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Lessons Learned from Uber’s HR Nightmare

A former Uber engineer recently recounted horrifying stories of workplace harassment. Here’s what happened and how it should have been handled...

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A recent blog post from a former Uber engineer is an HR nightmare, with allegations of harassment, sexism, discrimination and power struggles in what she details as “a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story.” Here’s what happened and how it should have been handled from the start...

**From her very first day on the job, Susan Fowler received a string of inappropriate messages from her new manager about his sex life, with clear overtones of wanting Fowler to engage in sexual acts with him. All of this was communicated over company chat, of which she took screen shots and submitted to HR. Although HR admitted these messages were indeed sexual harassment, Fowler was told it was this employee’s first offense and that he wouldn’t get anything more than “a warning and a stern talking-to” because he was a high performer and had probably just committed an innocent mistake.

Fowler was offered to either switch teams or face a likely “poor performance review” from this manager, for which the HR rep insisted would not be considered retaliation if she chose to stay. Feeling quite limited, Fowler switched teams and conversed with more women engineers, many of which she learned over time had similar encounters with the same manager long before she had even come on board. Most of these women had reported him to HR, meaning her encounter actually wasn’t his first offense, and that HR had lied. The women scheduled meetings with HR, received more blatant lies about this manager’s innocence, and felt helpless.

The story goes on with transfer blocks due to “undocumented performance problems,” more sexist emails that were sent to Fowler (and reported to HR), and an absurd move to only purchase leather jackets for the men because they couldn’t get the same “bulk discount” for the women’s jackets. Fowler was then told by HR that she was the common denominator in all of the reports and that “certain people of certain genders and ethnic backgrounds were better suited for some jobs than others.” Less than a week later, she had a meeting with her manager who told her that she was on thin ice for reporting his manager to HR and that she could be fired if she did it again. Knowing retaliation was illegal, she reported the meeting – but nothing came of it because the manager was a high performer. Thankfully, Fowler has since found greener pastures working for a new employer. **

From the very first report of harassment, with or without Fowler’s documented record of any inappropriate conduct, HR should have investigated and implemented corrective action, regardless of the perpetrator’s “high performance” record. Taking harassment complaints seriously and acting immediately is imperative to maintaining the integrity of your HR department. See our steps to Curb “Locker Room Banter” at Work for more details on how to handle sexual harassment complaints.

Our Stratus.hr experts work with clients to ensure compliance with all employment laws, provide advice for difficult situations, and help with workplace investigations. Please contact our HR team for more information.

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