By Elliot H. Clark
Here I go again writing about the impact of political culture on the life of HR. And I hope the hate mail I get is not too hateful in theseÂ overwrought times. But there is an important cultural moment at hand and depending on how social views become ingrained, it mayÂ impact the practice of HR.
By the time you read this, the U.S. mid-term elections will be over and the impact of the so-called âKavanaugh effectâ will be clear. TheÂ question of whether it galvanized the political right or energized the political left will be answered. But the divisions will remain, and theÂ question of how a process could become so flawed may never be understood.
I want to be clear. I am not stating that I believe Justice Kavanaugh or that I believe Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford. In fact, to the extent that IÂ will share my opinion, I am unsure. I was not privy to the investigation or its outcome. But I know that depending on where we were inÂ the process, I was haranguedâyes, I will use that wordâby people I know who are on the left and on the right. What was the sin I hadÂ committed that got me so into the line of fire of both sides? I voiced an opinion that there should be a supplemental investigation afterÂ the allegations became public. Even though I explained, âThatâs what an HR professional would do,â I was met with hostility and raisedÂ voices by people advocating for both sides.
Some right-wing folks were upset early on because of the multiple background investigations that had already been done. I argued thatÂ new allegations required a new investigation in the case that the accuser was credible, which she was. I had this argument with a familyÂ member who is as far to the right as Rush Limbaugh (you canât pick your family or even get them to be moderate, as it turns out). He sawÂ no reason and was incensed when I explained how these things are managed in the real world by members of the HR community. ThenÂ at the same event, a family friend who overheard this discussion and is a self-described democratic socialist told me I was a âdisgusting,Â misogynistic rape apologistâ for not automatically believing an accuser. It was at that moment I decided to write this column. BecauseÂ there is a larger issue at play here in society than the spectacle of the Senate Judiciary process.
I have written a few pieces on the Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement saying it was a social failure that people like WeinsteinÂ were allowed to flourish. Bear in mind, I am not conflating Dr. Fordâs testimony of a violent attempted rape with sexual harassment,Â but workplace assaults occur as well as harassment. Part of the air cover given to serial harassers is the presumption of ârectitude.â ForÂ example, the accuser being a âgold diggerâ is a popular term especially for disparaging women, or a âdisgruntledâ employee or anÂ âopportunist.â Inside this gray zone of doubt live thousands of Harveys enjoying the presumption of rectitude, and this very presumptionÂ spawned an explosion of bad behaviors. And even worse, in some cases, bad HR leaders would conduct flawed investigations or just cleanÂ up the mess.
A presumption of rectitude by accusers can also spawn an explosion of bad behavior. It would potentially allow less than credible claimsÂ to be intermingled with truly serious ones and drown out those deserving of respect and yes, justice. A good investigation must always beÂ undertaken and the factsânot presumptionsâshould be followed. And Iâm sure the readers of HRO Today are thinking, âYes, thatâs whatÂ we do. We do the investigation. We stand by the importance of doing a good investigation and getting whatever facts may exist.â
For example, a nightmare scenario for HR: After being told there will be an investigation, an accuser of an executive at a largeÂ organization tweets that the leadership doesnât believe victims and should be boycotted. This causes a social media explosion of pressureÂ when the company and HR are just doing their job.
We need to make our employees understand that we are there to support them, and we need to have the courage to stand up for theÂ investigation over the presumption of truth, innocence, or guilt on EITHER side.
I worry for the future reputation of HR and that operational executives will succumb to external forces and try to limit HRâs ability toÂ conduct investigations. Because what we have and should always stand for in the HR profession is the facts and truth regardless ofÂ pressure. An investigation should be a sacrosanct process, and I hope it always will be.