Sexual Harassment in the Workplace: The Problem with Reporting it to HR
As all of us at Stephen Danz & Associates look forward to 2018, with new employment laws, rules and priorities. A few yellow flags and warnings follow. This is important reading for anyone facing sexual harassment by a boss, co worker or even customer or subordinate (yes, that does happen!).
First, Human Resources professionals are in a profoundly conflicting role. They are charged primarily with protection of corporate assets, and that means protecting the company from law suits alleging discrimination or illegal harassment. And, they themselves work for the same upper management that is the most likely source of the complaints they must investigate. Should they actually find illegal sex discrimination in the workplace, how are they to stop it without offending their own bosses? (Many HR professionals won’t even say “I’m so sorry” because that could be seen as an admission of liability.)
Many HR professionals will minimize the harassment (“you need to understand him, don’t forget he’s a ‘high performer’”), not accurately investigate it (a recent case against a high profile law California law firm revealed that the HR investigator intentionally avoided interviewing witnesses who would verify the harasser’s claims); or, even worse, use the investigation to “turn” on the harasser.
Turning on the harasser and “finding” reasons fo marginalize or threaten the harasser is particularly evil and can lead to defamation claims under the common law and California’s Civil Code. In a recent Los Angeles-based case we accepted, the facilities manager (not even in the HR Department) conducted her own curbside investigation of a claim of sexual assault by a patient at the medical facility by asking co workers if they had seen the victim “do anything wrong”. In another case, the company made a police report claiming that the victim had “stolen” from the company.
Does sexual harassment training work? Probably it could work better if conducted more often, offered to a wide range of employees, and is approached with realistic hypothetical “what would you do” case studies. A harassment victim reported recently that she was told by her male boss that she could make more money working as a prostitute (at the city they were traveling to for an off-site meeting) than working at her job. Ouch!
Stephen Danz & Associates is one of California’s largest sex harassment law firms representing employees only. Give us a call to discuss your case. Never a charge for the chat. 877 789 9707