In Harassment Situations, I’ve Found HR Is Unhelpful

Ottinger Law

Woman being harassed at work

Ottinger Law

Lis Brown
Lis Brown
April 17, 2024 at 5:33AM UTC
This article is written in response to the following question posted by a user on Fairygodboss' discussion board: 
"I was in a training class recently taught by my immediate supervisor. I was the only female in the class and after I answered a question intelligently, he looked at the rest of the group and said, "See guys, the one who does dishes understands science." It took all I had not to get up and walk out (of the class and maybe my job). Where do I go with this? Unfortunately the people above him probably won't understand and tell me I'm being petty."
Over the years, I have witnessed examples of harassment situations, especially sexual harassment, that sadly have not been handled well. Sadly, many times this is the reason why harassment victims are hesitant to come forward and make a complaint.
First and foremost, harassment of any type should not be tolerated or accepted, and we all hope that the policies and processes in place within our organizations are sufficient and robust enough to deal with situations like this. And yet, my personal experience has often shown that for even some of the biggest organizations, the Human Resources department are inexperienced with harassment claims and can on occasion struggle to understand what actually constitutes as harassment.
It is always a good initial step to determine whether the situation has breached an existing HR policy or process. If possible, you should also clearly document what exactly happened and collect any supporting information, like emails, if relevant.
You may also choose to approach someone who you trust in the organization to discuss the matter in confidence. The reason this is useful is that when trying to identify whether harassment actually occurred or is occurring, having another person’s perspective is always valuable. Between the two of you, you may determine that the best course of action is to address it directly with the individual. If you feel that is not appropriate, however, or have previously tried to deal with inappropriate behavior from a boss that way, then you should engage with HR.
HR has an obligation to support all employees, and this extends to providing help and guidance. Depending on the particular situation you have, there can often be a perception that HR will naturally side with senior leadership, especially if the complaint is from someone more junior — this should not be the case, and it makes the point about clearly documenting and collating the facts even more important.
In addition, some organizations have independent investigation teams, often from a different area to demonstrate impartiality in assessing complaints. They should be engaged if you are unhappy with the HR response or you feel as a result of your complaint to HR, you are now subject to reprisals.
Finally, the best approach to prevent circumstances like this, is for an organization-wide adoption of appropriate behaviours and company culture that emphasises respect for all, along with ongoing education by HR and leadership that addresses harassment situations seriously.
Do you believe you may be experiencing harassment in the workplace? Find other Fairygodboss resources on this topic here, here, and here.
Lis Brown is a People Leader with more than 25 years experience in the Management Consulting and Technology Industries. She has spent most of her career working around the globe and has truly embraced operating across different cultures and working styles, often being the only woman leader in the room. Lis is a passionate supporter of all aspects of Diversity and more importantly in ensuring inclusive and supportive environments for all. She is known for her strong moral compass and has no fear in speaking out and doing the right thing.


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