With Sexual Harassment Claims, Whose Side Is HR On?

Several hundred women gathered in front of the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood before marching to the CNN building to hold a rally on Nov. 12, 2017. (MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

Wondering what your HR department can actually do for you in the event of a claim?

We wanted to know the answer to that question, too, as well as gain a greater understanding of the function of HR as it relates to handling cases of harassment and discrimination. We reached out to Sung Hae Kim, HR expert and vice president of people operations for Wizeline, a San Francisco-based software company.

Kim said that contrary to popular belief, a healthy HR department should be an advocate for employees. “If HR isn’t the department that is responsible for advocating for employees, then what department is?” she said. But Kim acknowledged the perception that HR’s role is to protect the company, first and foremost, is rooted in some truth.

“The roots of HR go back to industrial relations in the 1920s, where people’s rights at work needed to be protected,” Kim said. “Then came along scientific management where research was conducted with the aim to improve worker efficiency. In the last two decades, much of the focus for human resources has been about being a strategic partner to the business.”

With this shift, Kim said, more responsibility has been given to managers to coach their people, and many HR departments are focused on helping the company deliver results.

This is where the term “human capital” comes from.

“I think the perception that HR’s role is to protect the company came about because HR is often not seen as core to the business,” she said. “HR professionals have to work hard to get a seat at the table, so to speak.” 

But Kim believes that, at its core, human resources can be an ally and an important tool in stamping out sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

The first line of defense is at the company level, she said. Internally, the company has to value human resources and invest in it. This  fosters a culture where people feel safe and supported.

What can employees do? Kim offers these tips:

  1. Find someone in the company you trust. It should be an HR person, Kim said, but some companies provide multiple avenues, like managers and executive staff, and outlets to report anonymously. 
  2. If there is no one you trust within the company, seek a lawyer or leave. Women in technology, for example, are highly sought after, and she say that brings with it lots of power. “I hope women in tech know that it should be easy for them to find another job if they don’t feel supported by their current employer,” Kim said.  
  3. The law protects whistleblowers. The California whistleblower law was strengthened in 2014 when three additional laws were enacted and added to the California Whistleblower Protection Act.

Kim said she was encouraged by the recent national dialogue on sexual harassment. The focus, she said, has shifted from the accuser to the accused. “I really believe we are at a tipping point where our society is becoming unwilling to enable sexual harassment to go on without being addressed.”

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With Sexual Harassment Claims, Whose Side Is HR On? 7 December,2017Tonya Mosley

Author

Tonya Mosley

Tonya Mosley is the senior Silicon Valley editor for KQED based out of San Jose. Prior to KQED, Tonya served as a television reporter & anchor for several media outlets, including Al Jazeera America and KING 5 News in Seattle, WA.

In 2015, Tonya was awarded a John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship at Stanford University where she co-created a workshop for journalists on the impacts of implicit bias and co-wrote a Belgian/American experimental study on the effects of protest coverage.

Tonya has won several national awards for her work, most recently an Emmy Award in 2016 for her televised piece “Beyond Ferguson” and a national RTDNA Unity Award for her public radio series “Black in Seattle.” She was named “Journalist of the Year” by the Washington Association for Justice for her reporting on the Seattle Police Department’s handling of a murder investigation.

You can reach Tonya at: tmosley@kqed.org.

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