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Why doesn't HR always take sexual harassment claims seriously?

The wave of accusations against powerful show business figures, politicians and others that followed the downfall of movie producer Harvey Weinstein has put the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace at the top of the news cycle. It’s a time for all of us to consider how unwelcome sexual comments, demands for sex, groping and more have hurt American workers, especially women, for decades.

Why so few harassment victims go to HR

As NPR notes, it’s also a time for employees to consider if their job’s Human Resources department takes sexual harassment claims seriously enough. Unfortunately, many women’s experiences suggest a pattern of HR departments tolerating harassment and even blaming the victim. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that only about 25 percent of sexual harassment victims ever report it — likely due to a perception that doing so would not improve things.

A conflict of interest?

One of the major issues that observers point out is that HR managers are in a constant conflict. They are supposed to look out for their company’s employees, but at the same time management signs their paychecks. Many workers who come forward with a harassment claim against a supervisor find that HR will help them only as long as that help does not negatively impact the company in any way.

Some companies farm out their HR tasks to an outside company, which can help with neutrality but can also “let employers off the hook” of their responsibility to create a supportive and fair HR department, the president of the National Women’s Law Center said. Another option is to have an in-house HR department, but to have an outside counselor there to represent employee’s interests.

After your company won’t take action, talk to a lawyer

In most cases, in order to bring a legal claim of sexual harassment, victims must first go through their workplace’s reporting procedures. It can be a huge letdown when your employer does not believe you or take real steps to correct the problem. Often, your only choice is to take legal action.