HR horror stories we tell in the dark

Editor’s Note: ‘Happy Hour’ is an HR Dive column from Reporter Ginger Christ. Follow along as she dives into some of the offbeat news in the HR space.

I love hiking and camping: spending all weekend outside, sleeping under the stars, surrounded by nature. I do not, however, partake in the time-honored tradition of telling scary stories around the campfire. 

I didn’t even really like watching Scooby-Doo as a kid. It terrified me that the monsters, unmasked, were usually just people doing bad things. 

Sharing scary stories in the dark, removed from society, with bears and other creatures of the night prowling around? Hard pass. I’ll take my nature with beautiful vistas, birds chirping and serene lake views, please. I like it as an escape from reality. 

Because the truth is the real world is scary enough on its own. 

A few months ago, I turned to social media to ask followers to share HR horror stories, and I was overwhelmed by the response. I sorted through them all, finally, to show that sometimes the call is coming from inside the house. 

From sexual harassment to probing personal questions to discrimination, readers shared stories that ran the gamut from uncomfortable to potentially illegal. 

One person said a mid-level manager complimented their voice, likening it to one you’d hear on “one of those 900 numbers,” while they fielded live questions for an event with more than 300 attendees. Another said the HR director got drunk at a work event and tried to sleep with them. Yet another said an HR director told her not to worry about men watching porn in the office.

Many women reported being asked if they were having children soon and if that would affect their ability to commit to the job. One even said an HR pro started a rumor that she was having an affair with a married manager after the manager drove her home when she passed out at work from illness. 

One woman said that a retailer messed up payroll in every way possible for months after opening a new store, from logging incorrect hours and commissions to failing to deduct insurance premiums, and it was up to employees to find the mistakes. 

One HR pro allegedly criticized workers for complaining about their wages when they didn’t go to college or have “real degrees.” She also refused to hire union workers, telling employees to find excuses to decline their applications. 

Another advertised a job online before the person holding that job had been fired, only for that person to see the job ad and question HR about it. 

While employees certainly commit their share of transgressions, my colleagues and I all too often cover complaints and lawsuits lodged against HR professionals. Just this week, we’ve written up Dollar General agreeing to a $1 million settlement after it requested family medical history from job applicants, a hotel being forced to pay tens of millions in back wages to former employees it refused to rehire after a temporary closure due to anti-union animus and Starbucks supervisors violating federal labor law for saying the company could not cover abortion-related travel expenses for organizing workers. 

Sometimes, real life can be just as scary as a ghost story.