As a SHRM HR Knowledge Advisor, I received an interesting question this week. An employee who works in HR filed a harassment complaint against their HR manager for creating a hostile work environment. Would this situation be treated the same as other harassment claims in the organization? The HR manager would normally conduct the investigation. But if the complaint is against the HR manager, who handles the situation?
These are good questions. An employer should always investigate any complaint filed and discern if the allegations are founded, even if the situation arises in the HR department. An employer has a duty to prevent, investigate and resolve potential violations of several employment laws, especially severe allegations such as a hostile work environment. Employees who work in the HR department may feel like they don’t have the same recourse as other employees in the organization, but that is simply not true. When the person who would ordinarily conduct the investigation is the alleged harasser, someone else needs to step in and take that role. It could be the HR manager’s boss, an HR manager of a different location or a third-party HR consultant, for example. The same investigation process that is used with any other complaints in the organization should be followed.
Employers need to foster a culture that promotes compliance and does not tolerate hostile work environments. The leadership team, along with company policies, should encourage all employees to come forward with any workplace concerns, no matter the department—even if the complaint is against the president and CEO of the company.
From an employee relations perspective, the intent of promoting a culture of compliance and accountability is to improve relationships and collaboration in the workplace. An employee’s direct supervisor plays a big part in this. Supervisors and managers should make employees feel comfortable with voicing their concerns.
Remember, company culture starts at the top of an organization and trickles down to managers and employees. Although it may sound cliché, the golden rule of treating others as you want to be treated goes a long way. HR managers are not exempt from being accountable for their actions. Employees should feel comfortable coming forward with any workplace concern—even one about someone in the HR department—and know that it will be handled seriously.
If you want to know more about the importance of conducting thorough workplace investigations or have other HR questions, we’d love to help! Give us a call or send an e-mail. We’re also available by chat. It’s one of the most valued benefits of SHRM membership!
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