As someone who fights on behalf of employees whose civil rights have been violated, it’s important for me to be well versed in human resources. This way I know when a human resources professional has failed to do his or her job. I joined the largest professional human resources membership association in the United States, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), for this very purpose. (Yes, to spy on the enemy.) One area where human resource professionals need to step it up is to acknowledge when an employee has been wronged, rather than just supporting management and denying the problem.
Sexual harassment happens every day in the workplaces across the country. Unfortunately, knee-jerk defensiveness is the usual company reaction. The failure to be objective, in an effort to “save” the company from a lawsuit, is where companies get into the biggest trouble. All too often, human resources professionals discredit employees who comes forward with complaints of unlawful conduct in the workplace, such as sexual harassment. Trying to protect the company, or the manager who is doing the harassing, only makes things worse, and fosters a society where this behavior continues. Employees are discouraged from coming forward with legitimate complaints when they know they will be met with disbelief or, even worse, retaliation. Yet, although valid reasons often prevent people from coming forward, victims of harassment are viewed with suspicion if they don’t complain.
Now, the onslaught of sexual harassment complaints against Harvey Weinstein followed by a tidal wave of complaints against other big names, like Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Spacey, Casey Affleck, Ben Affleck, Oliver Stone, etc., might actually make a difference.
For too long, powerful people like Bill O’Reilly, Bill Clinton and many others have been given a pass for offensive behavior, even rape, while victims have been harassed and discredited. Society itself has taken the human resources approach to these complaints — dismiss, disregard and discredit. If that doesn’t work, blame the victim. Hollywood idolizes and protects sexual predators like Roman Polanski for decades, but now jumps on the indignancy bandwagon for conduct tolerated within its ranks for years. When good people turn a blind eye at bad behavior, bad behavior continues.
Businesses in this country need to start standing up to bullies. Decent conduct needs to win over corporate profit. Human resource professionals need to do their part, and call it like they see it. Recognize the courage it takes for an employee to make a report. People don’t often invent these things from whole cloth. If management has been abusive, or broken the law, don’t cover it up.
And remember, even human resources professionals have a right to be free from retaliation for reporting illegal conduct.