Trusting HR

This week’s question is the first of two that focus on your relationship with HR. Today’s question comes first, for what I hope are obvious reasons.

  • Is HR a trustworthy resource?

So, the first thing to get straight is that “trusting HR” is different than trusting the people in HR. When done correctly, the process for resolving a sexual harassment or retaliation claim works.


Know the HR Process

When there is a report, the following should happen:

  • the claimant reports to the right person
  • the HR rep asks for a written report of what happened, and the details involved
  • the claimant returns to work as seamlessly as possible
  • the HR department investigates the claim (this takes time and finesse)
  • interventions are put in place while the investigation is underway
    • for the claimant by HR
    • for the claimant by the employee’s manager
    • for the alleged harassers by the alleged harasser’s manager
  • interventions are put in place once there is a finding from the investigation
    • for the claimant by HR
    • for the claimant by the employee’s manager
    • for the alleged harassers by the alleged harasser’s manager
    • for all employees, if new procedures or training are warranted

Sometimes this happens and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes more happens. Sometimes less. What follows are some suggestions to help you know the degree to which you can trust the process and the people in your HR department.

NOTE: HR is not responsible for your emotional health through all this. Find mental health support as soon as possible. Talk it out. Get the help you need to stay strong.


Know the Difference

It is very critical to know the difference between these three office behaviors:

  • Harassment
  • Sexual Harassment
  • Bothersome or obnoxious behavior

If you are truly experiencing the first two, then move on to the next piece of this puzzle. They are illegal. If you are at all in doubt, get educated. Read the company employee handbook and learn the policy. Ask your friends to see if they know an HR rep and then ask the HR rep some very focused questions. Read more. Do your research. Here are some resources that might be a good starting place for you.


Know the Signs

Usually, if a company’s HR department is strong, you will see the signs of that strength. You will see a firm policy in place. You will see regular trainings (once per year at least) on the prevention of sexual harassment and retaliation. You will be offered resources to read beyond the trainings.

Find out how new the HR reps are. With a situation like sexual harassment, which is all about power plays and awkward, inappropriate intimacy, you will want a more seasoned HR rep. They tend to have the depth of knowledge as well as the confidence needed to properly handle the nuances and negotiations of such situations.


Assess the Landscape

We all hope and work toward having respectful and trusting collegial relationships. But sometimes that’s not possible. The key is knowing the interpersonal dynamics in the reporting chain and in the chain of communication. The more people that know, the higher the probability of issues along the way.

In both the reporting chain AND in the chain of communication, figure out the answers to the following questions.

  • How many people need to know?
    • Which people need to know?
    • Where are their loyalties?
    • How will they handle the claim?
    • Can they be discreet?
  • How many people do you need to use as sounding boards?
    • Which people are your sounding boards?
    • Where are their loyalties?
    • How will they handle the claim?
    • Can they be discreet?

Once you have the answers, choose the path with the best probability for your success. Need some help figuring this out? Use the questions in a Decision Tree model to help you decide which person or persons to reach out to. Don’t have people to be sounding boards for you? Perhaps these suggestions on networking can help.


File the Report

Don’t assume someone else has filed the claim. Very often workers complain that management is ineffective when in reality, no one has told management there is problem. So, the HR management experts encourage us to tell management what the issues are. Then they have every chance at being effective in their role.


File in a Timely Manner – the Sooner the Better

There are a few good reasons to file your report in a timely manner.

First, the sooner you report, the sooner the dreadful behavior can be managed for you. Second, the sooner you report, the sooner the dreadful behavior can be managed for everyone else the harasser might be harassing. Think about that. If you don’t report and the harasser keeps harassing you and others, the problem persists. If you don’t report and the harasser is promoted, yikes!

Third, the sooner you report, the easier it is for the HR rep to get the details they need to take the right steps and resolve the issue, right away. The longer you wait, details get fuzzy, actions are easier to deny, satisfying resolution gets to be more difficult.

And then there’s this…in many states, and certainly federally, there is a window of time in which to report your claim if you want the EEOC to help you mediate or process the claim. If you fail to report in that window, the state and federal agencies in place to support you may not be able to help you. Know what the deadlines are in your state.


Know What’s Next

You might think the reporting is the most difficult part of filing a sexual harassment claim. Sometimes, the most difficult thing is the waiting that comes next.

If you are not fully centered, and even if you are, the worries creep in. That guy just gave me the evil-eye. Did he see me come back from HR? Does he suspect? Does he know? She is treating me differently. Did HR say something to her? The not-knowing is difficult to endure.

Be patient though. And trust the roles and responsibilities of your HR rep as well as the process they need to go through. The HR rep should follow up with you in a way that does not bring undue attention to you and that reassures you of the next steps in the process.

Do what you need to do to be above reproach. And of course, document everything. Even your worries.

Summing Up

Be informed. Then trust (but verify) the people and the process. But most importantly, trust your instincts.


* Many thanks to the HR management consultant(s) I reached to for input on this post.

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