Yes, I am still obsessed about all things Uber these days. That said, I have been ruminating over one development last week that just didn’t sit right with me.
On the one hand, I know firsthand how that bro-centric culture can be devastating. Just a few years ago I knew a young woman working in tech. She had just spent two years in a management training program and earned a coveted placement in her first choice department working for a very well-regarded young manager. One late night at work he confessed that he was totally attracted to her, and very distracted by it. He then began to text her very personal messages. She was horrified. Didn’t know what to do. Wondered if she had done something wrong. I advised her to talk to HR and to document that discussion to protect herself from retaliation. HR was empathetic and asked her what she wanted to do. She wanted to stay in the role (moving just after she just got the job would have been impossible to explain). But the creepy unwanted attention had to stop. Presumably the manager was counseled, and she stayed. But then he essentially froze her out. Only talked to the men on the team. She felt like an outcast, and shortly thereafter, quit for a better job.
Let’s also be clear, if even 10% of what the former employees at Uber are saying is true, then Uber has quite a problem. The more recent account was particularly upsetting.
All of that said, being a lawyer trains you to see both sides to every story. I have often seen employees take one situation that has a kernel of truth, and spin it wildly into a much more elaborate story than it actually was. I have seen careers (typically of men) ruined by allegations.
That brings me back to Uber. News reports last week stated that a senior executive was asked by the CEO to resign when it was uncovered that he had left his former employer amid harassment allegations. He apparently had not told Uber when hired, and now, given the investigation and the press, it was better for Uber that he resign. What’s wrong with this picture?
For me (and not knowing anything other than the news reports), it just didn’t sit right. An allegation is just that. Just like being arrested does not mean the person committed a crime. Nothing has been proven. And there was no report of anything this executive did wrong at Uber, just what he may have done wrong at a prior employer. Nor was there any report of any misrepresentations he made to get hired. Remember, an applicant is not required to disclose allegations against him to future employers.
So here’s a tip for you: Ask your applicants if they were ever terminated or asked to resign in lieu of termination. Or better yet, put that question on your employment application. Any later discovered misrepresentation to that direct question would certainly be a problem. But if that question wasn’t asked, is it right for someone to be forced out?
Scapegoating is a quick answer to a much deeper problem. I don’t want us to assume all men in tech are bad eggs or label them all as harassers. Let’s have some due process for all people accused of policy violations. As I explained here, due process starts with an unbiased investigation. And then, if after a fair investigation, someone is found to have used poor judgment or violated a policy, then that person should be let go. A witch hunt is not the answer.