I have worked in Human Resources for a long time, I have seen a lot, and come to understand things pretty well. Although, in HR we don’t work in an idyllic vacuum, HR employees work for an organization. So just like all other employees, if you become too much of a problem or an issue for key people within the organization your chances of being shown the door increase dramatically.
It is ironic that HR portrays itself as the advocate for the employee. Why do I say that? Well here is a short video that speaks to this. I have often used this clip as an opener for speaking to HR audiences, in an attempt at some “dark” humor…take a look.
Here is another take on it from well known HR writer and speaker, Laurie Ruettimann. This is a recent interview with NPR’s Scott Simon in October of 2017. There are many more examples of the matter to be found, but I am going to run with this hypothesis.
HR professionals are NOT free to blow the whistle on those employees who are guilty of committing sexual harassment.
Perhaps when the allegations are at the staff level, they can effectively deal with it, but when the matters go all the way to the top, to the board rooms, to the corporate offices the reality is this. If you blow the horn on one of the big shots, you may well be scratching your unemployed ass, and have some explaining to do at your next interview as to the terms of your departure at your last gig.
What do we do then?
Honestly, I have never been a fan of increasing government regulation or reporting on anything, but I don’t think employers are going to fix this problem on their own.
When I look at agencies like OSHA, the US DOT, and the NRC, they have all done a good job of creating a reporting system and oversight, that seems to be in the public interest. Some may argue otherwise but that’s my experience anyway.
If an organization were required to track and report sexual harassment complaints, by employee and litigation brought against the organization, it would seem that over time some norms would be established. No doubt, there would be the initial flurry of complaints or those who would misuse a reporting system, but like OSHA which has been around 1971, it has legitimized itself and has infact, made work places safer.
The one thing that I come back to with Harvey Weinstein is the number of lawsuits that had been previously settled. I have not tracked data on this, but it seems if there were oversight or reporting of lawsuits that were settled, either in court or out of the court system, this might be an indicator if an organization had a problem and who those problem individuals might be.
Having said all of this, I would guess there is a very small chance of this concept of government oversight will begin to happen under our current administration. Thus, the hope would be that some states might begin looking into significantly increased oversight and cause a movement to happen. Historically, California and New York tend to lead the way in these matters.
So, to wrap this up, until we can provide HR professionals a legitimate umbrella of safety to operate under, I think these cases are going to continue to pop up over and over. It will remain like this until some government officials in some liberal leaning state have the balls to deal with sexual harassment in the workplace and show the rest of us, how it needs to be done. Sadly, the parade of victims will continue.