“I was harassed!”, said an employee.
What do you do?
The media would have everyone believe that we support this statement and believe this person 100%. It’s very in vogue right now to support claims of harassment 100% without hearing the other side of this story.
Here’s what I know in HR. If I investigated 1000 sexual harassment claims (and I’m probably close to that in my HR career!) about 997 of those claims are completely true! That’s almost 100%, but not exactly 100%, and that’s a problem for HR!
Let’s face it, from the beginning of Human Resources, She Said/He Said has been one of the hardest things for organizations to investigate and get a true story. Very rarely do you get a ‘smoking gun’ in she said/he said allegations. At best, what you get is one side claiming another party is guilty, and the other party claiming it just isn’t like it’s being told.
I think what’s even more problematic is the American legal system of innocent until proven guilty. Right now in America in terms of sexual harassment, you are guilty and we don’t care if you can prove yourself innocent, which you probably can’t because neither side can actually prove guilt or innocence in many of these cases. It’s she said/he said.
What’s more problematic for HR is that these cases change lives in a very major way. If one party is found to be guilty, most likely they’re losing their job and it will be a giant black mark on their ability to get another job. If one party is not found guilty, you have an employee who doesn’t feel supported and probably others in the organization that figure it’s not worth bringing future claims forward.
The world is getting to see famous people go down for bad behavior right now. Most of which is completely legitimate, a tiny portion of which is not. The world is getting a peek behind the HR curtain in what we’ve been trying to deal with for decades, and it’s not pretty or clean. It’s complicated and messy, and it’s really hard to make the correct decision when all you have to go on is one story over another story.
It’s key as HR professionals that we do what is needed to give each employee the benefit of the doubt and investigate to find the truth. To not let positions of power influence our duty and our ethics, and we are brave enough within our organizations to put our careers on the line to do the right thing.
Yes, brave. I had a leader who loved to say, “If you rake shit, it’s going to stink”. In she said/he said cases you’re going to be raking a lot of shit, and it’s going to stink. It takes bravery to see something that is not right and won’t be a popular decision in an organization and do the right thing, but that’s the gig, that’s the profession.
Welcome to the show kids! It’s a tough job, but our employees, all employees, need us as advocates!