A naive belief in laborers, is that the Human Resources department will solve any problems they might have with management. In my experience, Human Resources only serve one entity: the corporation itself. It’s quite dangerous to complain about those above you, to Human Resources, without first safeguarding one’s livelihood.
I will outline two scenarios I went through with HR over the years. Both cases were very serious. One was a physical threat of violence and the other sexual harassment. Both situations were at different companies, but both companies were public and in the Fortune 500. In neither case did HR rise to the defense of the employee, but rather worked tirelessly to manipulate victims in order to save the corporate identity.
In the 90’s I worked for a movie studio. During that time I met a woman who complained about our boss sexually harassing her. What she described was pretty extreme. She claimed that he often groped her. She would tell him to stop and it didn’t seem to matter. He used his position of power over her (being a Vice President of her department) to demand her personal time (having lunch together, or having dinner together). She was seeing someone at the office, and that person reported to the VP… the VP reassigned that guy to another city. The claims were quite extreme.
At one point, I became a witness to the harassment. One day, I happened to be near her desk, when no one else was around. The VP came out of his office, wrapped his arms around her from behind and began to grind into her. She was squirming out of his grasp, and he pulled her harder. She wriggled free and he walked away. I was pissed. I told her to go to corporate HR and she could use me as a witness.
She did so, and I was called in as a witness. At first HR appeared very interested in the case. They took down my notes and said they would resolve this.
A few weeks later the VP walked by as I was talking with a co-worker. He blurted out, “careful what you say to him, he’s a snitch.” It turned out, HR took my eye witness testimony, and simply handed it to him to “handle me.”
His veiled threats were pissing me off. It got worse. The victim approached me one day and said she was withdrawing her complaint. I couldn’t believe it. They threatened her job. HR told her that if she were to pursue the complaint against the VP, her missed time/outages would come up and she would probably lose her job. I was even more furious.
To tidy this up, HR called me into their office and sat me down. A man and a woman represented HR that day. They were laughing, “well the case is closed now. You guys lost.” I was outraged. I looked at the woman and said, “how can you sleep at night, knowing you cover up for a harasser? What if it was your daughter being harassed?”
“One day, he’ll get what’s coming to him,” she retorted.
“Not with you on the job he won’t.” She was so embarrassed she couldn’t even look me in the eye. The other HR Rep, he waved for my attention, and said, “it’s over.” I was so mad. They were mocking me, mocking the victim… but this is what HR does it protects the company.
As this was a public company, and the problem employee is a VP tied to executives, anything against him would affect the company stock value. HR chose to protect the harasser, rather than the harassed. But I had a secret… I knew a policy I could play:
“There’s one more harassment complaint you need to file. File one from me.”
The man burst out laughing, “he isn’t gay!”
“Evidently you don’t know your own HR manual,” I told him, “it clearly states [I cited the section] that anyone who witnesses harassment is they themselves harassed.”
Silence. He stared at me… then he conferred with the woman. They looked up the passage and left the room. When they came back they were all smiles.
“What is it you want,” he asked me, “do you want money?”
It was a trick. Say you want money and you’re extorting the company. I replied, “I want justice. What would you do if this was me harassing someone?”
“You’d be fired.”
“OK, then fire the harasser.”
“We can’t fire him… he’s a Vice President of a division. This is more difficult, more challenging.”
We reached an impassion, as I told them there was nothing I wanted, other than justice. I left, thinking nothing would happen.
A month or so later, the VP was asked to step down.
A couple months later, this movie studio had a layoff… as part of the layoff, everyone connected with this situation was laid off, including the victim, and myself. I was given 6 months pay, as long as I signed a waiver to not sue for anything I may have witnessed during my employment.
That’s how HR cleans up. Layoffs are legal grounds to remove trouble. From an HR perspective, it isn’t just the harasser that was trouble, it’s also the victim. Victims can cause ripples in the value of a company…. HR puts the victims and victimizers in the same category…. wraps them up and dismisses them with a payoff.
HR is not your friend.
Threat of Violence
I’ve talked about the work environment at the search engine company in previous posts. One thing that happened during my employment there, was a mentally unbalanced co-worker was driven nearly insane by management.
Managers had treated him so bad, so aggressively he began to confide in me about his “violent visions.” He was a self described recovering drug addict, and his violent fantasies were disturbing.
One day he called me into an office and had all these emails printed out from our manager. The emails were demeaning, aggressive and insulting. The co-worker was fuming.
He was yelling, and turning to me he blurted out, “One day soon I’m going to come to work with my AK-47… I’ll start killing people. When I tell you to get down, you get down because I don’t want to hurt you. But I’m going to kill our manager. I’m going to force him to suicide off the room… and I’ll save one bullet for myself.”
What he told me was extreme. It wasn’t a joke. It was a threat. I went to HR and told them what I heard. They took it down and said they’d deal with it.
Weeks passed and the guy was still working on the job. He approached me one day and said he was called into HR, to answer about his threats. He didn’t connect me to the one who ratted him out. Evidently he told other people and assumed it was one of them.
I asked what happened, and he said that they told him “don’t do it again.” My co-worker explained, “they can’t touch me. I’m in a major lawsuit against them for discrimination.”
Even with a full threat of violence, that included killing co-workers and management, HR wouldn’t dismiss him. They were more worried about the lawsuit.
HR is not your friend.