One of the key takeaways from my book, How To Engineer Your Layoff, is understanding that the Human Resources department is not on your side. First and foremost, the HR department is there to protect the company from liability. After such protection is made, maybe then HR will help a troubled employee with a problem.
My experience comes from being a manager at a major financial organization, having to work with HR to hire and lay off staff, negotiating my own severance, and consulting with dozens of people about negotiating their own severance since publishing my book in 2012. Your best strategy is to befriend HR but hold sensitive information close to heart right before making a move.
Because Uber is the most successful startup of all time at its current stage, it's always going to be a target. The latest damning news about the company comes from Susan Flowers, a former engineer at Uber who penned a post called, Reflecting On One Very Strange Year At Uber. You should read the post if you are an employee, manager, woman, startup entrepreneur, or work in HR. You should also read the post if you're a bored retiree crazy enough to think that going back to work will make you happier!
Susan writes that she was sexually harassed at Uber and denied upward mobility due to being a woman. This is not a surprise for those of us who have experience working in Silicon Valley, an area dominated by socially awkward men who've suddenly become hot stuff due to their computer engineering skills. Here's an excerpt from her post:
“On my first official day rotating on the team, my new manager sent me a string of messages over company chat. He was in an open relationship, he said, and his girlfriend was having an easy time finding new partners but he wasn’t. He was trying to stay out of trouble at work, he said, but he couldn’t help getting in trouble, because he was looking for women to have sex with. It was clear that he was trying to get me to have sex with him, and it was so clearly out of line that I immediately took screenshots of these chat messages and reported him to HR.”
Clearly, this type of behavior from a manager is NOT OK. The manager should be fired for trying to take advantage of a subordinate. No employee should ever have to feel uncomfortable going to work.
However, if your goal is to survive an organization's politics and land mines, immediately reporting your manager to HR for any grievances could be a suboptimal career move. Instead, it's important to consider CONFRONTING your oppressor first, spelling out exactly what it is s/he is doing that makes you feel uncomfortable. Have a conversation.
Yes, confrontation is sometimes scary, but it is a must to help save your skin. Most oppressors don't get confronted because the majority of people they maltreat are terrified to stand up to them. It's so much easier to report someone than work out difficult and unsuitable situations yourself. Heck, trying to solve difficult situations is why most people quit instead of engineer their layoff.
But what you'll find is that once you stand up to your oppressor, he should get the message and back off. The bully now knows you won't stand for his bullshit, and if the bully continues, he knows he's putting his career and reputation at risk.
One confrontation hack I used when it was time for me to face someone at work was envisioning what type of power this person or senior employee had over me OUTSIDE of work. The answer was always nothing. He was just another regular chump I could whip on the tennis court or in a dark alley. Get your mind fierce.
Here are more excerpts from her post highlighting how Susan continuously reported everything she felt was wrong to HR:
“Things were beginning to get even more comically absurd with each passing day. Every time something ridiculous happened, every time a sexist email was sent, I'd sent a short report to HR just to keep a record going.
Less than a week after this absurd meeting, my manager scheduled a 1:1 with me, and told me we needed to have a difficult conversation. He told me I was on very thin ice for reporting his manager to HR.
California is an at-will employment state, he said, which means we can fire you if you ever do this again. I told him that was illegal, and he replied that he had been a manager for a long time, he knew what was illegal, and threatening to fire me for reporting things to HR was not illegal. I reported his threat immediately after the meeting to both HR and to the CTO: they both admitted that this was illegal, but none of them did anything.”
With each HR reporting, Susan trapped herself in an increasingly difficult position because HR was building a case for the company, and not for her. The only thing Susan could do was leave Uber after one year, which is EXACTLY what HR wanted. Any HR department would prefer a disgruntled employee leaving quietly on his/her own versus having to deal with the complexities and negative ramifications of settling a legal case.
Unfortunately for Uber, Susan took to the internet to air her grievances and caused a massive backlash by reviving the #DeleteUber hashtag on social media. If HR and management had properly addressed the issues earlier, Susan would never have publicly blown up the company.
If Uber is valued at ~$66 billion based on the last round of funding, this negative PR could EASILY wipe away at least $1 billion in market value as consumers switch over to Lyft or other means of ridesharing transportation. Perhaps the damage is actually much greater given a reputation takes a tremendous amount of time to rebuild.
Hiring former attorney general, Eric Holder to lead an investigation into claims of sexual harassment and discrimination is totally a PR move, and the wrong one. First, if they want to hire anybody to investigate, it should be a woman. Second, how much investigating do you really need when you can easily find out who Susan Fowler's HR manager was who repeatedly ignored her reports? Finally, having an independent audit of HR while including the head of HR is not going to win anybody over.
See: Massive Reputation Destruction Is Why Negotiating A Severance Is Possible
Understand The Role Of Human Resources
Most employees think of HR as a department that handles the onboarding of new employees, ensures everybody plays nice with each other and helps struggling employees do better. Instead, think of HR like undercover corporate security.
Employers need workers to grow a business. But employers also realize that with each worker they hire, there's a risk the employee might cause problems within the organization. HR is there to try and smooth things out before things reach extreme levels, e.g. settlements over lawsuits.
It is true states such as California have “at-will” employment laws, which mean a company can choose to lay off an employee whenever they want. But seldom are companies so ruthless as to lay employees off without proper documentation. Documentation is why it often takes at least one review and six months before a company will lay off any employee because if the employee ever sues for wrongful termination, the company can show they highlighted the performance issues and gave the employee a chance to improve.
The reason why Susan's first manager wasn't fired immediately after being reported was because he was deemed a “high performer.” Uber HR determined the manager was more valuable to the company than his transgressions. Clearly, this shows that HR is on the corporation's side, and not on Susan's side.
With each HR reporting, HR builds a case that Susan is a weak, easily offended employee, who isn't willing to talk things out and play nice with others. HR can basically manipulate their interpretation of Susan's reporting as they see fit to protect the company and its highest performers.
“The HR rep began the meeting by asking me if I had noticed that *I* was the common theme in all of the reports I had been making, and that if I had ever considered that I might be the problem.”
Do not think for one second that everything you reveal to HR will be kept confidential and won't be reported to your manager or someone in a position to determine your future.
I won't discuss details about my experience with HR when subordinates were unhappy. All I can say is that I knew what unhappy subordinates were saying to HR because HR told me. And I'm sure there are things I don't know from HR that were told to my managers because they deemed me a liability if I knew too much.
Your Goal As An Employee
Do these simple things if you want to survive workplace politics and get ahead.
1) Read your employee handbook. I'm constantly surprised that most people have never read their employee handbook. It is loaded with great information to your benefit. If the information is in your employee handbook, that means it is gospel. HR/management cannot go back and argue against whatever thing you did if it is OK per the handbook.
2) Keep meticulous records of perceived transgressions. Document everything you think is wrong. This includes inappropriate e-mails, texts, conversations, events. But keep everything private until you really need to talk. Your highly organized documentation will serve as your ammunition during any bargaining process.
3) Build a relationship with your office HR manager. If you can get your HR manager to be on your side, you've got a powerful ally because she will help you navigate the land mines. It's human nature to help people you like. HR people are no different. Take her out for coffee. Ask about her vacation. If she has a family, inquire about their health. Hopefully, you really do build a great relationship. If not, at least make it clear you are a hard working, thoughtful, and caring employee. HR does have the power to speak on your behalf and make recommendations about your future with the company.
4) Confront your oppressor and talk things out. People who oppress in the workplace are sometimes CLUELESS about their actions. Because nobody tells them they are being weird, sexist, rude, or whatever, they continue to act inappropriately because they believe whatever they are doing must be OK. One strategy is to just take them out for lunch or coffee on you. You can disarm them with your generosity, making it much easier to share what's on your mind. Bottling things up and exploding is not healthy. And reporting your manager to HR when everything you say could get back to your manager can be a risky, career limiting move. Stand up for yourself and talk things through.
5) Know your leverage. If you've come to wits' end, then leaving is probably your best option. Leaving quietly is one way to go about things. Leaving through a lawsuit is another way. But the best way is to engineer your layoff so that both parties get something, i.e. go through mediation. The reason why I was able to earn a severance and keep five years worth of deferred compensation is by knowing my leverage and having a dialogue. After 11 years at my firm, I knew that if I left, the revenue I helped generate for the firm would decline by multiples more than the cost of my employment. Therefore, I came up with a plan to transition my clients to my subordinate over a two month period to help them minimize any losses. I also made it clear to my employer that I wasn't going to a competitor, which made negotiations much easier.
Things Can Usually Be Worked Out
Please think twice before firing off every transgression, perceived or otherwise, to HR. That could set you up for failure. Instead, confront your terrible co-worker and clearly delineate that which is bothering you. If that doesn't work, speak to a manager you think you can trust to help you. Speaking to HR is sadly the last resort.
As good fortune would have it, Susan landed on her feet at Stripe, another richly valued startup. It was wise of Susan to light Uber's barn on fire after she solidified her position. Who dares bother her now?
Recommendation If You Want To Quit Your Job
If you want to leave a job you no longer enjoy, I recommend you negotiate a severance instead of quit. If you negotiate a severance like I did back in 2012, you not only get a severance check, but potentially subsidized healthcare, deferred compensation, and worker training.
When you get laid off, you're also eligible for up to roughly 27 weeks of unemployment benefits. Having a financial runway is huge during your transition period.
Conversely, if you quit your job you get nothing. Check out the book How To Engineer Your Layoff: Make A Small Fortune By Saying Goodbye.
It's the only book that teaches you how to negotiate a severance. In addition, it was recently updated and expanded thanks to tremendous reader feedback and successful case studies.
Important note: Of course not all HR professionals are considered “corporate undercover security” that only fights for senior management, and not the everyday employee. There are some great HR people out there who will fight for you and draw a line in the sand when it comes to ethical grey areas. Just realize that HR professionals are employed by your company, and therefore have their own livelihoods and careers to consider. Be careful whom you disclose information to.
Update 2H2019: Travis Kalanick is no longer the CEO, and there is a huge uprising against male Venture Capitalists who've used their powers to sexually harass and assault women founders looking for funding. I feel there is going to be immense change for the good, and I'm proud of women like Susan Fowler for speaking out.
89 thoughts on “Sexual Harassment At Uber Reminds Us That HR Is Not Your Friend”
OMG! Just reading this nonsense reminds me of why I invest! Corporate America is the worst. I recently left a director position at a large State agency because we spent our days managing this BS. If I assigned 4 offices to 4 employees I’d have to explain why one of the employees that “looked” different didn’t get a window! Usually the answer was simple….the 3 that did were sr management and the 1 that didn’t was an adm min!
Don’t miss it at all!
I am an HR Professional who has worked hard to establish myself in my career with two degrees in this field. I find this article incredibly misleading and frankly offensive. While I agree, sadly there are bad HR professionals that act only on behalf of the company but to state “Most employees think of HR as a department that handles the onboarding of new employees, ensures everybody plays nice with each other and helps struggling employees do better. Instead, think of HR like undercover corporate security,” is just not anywhere near accurate.
The role of HR is to balance the needs of the business with the employees and majority of HR professionals understand and passionately believe that the engagement level of employees is directly related to the health of the business and impacts the bottom line. Therefore, helping mediate conflict is critical and often means managing out bad behaving managers. Managers such as the ones profiled in Uber not only impact the employees they abuse but also the health of the team, the peers who see the treatment and see nothing happening and that creates a level of disengagement which impacts productivity greatly. If you cannot feel safe, comfortable and trust your peers and manager you are definitely not operating at your full capacity.
I personally have and I know many colleagues in HR have fought with attorneys or higher level leadership to protect employees as well as managers because THAT is our role. This has resulted in senior leaders, sales executives and mid level leaders being terminated as well as employees who have violated policies. I do recognize this is in part because the 4 major companies I’ve worked for have take ethics seriously – but there have been times I have to fight for the decision. Sadly, there will always be companies like Uber that have not only terrible leadership but also terrible HR professionals but to blanket statement the entire profession is simply FALSE and offensive.
Please get to know some more HR professionals before you write something like this again.
I thought maybe I’d enjoy this blog but I will not be back because your ignorance and offensive writing about my profession.
Thanks for the feedback, and you are right. It’s not fair to make a blanket statement such as this towards all HR professionals. I’ve added an addendum to the post at the bottom.
Important note: Of course not all HR professionals are considered “corporate undercover security” that only fights for senior management, and not the everyday employee. There are some great HR people out there who will fight for you and draw a line in the sand when it comes to ethical grey areas. Just realize that HR professionals are employed by the company, and therefore have their own livelihoods and careers to consider. Be careful whom you disclose information to.
The media’s #1 are huge companies that will give it continuous stories. Susan’s story is front page for one day then forgotten for 364 days of the yr. A media that is very nice and very favorable to Uber will get hundreds of stories, interviews with Uber executives, talks about it. It’s a no brainer who to support here?
I haven’t bing.com her story, nor will I. My guess is if the media give her too much attention, Uber will have many ways to retaliate against the media. Nordstorms and Macys comes to mind immediately.
Does one think the silicon valley really actually cares about diversity, race and sex with there well published public diversity company manuals? Or is the real reason they are greedy af and want to hire from countries like India en mass where a computer science PHD living in India earns $70,000 usd (or maybe they’d rather hire a fresh Bsc 22 yr old computer science undergraduate for $80,000 usd)?
It really depends how valuable her sexually harassing manager was. Open relationship? Really? Why are you even talking about having sex at work? He was more valuable to the company than her so the HR covers for him. Susan codes. He likely codes, manages, drafts company proposals. It will take her a few yrs before she can manage, and another few yrs prior to her drafting any company proposals. Susan may think shes a wonderful engineer but having been exposed to Fortune 500 C-suites and their posses she’s got plenty to learn. Aspiring C-suites can show the actual amount of $ they are saving, bring in, $ from efficiency change they implemented. They got and create the proposals for future projects, with data, with how each project will affect the bottom line of Uber. Sometimes great coders think I make a great GUI, I wrote the mobile version, I rewrote it for Android, I fixed 10 bugs quickly. Sorry but any new computer science undergraduate could do what you do. But until you can demonstrate how you affect the company’s bottom line year in year out, you’re not as valuable as you make oneself out to be.
Internal investigations of this sort seem like a waste of resources. I worked at a big, international law firm where a handful of female attorneys brought a sexual harassment/gender discrimination complaint to HR. After some time, an internal investigation began. Multiple attorneys who were interviewed by the investigator told me that they lied to the investigator by telling them these problems didn’t exist in the office, because they felt their job would be at risk if they told the truth. They said they would tell the truth only in a deposition under oath.
I really enjoyed this post, and your other recent post about sexism in the work place. My mom has been working in corporate consulting for nearly 40 years, and she acknowledges that equality has improved vastly, but there is still a certain “boys club” attitude and companies still can turn a blind eye to sexist behavior.
I was the business manager of a small business for the past few years, and the only female on the executive board. One of the part-owners treated me horribly, along with several several other women (i.e. saying things like “it’s a woman’s job to clean up my mess”, calling women at competitors’ companies “bi**hes, giving pay rises and a stake in the company to male employees but me and not other senior female employees, wrongfully firing two female employees without cause because they had “strong personalities”) and after I brought it up several times to the main owner, it was clear that things were not going to change so I left. I sometimes regret that I had to leave, as opposed to resolving things, but I was confident that I could start my own business and choose who I work with in the future so that I can surround myself with people who don’t behave this way. I really appreciate that you keep discussing this topic, as I think it’s important to give women (and men) the tools to deal with these situations! Thank you!
Wow. I knew about #DeleteUber but I didn’t know about this sexual harassment case.
Yikes. What a terrible company to work for. And yes, I agree with you that HR is not there to help you, it’s there to help the company. It’s the same with company appointed doctors who assess whether you are healthy enough to go back to work. One of my co-workers almost died from a collapsed lung and the doctor said he could go back to work within a week! WTF?!
You are absolutely right. I did feel a lot better about being retired and FI after reading her story. I’m glad she had the courage to speak out so that her story can help others going forward.
Time to switch to Lyft?
Yess! As a former manager in a Fortune 500 company, I also saw that HR works for the same people you do. They bend to keep the senior leaders happy. I have to disagree with you though, that confronting someone bothering you works in situations of sexual harassment. If you think a creep has never been told he is a creep, you’re kidding. Plus – when you reject some guys outright, they take it out on you 10x worse. This realization started in 7th grade when I was kicked in the shins by a guy at a middle school dance. I think you might want to revise that advice, because for every guy that says “oh, thanks for the feedback. Didn’t realize I was making you uncomfortable,” there are others that will say “fu, biyatch” and might get violent.
“Because Uber is the most successful startup of all time at its current stage”
This is why the economy is in shambles. What kind of “successful company” is unprofitable?
Huffpo says “Bloomberg recently reported that Uber lost $470 million on $415 million in revenue in an unspecified time frame, according to information that is being used to attract investors. Similarly, information leaked to Gawker reported a $56 million loss on $104 million in revenue in 2013 and $160 million losses on $101 million in revenue during the first half of 2014.”
But yet this company is “successful”… It is definitely highly valued.
Why? Speculation. Betting on a pyramid scheme with the idea that if you can get your money out before the house of cards collapses you can come out a winner. Forget everyone who will lose. Forget that uber drives down wages and conditions and eliminates the limited autonomy cab drivers have fought for and won. As long as you get yours to pile on top of the huge sums you already have (but don’t need) that’s all that matters.
There was a time that stocks were tied to actual production. Joe bought a stock in Heinz. Heinz used the money to expand its ketchup factory. It hired more workers, produced more ketchup and made a higher profit. It paid Joe back for his investment and a little more in the form of interest taken from the higher profits.
Now it’s all speculation. Speculators buy stocks as a sort of gamble that the stock will become hot so they can jump back out with more than they started with. Never mind that the company they are investing in is losing money. Doesn’t matter. And in order to keep the stock hot, to keep up their lavish lifestyles and keep paying off dividends the CEOs are destroying production: liquidating their factories, firing workers, cutting salaries and benefits.
Eventually the company goes out of business, the ceo finds work elsewhere and the parasites look for the next host body to bleed dry.
This is not sustainable. The crash of 2008 created by this setup was put off by mass government intervention. That is even less sustainable. The depression to come will shake the world to its core. Get ready.
I’ve thought about this often. What does it do to the economy when we allow these companies to essentially survive off capital raises? Lose 200 million? No big deal, issue some more stock. Continue to offer your product or service at below what it actually costs to deliver and drive the old competition that needs to survive on profit into the ground. And in the long run? Well hopefully when your product/service has to compete in the real market (assuming you’ll need to earn a profit someday) people don’t realize “holy crap! I’m not going to pay what it actually costs this company to turn a profit! I’m going back to…oh no wait, they went out of business”
Great article! As an experienced HR professional, I have never witnessed nor participated in such a botched sexual harassment situation, ever!
Look, I understand the reputation that HR has as the police, corporate lap dog, etc. and much of it is deserved. I can only tell you what my experience has been and that I’ve tried to represent both the company and the employee, knowing that it’s difficult and a fine line. I have been involved in many investigations that were a lot less severe then the Uber example and ended up firing the offender. Knowing the reputation that HR has with employees, I’ve tried to be approachable and friendly so people would be comfortable to talk to me, hopefully way before a situation is out of control. I’ve also tried to honest and direct in a professional and respectful manner.
Again, I get why an employee might not want to go to HR…if I wasn’t in HR, i would probably feel the same way. :-) Sadly, as many have already mentioned and what I call the ‘other’ golden rule: he who has the gold, makes the rules…I too have witnessed too many people decisions made based on the bottom line, incompetence or lack of courage versus doing the right thing.
Finally, the 5 employee goals are great. #4 is a tough one. My experience has been that most experiencing some kind of harassment are too afraid to confront the offended because they are usually their boss or someone in authority. It would be ideal and depending on the relationship, could happen, it’s just tough because the employee is worried about their job. It’s just so surprising that after all these years since Anita Hill/Clarence Thomas that this still happens…
Thanks for chiming in as an experienced HR professional!
So I’ve got to ask, what would you recommend did Susan do? And what would you have done if you were her HR manager?
After reading Susan’s entire “Reflecting on a Strange Year at Uber” I think she has a very strong sexual harassment case and she should sue their butts off! (NoCal being employee friendly and all)
She absolutely did the right thing in going to HR. Their HR department were absolute idiots and I counted at least five serious things they did wrong. HR came across as clueless but so did senior management. I’m surprised Susan didn’t leave sooner.
Regarding what I would have done, I would have done an investigation into the facts and if they showed that the manager had engaged in inappropriate conduct, I would have recommended termination, especially since it appears that this wasn’t his first offense.
If management didn’t support the termination, I would strenuously disagree and explain why. I would then start looking for another job because based on Susan’s short blog, there were enough data points that Uber’s org culture is lacking.
HR’s position is absolutely to protect the company. In some (but not all, I hasten to add) cases I’ve experienced, and especially where the culture is poor, HR are too stupid to realise that the way they’re protecting the company is actually damaging the company. This is a good example; it tells me that Uber’s culture is one where bullying is acceptable. Had someone in HR been intelligent enough to realise the greater damage that could be caused, perhaps this would have been handled differently. Presumably this attitufe comes from the top. I’ve never used Uber, but quite honestly this would make me thing thrice!
Very good point about human resources not seeing the forest for the trees.
But you better believe they now do, and so do probably hundreds of similar type of companies all around America and perhaps the world.
I’m sure HR is afraid of their bosses as well for not towing the party line.
Excellent post. It’s good to remember that HR is not your friend, but also that HR (and companies) like to take the path of least resistance (and are sometimes short-sighted in eyeing it). I agree that Susan Flowers might have had a different outcome if she had handled things differently, but it’s really hard for me to armchair QB the absolutely horrible situation she found herself in.
One bit of advice (combined with a dire warning) – in addition to the meticulous record-keeping you suggest, it would also be worthwhile to consider recording verbal conversations (since those are where the most insane harassment might occur). Roger Aisles might have survived if Gretchen Carlson hadn’t secretly recorded him, but once those tapes came out he was done.
HOWEVER, you are entering a dangerous legal arena if you secretly record someone. Susan Flowers didn’t have that option since CA is a “two party consent” state (everyone being recorded needs to consent). But there are a lot of “one party consent” states where only one party needs to consent. It’s a potential addition to your meticulous records, but just be wary you might be breaking the law.
“what type of power this person or senior employee had over me OUTSIDE of work. The answer was always nothing. He was just another regular chump I could whip on the tennis court or in a dark alley. ” – Sure, YOU can do that. But maybe considering that Susan is about 120 pounds soaking wet and the guy might be twice that. Now consider exactly what that means in terms of meeting in a dark alley and who would end up winning that particular argument.
I’m not saying confronting your aggressor is always the wrong move. It’s not. Going to HR is actually, in most cases, the nuclear option and it should be reserved for when you really want to get your point across. If you are enjoying your work and like your job and want to keep them, then perhaps a face to face discussion with that one pesky co-worker who keeps making sleazy jokes might be enough. Bringing in HR will put him on the defense and make you look like a “nasty feminist woman with no sense of humor”, so yeah a discussion is a good intermediate step.
But this was not the case. This was a manager – so the guy who gives you reviews and determines the rest of your career in that company – using company software to ask you to sleep with him, in the first week of the new job. When a guy is so brazen, you can bet he’s done this before and gotten away with it. Confronting him will not make him mend his way, confronting him is the way to get fired for “oh, I don’t know, there’s something about this chick. She just doesn’t fit with the team. She’s not a team player.” Confronting him means working on crap assignments until he finds some particular nit to pick with your work and then your review becomes suboptimal.
She couldn’t have won this particular battle anyway. Going to HR and complaining just meant that she could not be fired right away, so she had enough time to find some other job. But dear god, 3% women in engineering jobs, at a time when hiring them worldwide is becoming harder and harder, that means that Uber is really shooting themselves in the foot. Can you imagine locking yourself out of about 25% the market of talented engineers and employees? Women engineers are probably the best value bet for any company, they typically ask for less money and they are really motivated – since let’s face it, there are quite a lot of hurdles for women who want to study engineering. But what woman would even consider applying for a job at Uber now?
Raluca, “envisioning what type of power this person or senior employee had over me OUTSIDE of work,” is a MINDSET. I’m not literally going to beat up the person in a dark alley or on the tennis court. The point is to realize that your managers and oppressors do not control your life. The more people stand up for themselves through direct confrontation, the more things will be solved instead of using passive aggressive behavior or reporting everyone to HR.
Do not let people walk all over you.
I’d love to know what you suggest people who are being harassed at work to do.
Related: Are You Dirt? Then Stop Letting People Walk All Over You
Jeez i work in the music business which is notorious for bad behavior…if a manager at a huge, full funded music company spoke like that to a subordinate over company chat they’d be dealt with quickly!!
This article hits close to home Sam. I’ve not faced sexual harassment(I’m a male) like Susan but I empathize with her having to deal with HR people also.
As a public employee I got a negative evaluation even though my boss never did the evaluation. They recommended me for dismissal while I was at home with a terminally ill parent and a subsequent funeral I had to attend. Sounds far fetched but it’s true. That was one of many things that led to a court battle which I eventually won. I won’t go into details. Their side has appealed it and it’s been dragged through the courts close to five years now. The good part is that they have had to keep me on paid leave for these five years.
They didn’t want to negotiate a severance package. HR and their lawyers had too much of an ego. They didn’t anticipate the fight they would get back. It will cost them over a million dollars easily when this is all said and done.
Meantime, I’ve become financially independent so no matter which way this works out I will be fine. I’d love to give you more details but the court case is ongoing. Feel free to contact me if you want and I will share with you more.
You can be sexually harassed as a male. In my career, I’ve been told by female co-workers I should 1) come home with them [even when I’ve said no multiple times] 2) had parts of my body grabbed (including by random women on plane trips) 3) told I should do “those late night sex lines” due to my deep voice 4) Been told they’d report me for sexual harassment if I didn’t sleep with them [I just shrug it off, except that last one, which ended up being very tricky situation for me early in my career – nearly got me fired even though I had done absolutely nothing wrong]
Rob, you must be a really sexy man to have all those things happen to you. What industry were you in?
I guess since I was in a 70% male dominated industry (finance), I didn’t have any such experience. But, my female colleagues and clients were very nice to me and we got along great.
Hah – I’m probably slightly above average looking, but I’m certainly not a Brad Pitt or anything like that. Most of those things happened back when I was working for a growing retail company in my early and mid 20s (first at one of the stores for a few years and then in Ops mgmt that went to a lot of new store openings for a few years).
Now, I’m a finance exec in the hospitality industry – the only recent sexual harassment I’ve had is some random woman last year grabbed my crotch a couple times on the plane (was obviously intoxicated).
Ah, retail. Great ratio for heterosexual men. I went to the Gap WHQ here in SF for lunch a couple times and it was ~70% women, and I would guess 1/3rd of the men were gay, per my gay friend and female friend.
Yup – probably only better ratio than retail for heterosexual men is the restaurant/bar scene.
First and foremost, HR is there to protect the company. If they perceive that senior management wants to sweep issues under the rug, that is exactly what they will do. I saw this happen endlessly at the financial services firm I worked at for 20 years.
Ageism, sexism and racism were all in play. They are being sued left and right now. The only positive is that the board has finally stepped in and is playing an active role. No longer will the incidents be hidden. They have made that clear. Still, HR will do what they think management wants and if that means ignoring or bullying a victim, they will do so.
It’s rather unbelievable the behavior that she reports. I’m trying to picture in my head what kind of moron would send/say those sorts of thing in electronic format. My best guess is this guy is just really socially ackward. I can’t imagine he’s a dangerous predator, he would have to be much more cunning to be any harm to anyone.
I think she should have taken the screen shot and kept it in her back pocket. Talk to the guy and tell him to cut it out and take it to HR if it continues to be a problem. If you start sending each and every little thing to HR they’re understandably going to think that you’re going to be offended by everything you see and that YOU’RE the problem.
That’s my 2 cents but really hard to know without a clear understanding of the real details.
In regards to HR as a whole…they are not your friend. And as soon as you get on their radar for a negative interaction (if you complain or someone complains about you) they will start a file on you. They don’t decide who gets fired. That’s farther up the chain. They build evidence so that the person the decision maker chooses to fire has documents backing up the decision. Generally there is an easy way to determine who that person is going to be. It’s the person that brings less revenue in OR it’s the person putting the company at the risk for the greatest legal settlement.
Note that these decisions are independent of the nature of the complaint.
Those morons exist. Early in my career, I ran into one. A complete sexist pig. He was an awkward guy and being a “supervisor” must have given him a sense of power. 3 females complained about him in the span of a year. After the 3rd one; they reassigned him.
My fiance was put in an incredibly difficult situation at her former company. It was a small, 30-person company. From day 1, her boss made racist comments (“you’re breaking the Asian stereotype because you’re good at English, bad at Math”) that only got worse over time. After the first or second month, he started sexually harassing her. She tried talking to him multiple times, but he didn’t see his actions as wrong. She couldn’t do anything else, and was forced to put up with an extremely hostile workplace, or quit which she did.
Quitting was great because it pushed her to start an online business. However, she’s extremely wary of working for another male boss and I’m not sure that she’ll every really be comfortable doing that again.
Unfortunate to hear David. I’ve experienced this Asian stereotyping conversations all the time at my old work place. I’ve always had a retort. If a guy mentioned, “you’re breaking the Asian stereotype because you’re good at English, bad at Math.”
“I guess I’m the only one blazing a new trail since you’re still loud, obnoxious, only speak English, and could stand to lose a few pounds.”
Then I’d smile and put my hand up to force him to give me a high five. So fun! Of course he can’t get upset because I’m just giving back to him what he gave me. The key to insulting someone is to highlight the truth and dig in.
Of course, one can go with a more subtle response like, “I guess you’re not breaking your stereotype because you still only speak English and you’re bad at math.”
Men can do that kind of thing, far far more dangerous for a women to be viewed as aggressive and unless done exceedingly well would result in retaliation.
Great thoughts. I think far too often employees and managers forget that those in HR can often be the target of inappropriate behavior also. They too, can be (and are) fired by senior management if they don’t fall in line and keep with the culture set forth by those with ultimate authority within the company.
Source: Personal Experience
Great post Sam! Horrible reminder that unless your name is on the door, your employer is *not* your family, and HR may or may not put your needs above those of someone else who works there. And they will *never* put your needs above those of the company, i.e. “put your needs first”. Only you can do that.
Never love a company. It’ll never love you back…
You are so spot on Brian with your last comment. I’ve seen countless people that have worked 10, 15 or more years for a company talking about how their company takes care of them, etc..only to be given a box one day when they walk through the door and be told they are being laid off and to clear your desk out.
As a management consultant I see a lot of different companies when working on assignment. At several occasions have I seen sexist or denigrating behavior against women.
Admittedly, I choose not to interfere. It could strain the client relationship and I would possibly be putting myself in trouble with my firm. I will however not partake (smiling, laughing , etc… ) when it occurs.
Would hate to see my daughter have to face such pricks in the workplace.
Back to the topic of the post. Yes, please! Never, ever ever trust HR. They are not looking out for you and are incentivized on different things than you are.
It is very brave of her to come forward with this info. I imagine it will hurt her career overall, which makes it a selfless act in trying to improve the situation for others at Uber (and possibly elsewhere).
Always keep in mind other people’s motivations! HR reps are trying to climb the ladder just as much as anyone else. Everyone is trying to cover their butt.
I don’t argue with your stance regarding the purpose of HR. What I disagree with, in general, is the idea the people need to confront their aggressors to try to resolve the issue. In an ideal workplace, there would be someone who employees could go to instead. That would eliminate a lot of these HR nightmares.
Women especially need to be careful when turning down the advances of men, as the situation can escalate quickly and the men become more aggressive. I, personally, would be somewhat fearful of confronting a male coworker regarding unwanted advances, unless security could escort me going forward.
A little extreme? Perhaps, but there are so many instances of men not taking rejection well and the woman’s safety becoming an issue. You just don’t know who you’re dealing with and how they’ll react.
Unfortunately, the ideal work situation doesn’t exist because of who pays HR’s paycheck. Everyone has to learn how to tactfully stand up for themselves. If you don’t stand up for yourself, people will walk all over you, especially in the work environment because everybody wants to get paid and promoted. Some industries are more competitive than others.
Build a coalition if you are too afraid to speak to your oppressor.
Larger companies do have an alternative to HR. They act as mediators and, in a case like this, would be the one to approach the aggressor and try to work something out. Their only purpose is to promote workplace harmony.
I was given the heads up by a co-worker to provide backup in case things went south with an interaction – which I was fine with, but in Susan’s case with an ingrained sexist culture and by the end a whole 3% female demographic in her department, there may not have been any people she could call on for support. Personally I think HR is exactly where blatant behaviour should be reported.
Tech also seems to be one of the worst places for both covert and overt sexism. I’ve been working in tech now, though not in the US, after a decade in mining and I’m shocked at the difference for the worst – when I was in mining, I might be treated poorly in the first interaction with a person, but once I showed I knew what I was doing, I was just me to the people I worked with. Now, no matter how well I do, some people are still going to treat me like shit because I’m a girl, and I’m fed up enough to consider changing industries again, even though I get paid well and just received a promotion.
I also had a customer ask for me to work on a billion dollar project with, and realised he just wanted to sleep with me – I ended up being pulled from other projects for the same customer because of this, and I’m still bitter about the whole thing. One co-worker said I should have taken one for the team as a joke (not funny). And yes, I realise that complaining to HR is going to be detrimental in terms of future prospects, but I would expect HR to at least protect me in stopping this sort of behaviour and with consequences to the other person, even if I get labelled as troublemaker. Luckily I have a large enough FU fund that I can remind myself that it’s a choice to stay, but I’m still weighing up whether it’s worth it – which is mostly money and work flexibility.
So I’m just saying as much as I think you’re trying to give pragmatic advice, it’s very disempowering because all the options suck and it sounds like you’re telling women they just have to live with it. We need jobs to support ourselves as well, and I dislike the status quo that makes it harder. Luckily I have a fairly versatile skill set to move between industries if I need to, but when I think about women in tech who have spent time and money to invest in degrees that if they want a well paying job, only exists in one industry, they’re between a rock and an expensive hard place if they need to retrain or love what they do.
I’ve noticed a difference in attitude from guys with teenage or adult daughters and I really hope the change in attitudes spread further. There was a sexist comment made by an extremely smart but archetypal tech guy with a young daughter in a meeting this week and it made me sad. I do think I hate my job and the tech industry.
Political speech needs to be written into law as a ‘protected class’.
Everyone but straight White Christian men are considered a protected class, and can do and say almost anything outside of work without fear of being fired from their job.
If straight White men are pro-Trump, or are openly advocating for the interests of White men, they can be branded as ‘Nazi, Fascist, White Supremacists’ and their company of employment harassed and targeted with calls/emails/boycotts to get the White Christian male. (This has happened many times by antifa and other Leftists).
The point is that straight White Christian men cannot speak about anything, even in private, without fear of being fired for their political beliefs.
It’s called being ‘doxxed’ where when you were once anonymous online, all of your information is just online in order to shame, guilt, and ultimately destroy your life and career.
This needs to be changed ASAP.
Sorry, but I fail to see how your comment relates to the above discussion of sexual harassment.
Perhaps you could provide an example of how you were discriminated against as a white Christian man?
“Perhaps you could provide an example of how you were discriminated against as a white Christian man?”
Not sure about the person you are responding to is coming from but the most common discrimination against straight white males (“SWM”) I see in corp america is getting passed up for jobs/promotions due to having too many “white men” already, even if you are the most qualified for the position. Also usually the most likely to be laid off and far more easily fired the minorities since nearly impossible to win a lawsuit as a SWM.
In academics, white males need higher SAT scores/GPA to get in (albeit not as high as Asian males at many schools) and there is very, very limited scholarship money available for SWM (& the vast majority of us didn’t grow up upper middle class+).
In the political/media arena, the only non-protected class at this point is the SWM. Ever wonder why the “idiot” in every “funny” commercial is a middle aged white guy or why Democrats could get away with calling a large segment of the population uneducated hicks in this last election – could you imagine the backlash if it was the right calling someone else uneducated _____ of some other race that was causing Hillary to win? Of course, in the prior two elections when that same demo group voted overwhelming for Obama, they were just “working class Americans.”
Like most things in America, if you want to find excuses – your lack of means growing up (eg: growing up poor didn’t stop me from scaling corp America quite well), discrimination, idiot co-workers, etc – you can find it regardless of your race/sex/religion/sexual orientation/etc and it will hold you down. If you just persevere, make good decisions and ignore the haters, you will likely come out very well in the USA regardless of any factors.
Going to HR is tough and usually should be a last resort IMO. You are likely to get flagged as a trouble maker even if you are in the right (and a lot of time the accuser is NOT in the right or its at least not as straight forward).
I question a lot of the assumptions you’ve made about the supposed disadvantages of being a SWM.
Agree with what you said, like most things in America, if you want to find excuses you can find them and it will hold you down.
What specific “assumption” do you question, and why?
For the corporate America piece – Have you been an exec involved in hiring decisions? Gone through layoffs (like the one either organizing them or running the #s on the savings)? Dealt with upper mgmt and upper mgmt in HR? Had to fire people before for poor performance? I have at multiple companies. Same thing at all of them. Diversity takes precedence if possible over straight up performance if close. White males are significantly easier to fire with performance issues, and mgmt has HR/FP&A run tons analytics during layoffs to make sure minorities are less proportionally impacted than whites, especially white males (and that still doesn’t usually stop at least 1 or 2 minorities from filing discrimination claims during layoffs).
As for college admissions – those statistics are all over the place. Feel free to google it. For scholarship money – just look at the available scholarships and the requirements to get them (minority race and/or female are required or are given priority for the vast majority)
The culture/politics is more subjective but just watch any show tonight and keep an eye on the commercials and who the butt of the joke is in the a sitcom. Nearly always a SWM. Last time I did this for “fun” I got about 80% were SWM.
I didn’t even touch on other things like “divorce rape” among others that disproportionately impact SWMs.
Probably the only “advantage” I see as a SWM in America today is no one sees me as a threat [which I’m not], including police – although that’s typically true of most Asians in America as well and I’m more likely to be born into a middle class family (unfortunately for me, I wasn’t) than a black or hispanic family (but not Asian).
The discussion is about H.R., not simply sexual harassment.
Many White men are being fired for expressing their views, and engaging in ‘bad think.
It’s hard to publically believe in ‘America First’. If you believe that Illegal aliens should be deported, that jobs should remain in the U.S., and that multiculturalism and mass immigration have failed, you are indeed in danger of being fired from your job.
All it would take is a coordinated attack by Antifa to:
1. Doxx you: doxxing means that they expose who you are and put all of your information on the internet (address, phone number, email, family, etc)
2. Call your employer, and tell them that a ‘racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic person is one of their employees.’ Call them mutiple times a day and threaten as huge coordinated boycott against their business.
3. Threaten you and your family.
This has happened hundreds, if not thousands of times to European Americans across the nation, in order to silence and shut down any dissent and questioning of the the dominant Cultural Marxist ideology.
It also doesn’t help that White men are the only ‘class’ that can be openly discriminated against. “Diversity” simply means too many White people, especially too many White men. So, if you implement a policy of maximum diversity, what you are really saying is that you value non-Whites over White men.
You can disagree with whether this is ‘good/justified’ but the fact remains that this is what diversity means. H.R. will not hesitate to fire a European American male (and perhaps an Asian), but will think thrice before firing a black man.
Perhaps, you’re okay with that, and that’s your choice. However, the people have spoken and Mr. Trump is President. That is why I said that ‘political speech’ and ‘political beliefs’ need to be protected so you can’t be fired for believing things such as; Illegal Aliens need to be deported.
BTW- Thank you Sam for your great article.
Oh please, “dominant Cultural Marxist Ideology”? Who do you think you’re talking to here?
Political speech has never been protected at work nor should it be. Businesses have the sole discretion to want to curb employees’ personal political beliefs in the workplace as not being reflective of the business. Try not to alienate customers is Business 101.
As Sam has said in his most recent blog post, that is why it is best to go into your own business (blogging or something else) so no one can control what you can and can’t say.
Americans voted for Trump. People won’t be able to be fired from H.R. much longer for expressing Pro-American views, whether you agree with it or not.
A minority of Americans did indeed vote for Trump and he won*.
Regardless of that outcome, people that choose to express sexist or discriminatory political views at work, whether they are couched as being “pro-American” or not, risk jeopardizing their continued employment status.
“First and foremost, the HR department is there to protect the company from liability.”
As a 28-year employee, many of them at senior executive levels, I can say that truer words were never written.
Be warned and act accordingly.
Honestly confronting is also risky depending on how it is done. She needed to make clear that was not acceptable behavior. After all, while this is not an example, there are many times when a person doesn’t realize the situation they are creating, so discussing is often important.
After an initial rebuttal if it continues I don’t think continued confrontation would do any good. At that point it’s time to report, and perhaps leave the company if nothing is done.
After the birth of Toddler BITA, when I returned to work, I was still breastfeeding. I used our nursing room to pump three times a day, 20-30 minutes each time. I took my laptop in with me, so I could work, but I couldn’t attend meetings. I blocked off these slots on my calendar. A few months go by. One day I was in a project status meeting with the team I was working with at the time (all male). All of them reported to the same manager. We’ll call him M. I reported to M’s manager. M says, “So I’ll schedule a follow up meeting at X o’ clock tomorrow”. I say, “I’m afraid I can’t make X o’clock. Maybe Y or Z instead.” He responds with “Why can’t you make X? Is it something you can move?” I say, “I’m afraid not. I have an appointment with the nursing room at that time, and since I share the room with other mothers, I don’t have much flexibility there.” M’s response? (and keep in mind that this is with the entire team in the room) “Well how much longer are you going to keep pumping?” I said, “As long as my baby needs it”.
I reported the conversation to my manager. I made it clear that I felt that he hadn’t deliberately tried to put me in an awkward position, that I thought his mouth had just run away with him, that I felt satisfied with the response I had given him, and considered the issue closed between us. I told my manager that the only reason I was telling him about it was that M was a newly minted manager and perhaps needed a guiding word dropped in his ear by his boss and mentor about being a little more careful about what he said. I wouldn’t want another female engineer, perhaps one less outspoken than I am to be cowed or embarrassed by him. A couple of months later we had a layoff and M was let go. I still can’t help but wonder if I contributed to that decision.
I wonder how much of it was sexism, versus ignorance? Men who don’t have children have no idea about pumping milk, what’s required, the equipment necessary, etc.
I like your reply though! May I ask whether you had a private conversation with him about the situation to explain why you felt what he said was inappropriate? If not, why?
I really believe a lot of oppressors are CLUELESS about their actions because a lot of people see themselves differently from how other people see them. Nobody ever talks to them.
Every single person I’ve spoken to who had bothered me in the past was able to see where I was coming from and work things out until a mass layoff or new job opportunity arose.
He has two kids, so unless he paid no attention when they were babies, it wasn’t entirely ignorance.
And yes, I did talk to him privately a couple of weeks after the incident. His response? He didn’t remember saying what he said. To be fair he did also say that if he did say that, he was sorry if it made me feel uncomfortable. But you can’t really hash it out with someone who claims to have no memory of the incident.
I don’t doubt any of the offensive things Susan had to put up with, but it’s hard for me to imagine some of those things actually happening. I have had to deal with some ridiculous people, but the level of absurdity of some of those situations is incredible. I guess tech nerds are more socially awkward than I can imagine.
What I am not surprised by is the ineptitude and general incompetence of HR. I am consistently disappointed by every HR department I have ever had to deal with.
I agree with Sam about HR’s TRUE role in the company, but in Susan’s case, I can’t imagine what confronting the manager could accomplish. It’s not like a male coworker politely asked her out for dinner; the guy was propositioning his newly hired subordinate for sex over the company chat. I mean, we all do stupid things and I’ve seen people get written up for using the company IM for conversations with coworkers that should have stayed in the break room, but this goes above and beyond anything. How could this manager not know what he was doing?
I saw Susan’s story on Facebook a day or so ago on Twitter and couldn’t believe it. Some people in the comments called it into question, and I hope they are right. The fact that a company–a tech company for that matter and not some 300 year old company that hasn’t updated their employee handbook since the Civil War–can act in such a manner and treat female employees–qualified engineers, no less–in such a way is appalling. It’s 2017!
But you’re right, Sam. I’m not sure about confronting this manager, but quietly documenting everything and then using it for leverage to negotiate your layoff is probably a better way to go.
ARB–Angry Retail Banker
Directly confronting bosses like this who show from day one that they are entirely outside the bounds of the social contract would would not make me feel physically safe. The jerk knows that his behavior is wrong. It’s not my job to teach him. Many women have been killed for less.
I agree that HR does not care about the employees, but rather the company. I would still document everything and then sue when the toxic work environment was not handled. I can’t physically defend myself against a boss like this, but I can take his money and, hopefully, some of his reputation.
The problem with suing, is that once you sue, you become a liability for future employers who may not want to take a risk on you. Hence, before you sue, you best believe you will win. You can also have a private mediation/settlement, which is the best way to go about things in my opinion.
It totally sucks that there are still people out there who blatantly sexually harass their coworkers. What a horrible situation to be exposed to on a daily basis.
Your description of the engineering culture in the valley and SF is so spot on. Sure there are a few exceptions but from my own observations the vast majority of male engineers are just as you described. Having lived and worked in NYC as well, I can see that female founder’s point too on the cultural differences between teams there vs here.
As a female, it’s not easy working in a male dominated department/industry (I’ve been there) but thankfully my experiences were no where close to what Susan and many other female engineers have/had to deal with.
I’ll be really curious to see what comes out of these investigations Uber says they’ll do. I have a feeling they will drag on and try to keep everything under wraps so we won’t hear the results. It’s also unlikely their culture will change significantly from all of this either. Work culture and environments can be so engrained that actual change rarely happens unless entire teams and management are turned over.
They need to find a scape goat. The obvious scape goat is Susan’s HR manager, who is not a scape goat, but a person who DID NOT do her job in the eyes of the public. Since the situation got massive publicity, in the eyes of the corporate, the HR manager also failed her company.
The higher ups, where the culture starts, will NOT change.
In situations like these, I often wonder how many transgressions were NOT caught. We only hear about the stuff that gets publicized. Discrimination is definitely present in the workplace, it’s just ain different ways now than in the past. I agree that confronting your harasser and making it clear that their behavior is unacceptable can potentially defuse the situation early on.
I couldn’t agree more. I am always surprised by how many people I have worked with told me they were going to “complain to HR.” It’s as if HR cared and was going to magically fix the problem.
I couldn’t agree more with befriending HR. Get them to like you, and they may support you directly, or at least indirectly.
Are you suggesting with this post that Susan should have bartered with Uber with her proof of misdeeds and agreed to never speak ill of Uber (or at least never mentioned her personal situation with sexual harassment problems working there) as long as they gave her a generous severance package and good references for future jobs?
Without knowing exactly how she was treated and knowing her values, I can’t say with certainty what she would do.
I just know that EVERYTHING is negotiable. There’s always an agreement that can be made that appeases both sides. Negotiating a happy medium is usually the best course of action.
If I was Susan, and I was harassed by a female manager and not given opportunities to transfer, I would:
1) Confront my oppressors over coffee and highlight things they’ve done to me which have crossed the line. If they don’t agree, then I’ll tell them they better agree based on the e-mails/texts they sent me. If they still don’t agree, then they are an idiot and I’ll build a coalition of other people who’ve been wronged by this manager to create this pressure.
2) I would not go to HR until I have absolutely exhausted my efforts. I’ve had incidents in the past where I’ve worked out conflict, wrote out an agreement for both sides to handle, and then got on with it. I saw the writing on the wall where HR would reprimand both of us, and it was survival time.
3) If I go to HR, I will make it known about my intentions to escalate the issue. Then we would discuss a settlement.
Many will see Susan as fighting for women’s rights. Her actions increase awareness and make thousands of people shape up at work. This is a GREAT thing. More people need to speak up.
However, the only worry is some employers might see her as too high a liability risk when she’s applying for another job. If there are 5 equally qualified candidates, a rational employer would go with the one with perceived less liability risk. Nobody knows the full story of Susan’s time at Uber, so the manager may decide it’s best to just play it safe w/ another candidate.
These situations are always hard to deal with. Being harassed at any workforce whether your a man or woman is something that shouldn’t be tolerated. Susan was doing the right thing from top to bottom and still found guilty of doing something wrong. This goes to show you why you should focus on building wealth rather then making new work friends.
I feel that people need to focus on the big picture which is being able to have plenty of money to do whatever you want. Your trading your time for money, so make sure you get the most out of it. In the end we all get fired whether we do it ourselves (which is called quitting) or the job does it (which is called being laid off). So make sure you build your financial independence because at least you will have something your gaining out of the experience. Companies these days don’t focus on taking care of there employees.
Back in our parents days a company would offer to take care of you in your golden years in exchange for 20-30 years of your life. Currently corporate america doesn’t give a crap about anyone anymore. There main focus is survival of the fittest, so what does that mean for you? Be incharge of Yourself LLC. Run your personal life like a business and save and invest LIKE A BOSS!!!!!
I totally agree with you that HR has only one purpose which is to protect the company. As a manager I will tell you that HR works both ways. The greatest fear for HR is a expensive lawsuit. You have to do months/years of paperwork to let people go no matter how lazy, rude, disrespectful, or incompetent they are. I will tell you at our company the manager at Uber would have been fired, or the employee immediately transferred to another department due to several embarrassing lawsuits in the past. Uber is a young growing company and they are learning a very expensive public mistake.
And the thing is, it’s much, MUCH harder to fire people in Asia and Europe. It’s part of the reason why the US is more innovative. We can pivot much more easily with less legacy. That said, plenty of employer/employee tension still exists.
Great article, Sam! Seriously. I wouldn’t imagine why, at a minimum, the manager was not spoken to.
However, it’s important to note that not every HR representative is trained or care to know about sexual harassment cases. HR is broken into several components, recruiting, legal, development, etc. That’s why there is an employee handbook. Usually, it points out exactly what to do and who you should contact in cases of sexual harassment.
But of course, this was just absurd. I’m sure there were even more flagrant violations that were not captured in her story. From what she did capture in her writing, it definitely seems to be systemic issues of gender biases and discrimination going on when all the managers and the directors knew of her concerns. I wonder what the other sides of the stories will be?
Why wouldnt they be trained specifically and particularly for this issue? There have been massive judgements against companies for ignoring these kinds of complaints. Its not like this is not a known huge source of risk. Uber is just very stupid and arrogant.
Such a sticky situation and unfortunate that is exists in corporate America. Susan really had no easy way out. Unfortunately for a company as large as Uber this sort of bad press will not affect them tremendously, hence probably why they felt the manager was worth more than she was… even if they assumed she’d go viral.
My sympathies to Susan. But I’m not at all surprised that a company so notoriously reckless as Uber would make this situation occur.
I wouldn’t trust Uber for a ride, so I definitely wouldn’t trust them as an employer.
In my experience, Uber drivers are a mix of humanity. Some awesome, some lame, sone surviving. As a cop I have noticed a significant drop in drunk driving and and increase in the incidence of bad sober driving.
Common conversation between two cops now is: “so then he blew three stop lights in a row…”
My wife was fired for getting pregnant. She told them she was pregnant and a week later her job was posted, on the job boards. She left on maternity leave and they told her not to come back. They were stupid enough to put some damning things in email. A disgruntled HR lady gave my wife the emails. Was an easy settlement for out lawyer to obtain. Also part of the settlement was they had to give her a good review if asked by future employers.
This is why I don’t put much stock in outside reviews and references when hiring. There is usually a back story to all of them.
– quid pro quo
– friendships beyond working relationships
– legal requirement
Very few are based on true feelings and opinions.
Wow that is shocking that management would be that stupid. It’s really disappointing there are still active managers out there who have no idea how hard it is to be pregnant and how important maternity leave is. I’m glad to hear you were able to get an easy settlement which your wife totally deserved.
Easy settlement, but still had to leave the state for a new job unfortunately. It was a rough year, but we are in a better spot now.
I hope the settlement was good! Her employer was an idiot to write damning things in e-mail and also not to wait at least a month after maternity leave to lay her off. Yes, still ruthless, but less subject to a lawsuit.
When going on FMLA for pregnancy, that leave is specifically designed to protect your job. The employer would know they are breaking Federal law by terminating someone that has an approved FMLA leave.
This is a tough situation, I believe some people in HR are there to make the employees life better, but ultimately they report through an exec that would protect the company over protecting a single employee.
Most people would have a hard time not reporting actions she describes though, they are so blatantly wrong they should be reported and dealt with.
What an ugly culture, hope they find a way to turn it around for their employees sake.
People just need to remember: the company pays HR salary, not the employee. This simple logic guides HR incentive.
Susan was put in an incredibly tough position. Damned if she do, damned if she don’t. She reported the transgressions to HR and it only got worse as she found that HR wasn’t on her side. If she took the other route and just remained quiet, the unwanted advances would probably have gotten worse. She could have approached the manager directly, which is easy to say in hindsight, but that would have been a big risk. It’s obvious what the culture is there and he likely would have made her working life a living hell had she confronted him, because he obviously knew what he was doing.
I’m not sure what she could have done that would have worked out in her favor. In a toxic culture like that, it’s probably best to get out and move on.
I agree 100%. Susan was probably out of luck from the start due to the toxicity at Uber. It’s a horrible feeling to realize that you’ve gotten yourself into that kind of situation, and discovering it on Day 1 isn’t any easier. I’ve been there, and it sucks.
Could she better utilized some of her leverage? Possibly. I imagine something during her interview process led her supervisor to view her as a pushover. Maybe that was her first mistake.
I disagree. The trick is to make HR work for you. In this case she needed to understand what documentation was considered legally admissible and keep track, especially after the first report which showed fair warning to HR. If you keep the record then approach HR with a notebook they realize YOU are a legal threat and do what they can to keep YOU happy.
My husband wound up in a similar situation over a different issue, it wasn’t sexual harassment, but it was untenable. But instead of taking it to HR at first he asked a trusted mentor what he should do. She told him to keep a record of what was said and when: inappropriate comments and work assignments made by the inappropriate manager (since these situations often wind up with the manager looking for a way to get rid of their “problem” employee). Sure enough when the manager was clearly pursuing a case to fire him he brought it to HR. HR asked him what he wanted to happen and he came up with a completely reasonable “Get the heat off me so I can transfer departments without his derogatory crap in my work file”. They took care of it. He transferred, and the end he was essentially told “What you think happened didn’t happen. And it won’t happen again.”
Others have since approached my husband about the same manager to ask how they can do what he did. But when he says “Simply document everything” their eyes glaze over and instead they just continue to complain to their friends.
Based on the story she did keep a record. Screen shots of IMs and emails. HR didn’t seem all that concerned about her record in this case. They old her she was the problem based on all the records she provided them.
At all our risk management meetings we heard about several cases of sexual harassment in particular that was reported, ignored, and a subsequent large lawsuit was settled against the company. They really have zero to stand on, the laws are clear, the documentation is going to be more than enough (and when anyone says dont email about it, thats a big red flag), and then there is the retaliatory aspect.
This is a slam dunk and I hope Uber gets their just due.
It isn’t just about keeping at record. It was about having a case. If you send every little thing to HR then they say exactly what they did here: you’re a whiner. If you can put the whole case in front of them at once it’s totally different. When you tell them they have a problem, and as a loyal employee it would be a shame if a lawsuit happened to this fine company…oh, and by the way I’d like a nice transfer to another department that isn’t run by a dickwad…as Sam says, it’s about knowing what HR’s motivation and goals are, and my point is about using that to get what you want.
I’m a middle manager at a Fortune 500 financial services company and have been involved in my share of hiring and firing over the last few years.
I still don’t understand the idea of “wrongful termination” when it’s an employment at will state. We just let someone go (who needed to be let go) but it took months of conversations, warnings, documentation, etc to make it happen.
Other than discriminatory practices what kind of wrongful termination is there to worry about? An employee could sue if he felt he was fired for being black/gay/Muslim/whatever but if they felt “they did a good job at work and didn’t deserve to be fired” what let do they have to stand on?
We lost many months of productivity building our case to fire this gentleman when I would have preferred to cut him loose last summer.
Bert – Sorry for not making the WHY in this post unclear.
“Employers need workers to grow a business. But employers also realize that with each worker they hire, there’s a risk the employee might cause problems within the organization. HR is there to try and smooth things out before things reach extreme levels, e.g. settlements over lawsuits.
It is true states such as California have “at-will” employment laws, which mean a company can choose to lay off an employee whenever they want. But seldom are companies so ruthless as to lay employees off without proper documentation. Documentation is why it often takes at least one review and six months before a company will lay off any employee because if the employee ever sues for wrongful termination, the company can show they highlighted the performance issues and gave the employee a chance to improve.”
Any employee can sue for anything. They may not win, but what if the lawsuit gets in the paper? It will tarnish the company’s reputation until the lawsuit is settle. It may prevent other workers from wanting to work there.
Supposedly, 118 people resigned at Uber after Travis’ “all hands on deck” meeting on Tuesday the day after President’s Day. I’m assuming a lot of women with options are going to wait it out or work for another firm. Perhaps some men too.
Reputation is everything. Hiring big wigs on boards is often about optics.