If you have to file an internal complaint, you should always have a positive outlook as far as hoping your complaint is being taken seriously and is being fully investigated to find the facts and bring about a suitable resolution to a problem. But, you should also understand the reality of dealing with HR departments, which is that HR operates to protect the organization. That is the main goal. HR staff are often the liaisons between staff and management, but that doesn't mean that they are pro-employee.
You never know, though. You could be lucky enough to have someone in HR that really has your back and will fight for you and/or clear you of wrongdoing and/or will tell the truth about inappropriate or illegal behavior committed by a coworker or manager. But, that doesn't happen often enough to bank on having that type of support from an HR rep or manager.
I think it's always healthier to hope for the best, even if you expect the worst. But, you should always know what the worst may be. In some cases, the worst of HR involves HR escalating a race-based issue at work and being an active participant in helping management target an employee and, possibly, to set up an employee for termination.
I'm not saying that is automatically the case, I'm just saying be aware of how things can transpire. HR staff can often be very persuasive, as far as telling you they are listening and they care about you, and they want you to be happy at work. But, they can be very two-faced, when you aren't around.
When you first report a grievance to HR, don’t be surprised if the HR staff say lots of things you want to hear, such as:
• “I’m on your side.” (said with a hand near the heart)
• “I’m sorry that happened to you.” (said with a tear in the corner of the left eye)
• “I’m sorry that was said to you.” (said as they lean over and touch your hand)
• “I’m absolutely shocked! I can’t believe someone said that!” (said with wide eyes and finishing with a gaping mouth)
• “We’ll get to the bottom of this.” (said with the slight fist pounding of a table or through clenched teeth)
That’s the boilerplate language and acting skills that they’re all programmed with. Trust me, as soon as you finish your grievance meeting, HR goes right back into company protection mode. I’ve worked in HR, so I know what I’m talking about on this one. If the problem can be shifted from a supervisor, project manager, executive or the company--as a whole--back onto you, it will be done. If the problem can’t be shifted back to you, it will be marginalized or dismissed. You’ll hear something like, “We only have your word against hers. If we had a witness….” Or, “We’ve investigated and couldn’t confirm that anything unseemly took place.”
It really boils down to this; the company won’t set itself up for business liabilities by siding with an employee regarding a serious matter that involved a breach of corporate policy and procedure or a violation of Federal law. In racially charged incidences at work, HR staff will do their best to make sure that no one is fired, no one actually apologizes, and to convince you that you have completely blown the situation out of proportion.
If they make a promise to you, HR will tell you they’ve spoken to the individual involved and can assure you that the incident won’t happen again. Or, they will say that the person has suffered consequences they can’t tell you about. However, you are entitled to know the penalties levied against someone who has harassed you or engaged in other illegal activities.
Unfortunately, far too many HR departments are more concerned with sweeping things under the rug than solving serious issues related to race. They don’t want to agitate the hornet’s nest of racism at the job, so they often prefer to remain silent on the issue or to discredit a complaining employee and/or take actions that include trying to run an employee out of their job.
The ultimate way HR protects a company is to make sure that anyone who broke Federal law(s) never formally acknowledges what happened in writing, never apologizes for what was said or done and is not terminated for what occurred. Those scenarios, if played out immediately, would actually go along way in protecting the company from legal liability by showing they took immediate actions against a perpetrator of racially-based harassment or retaliation.
However, instead of seeing these steps as a remedy, far too many HR representatives and managers see a formal apology or firing as an admission of guilt that they don’t want the victim to possess. Why? It’s a fear of litigation. If an HR department mishandled an incident, if HR or senior executives participated in illegal conduct or if it took HR forever to stop your mistreatment, they have a potentially serious liability issue under Federal law. Federal law requires that employers act quickly to stop harassment and other forms of abuse in the workplace.
Unfortunately, many HR departments end up bungling racially-based incidences at work. Why? Most times it boils down to the fact that White managers, supervisors, and coworkers are simply given the benefit of the doubt as a matter of course. Conversely, African Americans are considered to have childlike emotions and to be unable to distinguish between major and minor incidences. There is a belief we are overly sensitive, angry, defensive, uppity, and confrontational. There is also the stereotypical belief that African Americans are lazy and, therefore, don’t like to work. As a result, there’s a perception that a White manager may have to ride an African American hard to get us to do our job. In American society, African Americans are often accused of wanting a handout. Because of this, some people think we come to work to collect a check, but don’t want to actually earn our pay by working for it.
In the minds of far too many HR staff, we, African Americans, likely caused or substantially contributed to whatever actions or comments were made by White staff. We brought it on ourselves, we misunderstood what happened, we’re too damn sensitive, or we’re simply making up issues in order to play the race card.
I guess, it’s simply easier to believe the negatives about African Americans than allegations being made by an African American against a White person. If you add to that the fact that some White people don’t like to penalize each other to the benefit of or for the sake of someone Black, you can see how many racially-charged incidences end up being brushed aside in the workplace and by HR staff.
Again, I hope this doesn't happen to you, but you shouldn't be surprised if HR ends up protecting your harasser and not you! If that's the case, you have others ways to vindicate your rights, such as seeking legal counsel and/or filing a complaint with an agency like the EEOC or the Office of Human Rights.