Since the McDonald’s #leadership scandal involving their former CEO, Steve Easterbrook emerged months ago, I kept on pointing out that the VP of #HR was let go at the same time.  Was it a coincidence? Nah.

We now know that the HR dept. was complicit in coverups of bad behavior and involved in their own not-so HR friendly behaviors. And now the McDonald’s board is investigating this clown show. It’s all detailed HERE.

But it underscores what can happen when HR goes from implementing policies and helping instill culture to breaking policies and silencing dissent.

It’s the start of a downward spiral that, unless addressed, can hurt an organization for a generation.  Congratulations to Steve Hernandez, Chairman of the Board at McDonald’s for leading the board to take action.

In my book, The Arsonist in the Office: Fireproofing Your Life Against Toxic Coworkers, Bosses, Employees, and Cultures, I talk about my experiences with “H.R. Harry”, a corrupted and confounding HR leader who created and contorted as many H.R. issues as he covered up.  He was the problem because he had decided to purposefully not serve in his designated role of being an honest broker–and solution.

Also, I reference both in the book and in this BLOG POST the Wynn Casinos scandal of 2017 caused not only by their founder, Steve Wynn, but also by an HR leadership who bullied employees into silence who had been harassed by Wynn.

HR’s role is often misunderstood and they are in place, by design, to follow management’s direction.  But they should be expected to adhere to ethical, legal, and cultural guidelines established both by their company’s policies and their profession’s standards.  When employees lose trust in HR, they lose trust in the organization across the board. And it hurts morale and, as SHRM points out frequently, it hurts the company’s reputation.

For employees, fully understand when to talk to HR and when you shouldn’t.  Know who you can trust within your organization before you speak up to those who can help you–or hurt you!

For leadership in companies, understand that having an HR serve as your protective guard can work out well for a brief period of time, but can also destroy you if a scandal goes public.

For HR leaders who skirt the lines of the law, ethics, and policies, know that you’re more expendable than your leadership and you can quickly be thrown overboard if bad publicity emerges.

In the end, doing the right thing and building a great culture leads to a much better result–for reputations, shareholders, careers, leadership and people’s lives.  And I applaud my friends in HR who do the right things every day.

Pete Havel is the author of The Arsonist in the Office: Fireproofing Your Life Against Toxic Coworkers, Bosses, Employees, and Cultures.  He’s a keynote speaker, trainer, and consultant for Fortune 500 companies, nonprofits, and government agencies.  He can be reached at or 855-NO-ARSON.



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