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HR Failed Meghan Markle

Written By Hannah Risser-Sperry | Mar 10, 2021

Everyone is talking about Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s interview with Oprah Winfrey, and you’re probably wondering why your friendly neighborhood creative staffing agency is, too.

Well, I didn’t expect to. But then Markle mentioned bringing a complaint to HR, and suddenly I felt like I’d been hit with a wall of bricks.

Other people, with other life experiences, probably felt similarly struck at various junctures: when we learned that a member of their family questioned how dark their baby’s skin would be, surely. When Harry let us know his father wasn’t taking his calls, I’d imagine. Every single time they discussed the Commonwealth, surely, and all the attendant harms of empire and colonialism.

All of those moments upset me, and far smarter people than I have written about those moments well.

But I work for a Human Resources company, and have needed Human Resources in my professional life, and Markle’s experience is horrifying.

She was struggling with suicidal ideation, she told her job that she needed help to stay alive, and they denied her that help.

Read that sentence again. She no longer wanted to be alive, and that fact did not concern her place of employment.

While at my last job, I experienced a period of seemingly unending panic attacks and intense depressive episodes. While these were things I’d experienced in the past, my work had never been impacted. I could no longer get through a day without crying; sometimes I was able to take a walk around the block to sob, often I hid in a stairwell, weeping, but usually I just sat at my desk, hoping no one could see that I was crying instead of working. Or still working, but also crying, because shit had to get done.

Those episodes alternated with deep depressions that lasted the better part of a week each time, finding me unable to get out of bed or show up for things I’d agreed to (think everything from brunch with friends to… ya know… my job).

So, I did what we’re told to do: I talked to HR.

Luckily, I went in armed with the knowledge that the Family and Medical Leave Act covered what I needed (a break from work, even if it was unpaid, so that I could get help from professionals), and that my place of employment did not need specific medical information from me to have it granted.

Note: FMLA eligibility varies greatly from person to person, so be sure to check with your HR department to ensure you’re eligible!

I told them only the following: “I need time away from work to deal with a health situation. I would like a minimum of two weeks, and I will stay in close communication if I need more time.” We had a discussion, which I do not remember, and I left the conference room shaking. I had entered it shaking, too. I grabbed my bag and my computer and left.

When I went to the doctor, I got a note from them in case I needed it, but work never asked. My colleagues did not bother me during my time away, which I will forever appreciate.

And I recovered! I re-started therapy, I got on medication that I still take today, and I did a lot of hard work to reconfigure my relationship to my job, work that is ongoing to this day. It was not easy and it is not over, but I was able to return to my life and be effective in my job.

Human Resources gets a bad rap, and I’ve certainly been failed by HR professionals in the past. But the department is intensely important in any organization if an individual is struggling with their mental health. To hear how Markle and her family were failed by their own HR department is to be reminded of that. Thank goodness she’s okay. Not everyone is so lucky.

So, please take care of yourself. Please advocate for what you need in order to be successful at your job, and stand up for your friends or family members when they can’t stand up for themselves. And please: reach out to your HR department to find resources that may be available to you through your employer.

National Suicide Hotline: 800-273-8255

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