Dear ReWorker: Our HR Manager Appeases Bullies—What Can I Do?
October 30, 2018
Recently, my colleague and I carefully documented and reported acts of long-term bullying by two of our coworkers. Soon afterward, HR summoned the entire department for a mandatory meeting where our boss's manager and the top HR manager yelled and reprimanded us. We were told our complaints were petty and stupid, and that their time was wasted.
A few weeks later, another meeting was called where we received similar, abusive treatment after my colleague stood up to one of our bullies, and she reported it. It was made clear to us that no one was going to be fired, and if we didn't feel the culture was a good fit, we were welcome to leave.
My question is: do we have any recourse for this treatment by HR and upper management?
Jousting For Justice
Your company has made it very clear that they do not care about bullying behavior, and, in fact, support bullying. No matter how minor complaints might be, the proper course of action for HR is to sit down with the complainer and address the issue. It is never proper to rudely reprimand and embarrass people.
The first thing you need to do in your situation is decide: do the benefits of working at this organization outweigh the horrible culture? They might. If the pay is good, the commute is short and the work is interesting, you can ignore the bullying co-workers. If those things don't outweigh the culture, however, freshen up your resume and look for a new job. Find one, and leave.
If you do decided to stay, know this: the top HR manager is not the ultimate decision maker at your company and you can bring this problem to the CEO or escalate it in other ways. It's particularly challenging when people with the most power behave poorly, but here's what companies should teach their workers about reporting complaints against upper management.
Any HR Person Should Take a Complaint
When your problem is with the head of HR, going to her direct report can seem like a waste of time, but any HR person should be prepared to listen, document and launch an investigation if warranted. Even hiring an outside firm to investigate is a possibility, when internal conflicts of interest arise.
Line Management Can Step in to Help
Most organizations are set up with a system of checks and balances, and everyone has a boss or manager. Even CEOs sometimes report to a Board of Directors. Any managers throughout the organization should be equipped to handle complaints, so employees should be encouraged to find sympathetic managers and work with them on addressing any problems.
Hiring a Lawyer Can Be a Last Resort
It's not illegal to bully or be a jerk, but it is illegal if that bullying is due to race, gender or other protected characteristics. When employees feel like HR and management aren't listening, they should be urged to hire an employment lawyer. Legal counsel can be quite effective at getting a company to pay attention. While companies shouldn't allow bullying of any kind, if the senior management behaves badly, sometimes fixing it is beyond an employee's pay grade.
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