One of the main facets of a Human Resources (HR) department is resolving workplace conflict. The HR team works to find ways to keep staff and managers content, while helping to prevent and correct infractions. In theory, you should feel like you can report any problems at work to HR and get help resolving them, but what happens when the HR department is contributing to the problem?
Corporations both large and small have anti harassment policies and workshops to teach employees about how harassment can happen in order to avoid it, yet it persists. The abundance of recent sexual harassment complaints has illustrated the issues with reporting complaints to HR. Complaints are often ignored or not taken seriously.
A double edged sword
The HR department functions in an unusual duality. They function as advocate for employees and are responsible for handling employee complains, yet they also work within the company that faces liability for harassment claims.
Also, HR employees are subject to the same power structure in place at the company, making it difficult to ensure disciplinary action for offenses. Even if the HR official concludes that termination or severe discipline would be appropriate, those decisions are made by other executives.
A cyclical dilemma
A recent study by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found that employees are unlikely to report harassment to HR departments. Taking formal action fell last when compared to avoiding the harasser or seeking advice from family and friends. When employees, particularly women, fail to report incidents of harassment, the company can brag about having a respectful workplace atmosphere. The problem becomes cyclical because there is no evidence to dispute the claim of a respectful environment and employees are discouraged from rocking the boat.
Lack of confidentiality is another concern. Employees fear retaliation when they cannot trust their complaints to remain anonymous. Employees suffering harassment are often made to feel even more uncomfortable after filing a complaint, adding to the problem and again creating a cycle for the harassment to continue.
Harassment is illegal and employees should not be made to feel like they have no options. If you have already tried filing a formal complaint, or feel you cannot file a complaint because the workplace culture is prohibitive, there are legal remedies available to you.