Female executive sued for sexual harassment

A high-level female executive at Yahoo is being sued for sexual harassment by a female colleague. How should HR react when serious accusations are made against people in their organisation?

Female executive sued for sexual harassment
Yahoo executive Maria Zhang is reportedly being sued by Nan Shi, a software designer at the company, for sexual harassment.

The San Hose Mercury News reported that Zhang was named in the state lawsuit filed by Shi, who claimed that Zhang forced her to have sex against her will on a number of occasions and promised her “a bright future at Yahoo” if she complied.

Shi also claimed that when she finally refused Zhang’s advances, she was given a bad performance review and removed as a project lead.

She accused Yahoo of doing nothing to stop the alleged abuse when she reported it and she was then put on what eventually became unpaid leave, followed by her dismissal.

A Yahoo spokesperson told the Mercury News that there was “no basis or truth” to the allegations against Zhang.

“Maria is an exemplary Yahoo executive, and we intend to fight vigorously to clear her name.”

So how should HR react when someone in the organisation faces serious accusations?

Clayton Utz partner Hedy Cray said that when an employer was faced with a serious allegation, no matter who in the company it related to, they must take it seriously.

“As a general comment, the appropriate response is one of, ‘We take these complaints seriously and we will investigate them in accordance with our policies and procedures and determine what needs to occur’.”

Cray said that if the content of a complaint related to allegations of a criminal nature, the complainant could be advised to report it to the police. 

Direction of confidentiality and support for the complainant and the alleged harasser also needed to be put in place at an early stage, and employers should be empathetic to the situation without predetermining the outcome, she said.

Joydeep Hor, managing principal at People+Culture Strategies, said HR should “react, but don’t overreact” to serious allegations.

“It’s important that HR is not seen to be having a knee-jerk reaction. Allegations are allegations until such time as it’s been investigated. It’s important that these things are kept in context, that the rights of all the people involved must be respected.”

Related articles:
Is an invitation to swim in your underwear sexual harassment? 

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