The human resources (HR) department is often viewed as the department of an organization that has employees’ backs in the event of a difficult working environment. However, sometimes, that may not be the case. When the HR manager turns out to be the individual who is violating employment laws by perpetrating bullying and harassment, where can employees go?
Employees who experience hostile working conditions would typically report it to the HR manager of their organization. That manager would then investigate the allegation and take the necessary steps to resolve the issue. What would be the steps to take if the HR manager is the one creating the hostile work environment or harassing employees, including employees within the HR department, in any other way?
There may be a feeling in the HR department that employees do not have as much recourse as others within the company. However, the employer is ultimately responsible for maintaining an acceptable workplace environment for all employees.
Employers must ensure they offer employees a work environment free of harassment and hostility. Employers should investigate all allegations of misconduct to ensure they are valid and then see that the issues are resolved fairly. Other avenues to pursue include taking the claim to the HR manager’s superior. In a large business, an HR manager at another location might step in to deal with the employee’s claim. Another option is to utilize the services of an independent third-party investigator.
With any investigation into the conduct of a member of the company, proper investigation procedures must be followed according to the law. Employers are expected to promote a supportive workplace culture and refrain from creating hostile work environments. Employers must establish company policies about bullying and harassment. These policies should set out appropriate alternate avenues for employees reporting harassment within the HR department or by their managers, who may not be comfortable reporting these matters to their direct supervisors. In addition, the leadership team should encourage employees to speak up about any work-related concerns, no matter what their department, including complaints against upper-level management.
We encourage employers faced with bullying and harassment complaints to consult an experienced employment lawyer who can guide employers through the appropriate processes for dealing with bullying and harassment complaints, including providing advice on how to conduct an internal investigation or, if necessary, acting as an independent third-party investigator.