Role HR plays in protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace

Role HR plays in protecting employees from discrimination in the workplace

Human Resource Management is primarily concerned with recruitment: One of the most incorrect and damaging beliefs if not the most. Uber found this out the hard way only recently. Ex-employee Susan Fowler’s post about her alleged experiences at Uber has made everyone sit up and take notice about the need to have more stringent policies against sexual harassment and discrimination at workplace. After all when a company is valued at $69 Billion, it is expected to have a more robust HR department capable of handling all functions efficiently.

Surprisingly, this problem is more common in Silicon Valley tech startups and unicorns than the general perception. With major emphasis on growth, HR departments are forced to focus more on aggressive recruitment. Their efficiency is measured by the number of personnel hired within a specific period. Very few efforts are actually taken for training and development of these recruits or setting compliances and regulations for the work environment.

If there are any complaints, be it about sexual harassment, unfair treatment due to racism, sexism or favoritism, the HR department should take the right measures to solve these problems. In some cases the accused are at senior positions who have a proven track record of achieving success. At such times the HR hesitates to take action against them or is simply unable to due to lack of policies against inappropriate behaviour at the workplace. They either try to push the dirt under the carpet or pressurize the victim into withdrawing their complaint instead of taking action against the accused. No matter how senior the accused is, the same rules and regulations should be applicable to everyone.

The problem with startups here is that even after growing beyond a certain stage, they fail or rather choose not to set up proper policies and procedures. The minute a startup grows beyond 100 employees, it needs to have an HR department to take care of learning and development, risk mitigation, compensation, performance management and grievance handling apart from recruitment. In the initial stages there is lesser dependance on these functions but later on they are highly necessary.

Startups are typically known to focus more on creating an innovative work culture based on which they are able to attract and retain top talent. Although work culture is not just defined by open seating arrangements with bean bags, free lunches or gym facilities. It goes beyond that. Work culture gives the company an identity and determines how its employees interact in the office.

How HR can protect employees against harassment & discrimination

Recruitment policy:

Numbers alone do not measure the effectiveness of an HR department. They need to also determine if the recruit will be suitable for the company. Individuals with a criminal record or  history of allegations/cases of harassment or discrimination from their previous company are a potential red flag. The HR should conduct strict background checks for every applicant irrespective of their race, nationality or gender to avoid discrimination all the while conforming to legal procedures of the country.

Eradicate discrimination:

One company has a very strict policy when it comes to recruiting. It has made it mandatory that there should always be a 1:1 ratio of men and women in the organisation! Similarly there are other policies that state a person’s gender, age, disability, race or origin should not be used as reason to discriminate during performance appraisals or compensations. Such policies are very useful in ensuring everyone is treated fairly in the organisation.

Providing a clear path for advancement:

Employees have become more aware of their career and growth prospects. They prefer to work for companies where they can see a clear path where they are headed in the near future. Being ambitious, they do not hesitate to look for better options if they feel the company is not suited for their growth.

Usually in sexual harassment cases, appraisals or promotions are used as a weapon to dissuade the victim from filing a formal complaint or to pressurize them into withdrawing it. HR can create policies to protect such employees from unfair practices. Their career advancement and compensation should remain unaffected during and after the disciplinary course has taken place. There are better ways to determine employee compensation.

Training and Development:

Training and development initiatives are one of the surest ways to educate employees about the different types of harassment and discrimination that can take place in the organisation and how to handle those situations. There should be a formal procedure to file complaints against erring individuals irrespective of their rank in the organisation. HR should ensure that after a thorough investigation, timely action is taking against those accused after the complaint is filed.


Today, HR department is not just a solution to staffing and recruitment needs of an organisation. It plays a far more important role in protecting employees and ensuring their well being in the organisation. If Uber had its HR functioning the way it ideally should, it wouldn’t have been in the situation it is now in.