What to Do When There is No HR & Your Harasser is the CEO

Two different participants in the latest seminar submitted HR-related questions. Last week’s question was about whether or not to trust HR. This week’s question is about what to do when there is no HR, especially if your CEO is the one harassing you.

  • Any suggestions for people at start-ups or small companies without HR when sexual harassment begins?

I’m sad and somewhat relieved to say that every person I talked to about this question says the same thing. Get out!

In a small company, if anyone in the Chain of Command is doing the harassing your options are far fewer than if you were in a mid- to large-size company with a vibrant HR department. Here are the three I can offer you…

Option 1 –  Leave

This is most likely the easiest option to choose, but it’s certainly not the most fulfilling option.

You wanted that job. You applied for that job. You were hired for that job. The job description said nothing about sexual harassment being a part of the job. The employee handbook has strict policies against sexual harassment. And yet, being happy in your job and, until things change, successfully fighting for the harassment to stop will more than likely be a losing battle for you.

Option 2 – Report

Ok, so there is no HR and the CEO is the one doing the harassing so there is no chain of command you can turn to. Or is there?

Many small companies have a board of directors. They also might have an owner that is not the CEO. Can you turn to any of these options? How can you know?

Well, all the advice I can offer with this option is in the previous post – Trusting HR.

Option 3 – Seek Guidance from Independent Agencies

Of course, because sexual harassment is a civil rights violation, there are resources outside of the company that can help you. The Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency specifically designed to help employees in companies with 15 or more employees deal with sexual harassment as well as any related retaliation.

In California, the Department of Fair and Equal Housing protects the people of California from unlawful discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, and from the perpetration of acts of hate violence and human trafficking. Sexual harassment in the workplace falls under their jurisdiction.

Regardless of the size of your company, your employer should provide you with these resources when you get hired. You should not have to ask for them “in the moment” of need.

Just in case you did not receive them and need to access them quickly, click here to learn more about the resources available to you. Search under national resources, resources in your state and HR consultants.

Summing Up

Only you will know which option you are prepared to handle. Check in on yourself and your finances – Do you have the financial resources to choose option 1, if you don’t find another job right away? Do you have the emotional strength to take options 2 or 3?

In order to have time to land your next job, you might need to persist in that role and work hard at making sure there is always a witness in the room with you and that supervisor.

Always be looking for your next job, even if you are happy in the job you have. First it keeps you current in your field and second, just in case you need a new job, you have a fresh resume and a strong network already in place. I found this to be great advice from my MBA professors!

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