Know What (and Who) HR Is Really For

Nearly 250 women have come forward to accuse filmmaker James Toback of sexual harassment and assault. Formerly untouchable luminaries in tech, media, entertainment, politics, and other industries all suddenly have their backs against the wall, as allegations and open secrets come into the light. But even as #MeToo posts raise the curtain for many on the true scope of sexual assault, most women are still waiting for their abusers to face justice.

At the workplace, we expect the human resources department to look out for us and advocate for us in the face of an unhealthy office culture. But as Marketwatch's Jacob Passy recently reminded readers, HR is not there to protect you-the-employee — it's there to protect the company. If you've ever reported an issue and instead found yourself the target of discipline, it's infuriating but it's also infuriatingly common.

This isn't a niche issue: According to a 2017 report from the Workplace Bullying Institute, 61 percent of workplace bullies are bosses, mostly operating alone. Seven in 10 perpetrators are men, while 60 percent of the targets are women. Clear majorities of those bullied experience harm because of reactions from both their coworkers and their employers; 29 percent simply don't talk about it. For nearly two-thirds of those affected, the only solution is to lose or quit their job.

For some insight into HR prerogatives, Evil HR Lady blogger Suzanne Lucas often has the best explanations. Writing for Inc. after the Harvey Weinstein transgressions broke, she points out, "The law does not require that you terminate a sexual harasser. All it requires is that you fix the situation without punishing the complainant."

So, is the answer just to leave? It depends. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with looking out for yourself after you've exhausted all reasonable options at a workplace. But there's also strength in numbers. Talk to trusted coworkers and see if you can document patterns. Document, document, and then document some more. A workplace harasser can be a legal liability. In the end, the likelihood that almost 250 women are independently lying about James Toback is a lot harder to justify.