What Really Happens: Sexual Harassment Investigations

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I haven’t written about Herman Cain because I don’t want to be behind the curve. I write my entire week’s worth of blog posts on Sunday. By the time I publish this, Herman Cain could be out of the race.

Dare I dream.

With all of this awesome knowledge about HR and whatnot, I want to tell you what really happens when an employee makes a claim of sexual harassment.

  • HR takes this very seriously. I was taught to investigate sexual harassment claims by a farmer. She grew corn and worked in Human Resources. (Makes sense in a weird way.) She taught me to take all allegations seriously but not to overreact. Believe it or not, that takes practice. The most important lesson? I learned that when you take a claim of sexual harassment seriously — even if it’s false — you send a clear message. Much like the TSA won’t tolerate your jokes about bombs, HR doesn’t tolerate sexual harassment shenanigans.
  • There is no guarantee of anonymity. Most HR professionals try to respect the privacy of the accuser as well as the accused; however, the accuser’s name is often revealed during the course of an investigation. This is why I [now] tell women to find a better job, quit, and then make your accusations. Always operate from a position of strength.
  • Very few victims receive any money. I have worked in Human Resources in some capacity since 1995. I can count on one hand the number of women I know who received money after making a claim against a colleague. It’s a myth — propagated by corporate attorneys — that hysterical employees are hiring Gloria Allred and threatening to sue. Money isn’t thrown around to shut people up — unless it’s powerful people who occupy the 1%. They take care of their own. Otherwise, it just doesn’t happen that way.
  • Cash comes with a strict set of rules. When an accuser is offered a settlement, she must sign a document that waives all rights to sue in court. She also releases the company from future claims. And there is also a confidentiality clause that applies to the accuser but not the company. It’s hardly worth the trouble for a victim to try to have her day in court or fight for a private settlement. Cash doesn’t come easily.
  • Fewer people are accused of sexual harassment than you would believe. When something happens, most people are brave. They are willing to tell a  colleague to STFU if he/she crosses the line. This is why most allegations that rise up to the level of HR are serious. You don’t come to Human Resources unless you’ve run out of other options.

I have no idea if Herman Cain is guilty of inappropriate behavior but I do know that his story sketchy and incomplete. Multiple employees with similar allegations who signed a release & waiver, accepted relatively small cash settlements, left their jobs, and don’t want to revisit this chapter in their lives?

Herman Cain may be an expert at pizza but I’m an expert at HR. And I am here to tell you that something is rotten in the state of the National Restaurant Association.

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