I am the lead HR person in my organization. I report to the CFO, but I have a great relationship with my CEO. When I took this job it was my dream job. The company has a wonderful mission and I had a real chance to make a difference in employee engagement and all things people related.
However, my boss—the CFO—is a complete nightmare. The CFO leads by fear, bullies other employees, uses terms that can be considered racially and sexually insensitive and tells others about our CEO's personal life and situations. If this person weren't my boss, I would have terminated him yesterday.
The problem is, I cannot function and do my job—ethically and morally—any longer under this person. What recourse do I have? If I go above my boss' head to the CEO, I know what repercussions I may face. Yet, I cannot function as the head of HR for this organization while reporting to this person. I feel as though I need to report to the CEO, so I can report what is happening without fear. What would you do in this situation?
Dear Moral Dilemma,
First, you should eat a lot of ice cream. It won't solve anything, but it will make you feel better—at least temporarily. Second, you need to go back and re-read what you wrote: "If this person weren't my boss, I would have terminated him, yesterday."
You're the head of HR. Your job is to help the business grow through policies and practices that make the employees perform at a higher level. Right now, as much as I hate to say it, you are failing at your job.
You have to go to the CEO. While leading by fear and bullying aren't illegal (dumb, but not illegal), sexual and racial harassment are illegal. The fact that you know about the behavior opens the company up to more legal liability than if you didn't. Why? Because you're the head of HR. You're legally required to act when you know about sexual harassment or racial discrimination.
So, essentially, your fear of the CFO being upset with you is putting the CEO's company at risk. If someone decides to sue, they can, and because you'd be honest in the deposition, they'd win. Here's how it would go.
Attorney: Ms. HR Manager, were you aware that the CFO was sexually harassing employees?
Attorney: Did you conduct an investigation?
Attorney: Did you report this to the CEO?
Judge: Get out your checkbook. Your business loses.
Okay, that's the short (and not so sweet) version, but it's based on truth. It's your job to tell the CEO when there is something going on that will hurt the company. What's going on with your CFO, regardless of whether or not he is your boss, will hurt the company.
You need to go to the CEO today and say, "We need to talk about the CFO." Then lay out what you know and the legal consequences of not acting immediately. Suggest contacting an employment lawyer right away to go over your legal options, which include firing the CFO.
Sorry to be so depressing, but it's critical that this gets taken care of! That's why the CEO hired you: to keep the company safe. Sometimes that means turning in your boss. If you have a good relationship with the CEO, you shouldn't face any problems. He or she should trust that you have the company's best interest at heart.
If the CEO protests, remind him or her that everybody can be replaced. There is no single person at the company that is so important that everyone else needs to be sacrificed. This CFO is causing damage. While legal liability is part of it, you probably have higher turnover than you should because of him, and turnover is expensive.
And one last word of caution: If the CEO is like, "That's just how Steve is. Deal with it," then you need to look for a new job and leave. That's not a dream job, that's a nightmare.
Suzanne Lucas, Evil HR Lady
Photo: Creative Commons