When HR Is Harassed: What Then?

by Michael Haberman on September 28, 2010 · 0 comments


In the September issue of HR magazine there is an article written by attorney V. John Ella of Jackson Lewis LLP entitled HR vs. HR. (You will have to look it up.) He talks about a number of different situations where an HR employee becomes a plaintiff in a lawsuit against her employer. (“Her” is the appropriate term to use given that 75% of HR employees are women.) I am not going to write about the entire article, I will let you read it, and it is worth it.

But, one example he used is well worth discussion. I have never really thought about this situation. His case involved a female HR employee (am I being redundant?) sued her employer for sexual harassment. She claimed she was harassed by the CEO and had no recourse for filing a complaint, because, (do you see what is coming?) the employee handbook said that any employee with a complaint of sexual harassment had to report it to HR or to the CEO. She had no where to turn.

That gave me pause and I asked myself  “Self… how many handbooks out there have a policy written just like that?” I know most of the ones I have seen are written just that way and they never have an allowance for HR being the harassed party. Perhaps that is because of my male perspective. No one has ever harassed me, at least not since I have been in HR. (There was this one time with a female boss a long time ago…. but you will have to take one of my classes to hear that story.)

So my question is this: Have you female HR employees written your handbooks differently? Is there an option for you reporting sexual harassment, especially if the other person in the reporting heirarchy is the harasser? What have you done? This can be especially problematic in smaller companies.

Lawyer Ella, in the summation of his article, suggests that you “Make sure your sexual harassment policy provided guidance for an HR employee to report harassment.” Unfortunately he does not provide any guidance on what this may be. So I will tender a few suggestions. Perhaps the following parties could be included in the policy:

  • A member of the Board of Directors
  • An outside employment attorney retained for such an event
  • An EAP, set up to handle such a complaint
  • An HR consultant, retained for such an event

These are a few suggestions. You can do it if you want or not. Of course you can always leave it to the plaintiff’s attorney and the EEOC. They will be happy to help solve the problem.

I would love to have someone share what they consider to be an effective harassment policy. You can post it in the comment section or you can find an email link on the panel to the right of this post.

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