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Allegations Against Harvey Weinstein Reverberate Across Corporate America


When charges about Harvey Weinstein's harassment and assault of women went public, many of those charges came from people within his own company, Miramax. And many people outside asked, but what about human resources? We're joined now by Laurie Ruettimann. She's a human resources consultant who's written extensively about harassment in the workplace. Thanks so much for being with us.

LAURIE RUETTIMANN: It's my pleasure. Thank you.

SIMON: If an employee goes to the company HR department with a complaint about harassment, can they expect the department to protect them or the company?

RUETTIMANN: Well, that's a fair question. And depending on who is asking and who is answering, it's different. I think the average worker expects that human resources is there for them and in their corner, but that's usually not the case. Today, traditional HR departments are meant to indemnify organizations against lawsuits. So if you go to your human resources department, chances are what will happen is that they will be in the corner of your company.

SIMON: But doesn't the company have to worry about the employee filing a lawsuit or even criminal charges if their response is weak?

RUETTIMANN: You know, I think that's the common-sense answer. But nowadays, companies are automatically triggered to respond almost as if they're fake lawyers. And so they do do investigations, but oftentimes, what happens is that these things get quashed or they trust that the employee will be cynical and eventually quit.

SIMON: I've got to tell you, that's very discouraging in this day and age.

RUETTIMANN: I know, I know. That's why I no longer work in traditional human resources departments and I'm a consultant.

SIMON: Well, what would you counsel an employee to do?

RUETTIMANN: Yeah, I think there are three really smart things that employees can do. First of all, if they are a victim of harassment, they can and should follow whatever protocol they have within the company just to establish that they've gone along with their employee handbook. But beyond that, there are all sorts of tools out there to begin to tell your story anonymously. So there are sites like Glassdoor and Tumblr and Twitter where you can begin to share your account and let others know that it's not a safe place to work. And then, finally, ask for allies, really go to your colleagues, to your friends, to mentors and ask someone to intervene on your behalf.

SIMON: As you take a look at what's happened over the past week, do you think the Weinstein case could be some kind of watershed - if I might put it that way - that could actually begin to change practices in this country?

RUETTIMANN: You know, I think the Weinstein case could be a watershed moment, but haven't we had watershed moments before, from Anita Hill to allegations throughout corporate America, from Uber to the Amazon complaints that have just emerged over the past couple of days? We keep having these inflection points, and it seems to be a lot of outrage, a lot of vocalization and no activity. So I want to be optimistic, but I think we need individual accountability. And if we don't become a voice for the victims within our organization, this is just going to keep continuing over and over again.

SIMON: Laurie Ruettimann, a human resources consultant and a 20-year veteran of that industry, thanks so much for being with us.

RUETTIMANN: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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