What Should We Do in Response to Harassment & Discrimination Issues in the Workplace?



As a Human Resources leader for a couple decades, turned neutral workplace investigator and educator around sexual harassment and discrimination issues in the workplace, I have experienced first-hand the many practical challenges we all have around what we should do when we become aware of potential harassment or discrimination issues. Certainly, in wake of the #MeToo movement, the social, political and work environments we live and operate in have evolved. Whether you have had to deal with these issues or potentially face them in the future, we must be sure as professionals we are ready to handle the matters properly. Below are a few key points I urge all human resources professionals to think about so we will better be prepared to address these issus should they arise.

Remember our role – I see all too often, some of our peers lose perspective of the duality of our role as an internal human resource professional. This duality consists of two distinct responsibilities:

  1. Risk Management – Make no mistake about this, an employer expects internal HR to protect the company’s interest. Our role as internal HR professionals is to help our organization manage, protect and minimize organizational risk.
  2. Protect employee rights – As internal HR professionals, we are doing the organization a disservice if we do not take the responsibility of ensuring we are addressing if an employee has had a workplace right violated. Further, employees in our organizations will look towards HR for this help.

Investigate – The first time I had to do an investigation; I was admittedly nervous (see responsibilities above) on whether I would do this properly. Over the years, I learned “investigate” is really a fancy word for thoroughly (within reason) and objectively trying to figure out what more likely happened or did not happen. Most jurisdictions around the nation provide for the possibility of affirmative defenses to employers if an investigation is done (along with a few other factors that meet the employer’s duty to exercise reasonable care).

Support – Regardless of the merit and/or motivation of potential victims, part of an internal HR pros responsibility is to make sure you work with the claimant(s) and possible victim(s) to ensure they feel supported. For years, we have seen retaliation claims consistently growing and is now by far the biggest area of formal EEOC complaints. Beyond ensuring our organizations are not retaliating, the way we handle our impacted employees will go a long way to determining our company’s ability to manage through the issues. 

Understand our Objectivity and Bias – We all have biases and we all have points of view. Of critical importance to our role as internal HR providers is to understand what our biases and perspectives are so we can determine if we are able to truly provide objectivity when sharing a point of view. We have seen many organizations make national headlines in part because HR functions failed to take this step effectively.

As we are faced with various discrimination and/or harassment issues facing our organizations, paying close attention to the above will help us be more effective as human resources professionals.



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