Why Reporting Sexual Harassment to HR is Ineffective

Stop me if you heard this one—a female employee gets sexually harassed by her supervisor and reports it to Human Resources. HR tells her that she can transfer to another department to get away from him, but because it’s his first offense and he’s a star performer, there’s little they can do. The employee transfers and learns from other female employees that the former supervisor has harassed many of them. They go back to HR, which does nothing. The latest example of this happened at Uber, according to the New York Times, which picked up the story from the employee’s own blog.

This sort of ineffectiveness is all too frequent from HR departments. They often seem more interested in protecting the bullies than dealing with abuse. In fact, when I talk with employees at speaking events around the country, the most common response to the question “Did HR help you?” is that the department is in management’s pocket and the visit was a waste of time.

We’ve seen this play out over and over again—Fox News, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, and so on. This is why I devoted a chapter in my book From Bully to Bull’s-Eye: Move Your Organization Out of the Line of Fire to sexual bullying. Until we recognize the right of every employee to enjoy a psychologically healthy, safe and fair workplace and make that a priority for Human Resources, sexual harassment will continue to harm victims as well as the company.