive programs if you have an ongoing sexual harassment problem. Why should you get corporate tax benefits if you're breaking the law on the regular?)

You'd have to give incentives for, or at least positively account for, organizations where the reporting of complaints goes up because the workplace has been perceived as being more friendly toward complainants. I know this was a thing, under Obama, with Title IX complaints at colleges -- there was an understanding that increased complaints were likely a positive sign that colleges were taking sexual assault complaints seriously enough that survivors were more likely to come forward.
posted by lazuli at 7:18 PM on December 30, 2017 [2 favorites]


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