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The How HR Departments Repeatedly Cover Up Abuse of Workers by Management

Executive Summary

  • HR departments have not been able to stop sexual harassment when the harassment is from high status individuals in the company.
  • This calls into question how effective HR departments are in stopping what they say is unacceptable behavior.

Introduction

When the enormous number of sexual harassment cases surfaced in 2018 and 2019, what is curious is how powerless HR departments were in stopping sexual harassment.

The Pattern of Covering Up Sexual Harassment by HR

The very high-profile cases of sexual harassment have come from powerful men like Russell Simmons, whose influence overwhelms the HR controls put into place in those companies.

This brings up a problematic feature of HR. HR is designed primarily to protect the owners and managers of the company against the workers. When the abuse is not among the workers but by the owners and executives versus the workers, HR goes about pressuring the abused worker into signing NDAs to protect the company’s interests.

One of the arguments presented has been that more women in companies will counteract this. However, the fact that women dominate HR has not changed the outcome that in virtually 100% of cases, the HR department will cover up the abuse — if it comes from on high.

What is the Real Purpose of HR?

HR reports to the managers of the company, not workers. A legitimate HR department would be managed by the government, which could more reasonably be expected to be more objective in managing disputes between workers and abusive management. However, if this specter were to be raised, companies would absolutely lose their minds at the onerous regulations that had been imposed upon them. In fact, HR has tried to have sexual harassment complaints removed from the civil court system, and placed entirely with companies as is explained in the following quotation.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the field’s professional association, filed an amicus brief in the Faragher case arguing that employers should be afforded legal protection when they create anti-harassment policies. SHRM also wrote that employers, rather than courts, were best suited to address sexual harassment. – HBR

Given HR’s powerlessness in the fact of high-status sexual harassment, this is obviously ridiculous.

The Ineffectiveness of The Courts to Deal with Sexual Harassment

Performing research on this topic, it was surprising to learn how ineffective courts have been in addressing sexual harassment. Companies can shield themselves from liability by simply having a sexual harassment policy. This has naturally led companies to create policies, that don’t have that much to do with stopping sexual harassment.

Sandberg and the Weinstein Case

Sherly Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has provided an inaccurate analysis of the Harvey Weinstein case, leads her to restate the recommendations in her book Lean In. It also proposes a series of changes that entirely ignore what enabled Harvey Weinstein and which we cover in the article Similarity of SAP and Harvey Weinstein and the Abuse of Power, which is that Harvey Weinstein was enabled by The Weinstein Company HR and attorney, NDAs as well as around 1/2 of the PR firms in Hollywood. And that Weinstein did what he did for decades, with the full knowledge of much of Hollywood. However, Sandberg makes it appear as if how Weinstein got away with it requires some extensive change to corporate rules.

The Growing Power of Executives

The present degree of power that US executives over their workers is a relatively recent phenomenon, as is shown in the following graphic.

The typical CEO is now paid at all-time high levels versus history and the rest of the world. This compensation is paid out primarily with stock options, which allows each company to overstate its earnings (as its executive compensation is not part of the income statement). And it is a type of control fraud. Control fraud is where the individuals running the company loot the company. 

Naturally, the greater the relative power of executives, they will abuse their workers. This topic tends to be undiscussed when various groups are proposing a good idea to support the present levels of corporate inequality.

Observing What to Do With HR

This failure of HR is explained in the following quotation, which describes an HR event.

No one called for reforming or replacing HR. Just the opposite: The answer to the failures of HR, it seemed, was more HR.

The experience left me with a question: If HR is such a vital component of American business, its tentacles reaching deeply into many spheres of employees’ work lives, how did it miss the kind of sexual harassment at the center of the #MeToo movement? (emphasis added) And given that it did, why are companies still putting so much faith in HR? I returned to these questions many times over the course of the following year, interviewing workplace experts, lawyers, management consultants, and workers in the field. – The Atlantic

And this leads directly to the next topic.

What HR is actually responsible for—one of the central ways the department “adds value” to a company—is serving as the first line of defense against a sexual-harassment lawsuit. – The Atlantic

Yes, HR’s responsibility is to protect the company, not to provide the victim with justice.

They can deliver the trainings and write the policies, they can take reports and conduct investigations, but unless the harasser is of relatively low status within the organization, they have little say in the outcome.

Most of the time, if the man is truly important to the company, the case is quickly whisked out of HR’s hands, the investigation delivered to lawyers and the final decision rendered by executives.

Middle managers can’t change the culture of a company; only the most senior people can do that. And expecting an HR worker—with a car loan, a mortgage, college tuition around the corner—to risk her job in a fight against management on behalf of an employee she barely knows is unrealistic. – The Atlantic

Yes, again, HR cannot stop the high-status people in the company. And the following quote outlines very well.

I’ve spent 20 years working in human resources, and in that time I’ve learned that we’re paid to preserve the status quo. At the end of the year, nobody asks the local HR team for a report on how many employees were protected from predatory sexual behavior or how many bullies were fired. If anything, we’re compensated and bonused on arbitrary data, such as retention and turnover. If companies wanted us to get rid of troublemakers, they’d pay us to do so. – Vice

And How About Other Protections for Workers?

Google was accused in December of 2020 of violating the National Labor Relations Act, and that they had been coercing employees not to unionize. What is not disputed is that Google fired several employees as retaliation against those that were pro-union. One woman was fired for creating a tool that informed workers of their rights to organize. Google then lied about why it fired these workers, as covered in the following quotation.

Google at the time alleged that Rivers, Berland, and others were fired for “intentional and often repeated violations of our longstanding data security policies.” According to the NLRB’s filing, however, Google put several of the rules the employees allegedly violated in place in response to the employee organizing efforts, and those rules were designed to “discourage employees from forming, joining, [or] assisting a union.” The company also unlawfully surveilled employees’ protected activities by viewing an employee slide deck in support of a union drive, as well as by interrogating employees about protected activities. – Ars Technica

Hmmmm….so the data policy that was violated was communicating the rights of employees to organize under US law. And as Google does with its users, they surveilled their employees. The following is from the court document.

About November 13, 2019 Respondent, by (REDACTED) and (REDACTED), in a Global Investigations meeting in Repondent’s San Francisco facility, interrogated its employees about their protected concerted activities by asking them about their access to employees’ calendars and MemeGen Takedown Documents.

About December 18, 2019, Respondent, by an unnamed agent, in a meeting which included Supervisors (REDACTED), Director of Detection and Response Heath Adkins, and Manager (REDACTED), threatened employees with unspecified reprisals by requiring employees to raise workplace concerns through official channels including Code of Conduct alias or go/my concerns.

What this means is that Google behaves like thugs. And do not appear to be interested in abiding by US law related to the rights of labor.

So much for their catchphrase “Don’t be Evil.”

Guessing Whose Side HR Took

And guess who would have fired those employees who were “caught” promoting unionization?

That would be HR. HR fired those people.

This reinforced the point that HR does whatever management tells them to do. If executives tell HR to punish a person who brings a sexual harassment claim, they do that. If management tells them to fire workers who exercise their legal right to unionize, then HR does that.

Conclusion

The present system of HR can stop non-high status men from engaging in sexual harassment, but it can’t stop high-status men from engaging in sexual harassment. Companies view their executives as far more valuable than any worker and will tend to more willing to have the subordinates leave the company. Each company has a responsibility to maximize profits and shareholder wealth. However, companies do not have any particular responsibility (in their view) to create safe work environments for workers.

All of this explains why the opposition to sexual harassment in companies is a double standard. It is verboten for middle and low-level employees but is tolerated and protected when performed by high-status employees.

References

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/07/hr-workplace-harrassment-metoo/590644/

https://www.vox.com/first-person/2019/10/3/20887020/me-too-sexual-harassment-movement-boss-reporting-hr

https://hbr.org/2018/08/how-hr-and-judges-made-it-almost-impossible-for-victims-of-sexual-harassment-to-win-in-court

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2020/12/google-illegally-spied-on-and-retaliated-against-workers-feds-say/

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2019/12/google-workers-fired-amid-organization-efforts-file-retaliation-complaint/

*https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/20/technology/Google-union-consultant.html

https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/cpt20-ca-252802ccnohdocx-redacted.pdf