Why HR Departments May Fail Victims of Harassment


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Human Resources Departments are charged with protecting the company, not necessarily the employee.

“Close the door,” your boss says as you walk into his office. Once inside, he tells you that one of your clients made a serious complaint about you. Your job could be on the line.

Your boss moves closer to you. He touches your arm and says that he can make the whole thing go away if you agree to meet him at a hotel after work.

You get out of the office as fast as possible and
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go straight to human resources. Later that day, you’re fired.

Unfortunately, this type of scenario isn’t uncommon.

Many employees are under the impression that their company’s HR department is there to protect them. The truth is more complicated. HR Departments also exist to protect the employer.

Let’s discuss a recent New York Times article about the conflicting role human resources departments play in harassment cases—and why they often fail employees.

HR’s Role in Harassment Complaints

The Times article provides several examples of how HR investigations often don’t go far enough.

Two common scenarios stand out:

-Ignored complaints, or
-Complaints that aren’t taken seriously.

In one of the cases detailed in the article, a woman filed a lawsuit against her employer, alleging that her supervisors retaliated against her after she reported harassment. She claimed that the human resources department enabled that retaliation by refusing to seek evaluations from partners outside of her practice group, where the allegedly offensive conduct occurred.

Indifference on the part of the HR department can also be a factor. In another case, an employee claimed that HR personnel responded to her sexual harassment complaint by saying that her boss’s behavior was “not that bad” and “we can fix him.”

The employee went on unpaid leave due to post-traumatic stress syndrome arising from her job.

Fear of Retaliation

Many employees report that they are hesitant to approach HR because of possible negative consequences, including retaliation.

In fact, a 2016 study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that the least-common response to sexual harassment was for the employee to take some formal action by reporting the offending conduct or filing a legal complaint.

The complicated role that HR departments play is one explanation. While charged with listening to employee complaints, human resources departments work for – and are paid by – the company that would be potentially liable if the reported conduct is found to be unlawful.

What You Should Do

When sexual harassment is coupled with an ineffective HR response, the consequences can be devastating. Quitting to get away from the harassment and to avoid retaliation is often the unfortunate outcome – and it allows the behavior to continue unchecked.

If your HR department is not heeding your plea for help in a sexual harassment situation, you should speak with an experienced employment attorney to preserve your rights, and possibly your job.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michael Murphy, Esq.
Michael Murphy is the founding member of Murphy Law Group, LLC, in Philadelphia. Murphy Law Group represents residents of both Pennsylvania and New Jersey who are involved in employment-related disputes with their employers.

Murphy is known for his quality, client-focused representation in all matters pertaining to employment law, including discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and wage and hour violations. He has extensive experience in bringing class-action lawsuits and has successfully recovered millions of dollars in unlawfully denied compensation.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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