Microsoft has over 130,000 employees, so it's not at all surprising that there are bad employees in that bunch. Most companies have them. But, Quartz says they have an email chain from "dozens of women" detailing incidents where they felt discriminated against or that someone sexually harassed them and HR dropped the ball.

As I've said before, bad HR is why we can't have nice things. While it's true that HR is never the final decision maker, it's also true that finance is never the final decision maker either, but we expect that the CFO has enough power to make her decisions stick and that the CEO listens to her. Why does HR get overridden so often? Why does HR not stand up for (at a bare minimum) following the law?

Some of the stories include requests to make dinner reservations, which is (on its face) not discriminatory but could be part of a pattern of discrimination. But, some are horrifying, such as "to being told to sit on a coworker’s lap in front of a human resources leader." (Emphasis is mine.)

Even an HR intern should be confident enough to speak up at the moment and say, "hey, not appropriate." 

Then Quartz shares this story:

One female Microsoft employee alleged that during a work trip an employee of a partner company threatened to kill her if she did not perform implied sexual acts. “I raised immediate attention to HR and management,” she wrote. “My male manager told me that ‘it sounded like he was just flirting’ and I should ‘get over it’. HR basically said that since there was no evidence, and this man worked for a partner company and not Microsoft, there was nothing they could do.”

I am not a dating expert in any way, shape, or form, but that is not flirting. That is nothing like flirting. And while we never believe anyone based on one statement, it would be extremely unusual for there not to be additional evidence against this partner if he's willing to say extreme things like that. Let us not forget that witness testimony is evidence.

Every claim of sexual harassment and discrimination (and racial, religious, ethnic, etc discrimination) needs to be investigated. Every single one. Microsoft can certainly afford the extra employees to accomplish this.

Microsoft's head of human resources, Kathleen Hogan, did respond to the allegations within the email chain itself, vowing to do better. She offered the opportunity for anyone who has faced discrimination or harassment to contact her directly.

The question is, though why did other members of her staff choose to ignore these complaints? (If we assume the accusations are correct, which of course, needs investigation, as well.)

HR needs internal accountability. Employees should know that their complaints are heard and that everything is investigated. It's okay to come back and say, "Jane you got asked to make dinner reservations because you loudly complained about the last three restaurants." It's also okay to say, "Administrative tasks need to be done by an admin, and if one isn't available they should be done on a rotating basis."

Published on: Apr 9, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.