HR must make abused staff feel safe
The allegations against Craig McLachlan this week are a reminder of the rash of workplace sexual-harassment claims in the media and entertainment industry over the past year or more.
They appear to follow a pattern. An employee (usually female) makes an allegation, which is followed by similar allegations against the same man by other women. The accused man denies everything and accuses the complainants of seeking notoriety, money or both.
In many cases, the women say they complained to human resources staff at the time, but their complains were treated lightly and not acted on. Invariably, the organisation declares that it treats workplace allegations with the utmost seriousness and places the highest priority on workplace health and safety.
The McLachlan allegations were preceded in this country by allegations at Seven West Media, and most notably in the United States by the Harvey Weinstein case. Cases involving Fox News journalist Tamara Holder and Uber engineer Susan Fowler played out similarly last year.
At Uber, HR allegedly told Fowler she was the only complainant against a particular manager, a claim that later proved false. She was one of many, but the manager was protected and Fowler was regarded as a troublemaker because she persisted. Fox News settled by paying Holder.
This issue is not limited to media and entertainment. Look at the case of Omni Hotels manager Emery Lindsley, who was addressing her staff in 2012 when a senior executive allegedly approached the group, placed his hand over Lindsley’s mouth to stop her speaking, and offered uninvited comments to her staff, one of which was a question directed to a particular woman as to whether she had a steady relationship with her boyfriend.
In accordance with the mandatory anti-harassment training she had attended at the Omni Corpus Christi Hotel in Texas, Lindsley reported the incident to her HR department. That her report was not acted on is a central claim in her legal action against Omni Hotels and resorts.
Unsurprisingly, cases like these result in employees forming the cynical view that executives and big revenue earners are a protected species, and there is no point complaining to HR if those employees breach company harassment policies. That view was given air in a recent New York Times article by Noam Scheiber and Julie Creswell, headlined: “Sexual harassment cases show the ineffectiveness of going to HR”
Scheiber and Cresswell depart from the usual line by expressing an understanding of the “thankless bind” in which HR often finds itself. HR practitioners, they say, are responsible for fielding employee complaints but also work for the company that could be liable for those complaints. They are therefore caught in an invidious conflict of interest that could threaten their own careers if they look too hard when investigating certain people against whom complaints are made.
I respectfully suggest that the writers are generous to a fault in their assessment of HR’s responsibility in these cases. HR practitioners are no more in a conflict-of-interest situation than chief financial officers who refuse to execute instructions in breach of their professional accounting codes of conduct, or chief marketing officers who refuse to misrepresent what they are selling, or chief operations officers who refuse to fabricate tests on their products in order to manipulate regulatory requirements to gain a competitive advantage.
If these examples prompt thoughts of Volkswagen, it becomes strikingly apparent that no one gains when people in positions of responsibility pander to the bosses rather than act as professional caretakers of the organisation. The CFO, COO, CMO and CHRO may all report to the chief executive, but they each owe their primary allegiance to the organisation, as does the chief executive at the top.
What might have converted into bumper short-term bonuses for Volkswagen managers who put subservience to the their bosses above allegiance to their professional standards, turned into multibillion-dollar penalties to the company, as well as incalculable loss of reputation and damage to the brand. The millions of people worldwide who own VWs now own a product that does not hold the value it should. Some executives were sent to prison; more will likely follow.
The answer is not to excuse the inexcusable but to demand that professionals operate skilfully in accordance with standards set within their professions by certifying bodies set up to do just that. Those standards are there to protect the company but also the wider community, which relies on the profession’s skills and expertise.
That does not mean denying the simple fact that, when HR practitioners stand up for fairness and natural justice on behalf of employees at all levels, they may well be standing on precarious ground with respect to their own careers.
It’s not enough to say to them: “Do the right thing!” Certifying professional bodies, such as the one I lead, need to say: “Act in accordance with your professional standards, having undertaken the required study to know what those standards are, and why they exist.”
In , that means knowing the law and how to apply it in workplaces. It also means exercising people skills, such as bringing an open, objective mind to an investigation, and showing that you understand the business and care for the people who conduct that business. That’s what respectable HR professionals do.
Chief human resource officers who find themselves reporting to chief executives who demand that their senior executives put allegiance to them above allegiance to the organisation need to exercise the full range of their professional skills. That includes the capacity to be persuasive and, when required, to be brave.
Lyn Goodear is chief executive of the n Human Resources Institute.Posted in: 老域名出售