Avert Your Next HR Disaster Now

Ask any HR professional, and they’ll tell you about the family and friends (and friends of friends) who come to them for HR advice. If you don’t already have a “friend in HR,” I hope you find one soon.

Navigating the employee-employer relationship can be tough without a friend in HR.

Generally speaking, HR has a mandate to mitigate risk for the business. Because of this, civilians without a friend in HR are often on their own when issues that can have a serious material impact on their careers arise. Suffice to say that we’re pretty useful when it comes to navigating the (sometimes treacherous) waters of employer-employee relations.

One case of being someone’s HR go-to guru that stands out vividly in my mind.

She was a friend who worked at one of the biggest banks in the world. A new investment banker, she was, to put it bluntly, pretty bad at her job. When she saw the performance management writing on the wall, she sought me out for advice.

Disaster strikes (for the bank)

I was floored by what happened next.

As I helped her strategize an exit plan, she casually mentioned how she had been sexually harassed pretty badly by her manager. I won’t go into details, but when she shared the evidence—pictures, emails, texts…she had all the receipts—I told her that, even if she quit that minute, she needed to report the behavior immediately. HR absolutely needed to know what was going on in her department for the sake of all female employees.

So, after we drew up her resignation letter, she called HR and formally filed a complaint of harassment against her manager. She planned on resigning in person at the end of the week.

When the time came, she entered the office, resignation letter in hand. That’s when her boss called her into his office and she was terminated for performance. (And if you’re in HR, you’re probably screaming “no, no, no!” at your screen right now.)

I’ll get right to the punchline—she settled with the bank. Half a million dollars richer, she then went on to find work that was much more aligned with her skills and interests.

Missed messages

This scenario is HR’s worst nightmare when it comes to easily preventable litigation (hence the earlier screaming at the screen).

So, what happened? Without a central place to check for up-to-date employee relations cases or investigations, she was probably terminated before anyone outside of a small group in HR knew about her complaint. But to a judge, she filed a complaint of sexual harassment and was terminated the next day, and if you run the “front page of the newspaper” test—it appears that the bank condones sexual harassment and fired her for speaking up—neither of which was the case.

Was her firing retaliation on behalf of the bank? We’ll never know. Could the lawsuit have been avoided? Absolutely.

When I ran HR shared services in a past life, there were multiple places we checked before approving a termination. Put together, it effectively amounted to a database of employee relations cases.

Weaving your employee relations cases into one database will strengthen your ability to avoid costly mistakes.

In the event of an HR employee being terminated (yes, it happens!), an email was sent to the CHRO’s admin to see if they knew of any cases taken directly to the CHRO. From there, there were more emails and calls to the manager, all the way up the chain of command. In the background, my team checked all the places where a possible case might be logged—doing our best to prevent a situation like the one I described earlier. In addition, there were multiple communications with HR business partners who also needed to be brought along on the journey.

It was an exhausting and labor-intensive process. Today, though, all of this can be done through the magic of a single platform supporting HR workflows that connect the entire organization, from HR to legal, IT, and security—all of which are typically involved in the termination process.

With the right platform, you can run your entire employee relations organization and all the pertinent tangential resources (even outside legal counsel!) from one central repository. Once communications, records, files, and cases are connected, there’s no reason a case like my friend’s should ever happen within any organization.

Of course, what we really want is an end to harassment in the workplace, period. But that’s another article for another day. Until then, a digital workflow platform can be the difference between a costly lawsuit and a clean break.

Gaylan Sankey is a principal strategist for employee experience at ServiceNow. An influential people leader, she has 25+ years of experience in all areas of HR, including