R. Kelly and Eccentric Employee Relations Issues

In case you haven’t heard, we are right in the middle of my birthday week.

(That’s right. I am one of those adult women who demand an entire week. This is how you know I once worked in human resources.)

I share a birthday with Elvis Presley, David Bowie, and R. Kelly. Those are three musical prodigies. Three talented individuals who meet and exceed expectations in their industry. Three human beings who are flawed, decadent, and totally brilliant.

But one of them, R. Kelly, has a very troubled history.

Back in the day, R. Kelly was accused of rape and assault. You can read more about the allegations over here. Chicago prosecutors had a tough time building the case even though there is video footage depicting (what looks like) serious crimes. The prosecution avoided the issue of rape; they tried and failed to convict Mr. Kelly on the charge of possessing child pornography.

So gross and horrible, with or without a conviction.

The journalist who reported on the trial, Jim DeRogatis, was asked why the multiple allegations against Mr. Kelly weren’t pursued more vigorously. He responded, “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”

Oh man. It’s a very sad story.

But it’s 2014 and Mr. Kelly is going through a bit of a career renaissance. He has appeared at concerts and festivals across America. He has a new album on the market. He recorded a duet with Lady Gaga; however, she re-recorded the song with Christina Aguilera in light of the recent discussion surrounding Mr. Kelly’s troubles.

Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me that R. Kelly’s career is on the upswing. Men like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen are allowed to be gross because they are branded as geniuses. Even Elvis, in all of his fat glory, died nothing more than a drug addict who liked to be with young girls throughout his entire life.

(And we just saw how Phil Robertson was fired and rehired even though he is a homophobe who supports pedophilia. No wonder much of America hates Hollywood.)

So you are a talented recruiter or HR professional. What would you do with someone who is brilliant, amazing, but flawed? For example, how do you manage the CEO who bullies his employees? What do you do with the sales representative who is making bank but is sexually harassing his coworkers? What do you do with the leading scientist at your company who receives a large grant from the federal government but suffers from alcoholism and chronic absenteeism?

As a human resources pro, I think these ethical questions are interesting. How much eccentricity are you willing to tolerate? When do you stop supporting a toxic employee? When do you decline to hire someone who could improve your organization’s profitability but would clash with the culture? When do you draw the line in the sand because enough is enough?

I want to know—what is your R. Kelly standard of behavior?

FOT Background Check

Laurie Ruettimann
Laurie Ruettimann is a former HR leader and an influential speaker, writer and marketing advisor. Her work has appeared in many mainstream print publications and major news media outlets. You can find her on twitter at @Lruettimann.


  1. Simon Jones says:

    A great article Laurie – and I suppose if I were being cynical, I’d suggest that you only “get rid” when the benefits of employing the individual are outweighed by the damage to your company brand/reputation. It does seem that the “creative” industries are more tolerant of this sort of behaviour than many other would be.

    Of course, at the opposite extreme, there is a danger that you don’t employ anyone who doesn’t fit with the existing culture – a point that you’ve argued in the past in relation to women and minority groups.

  2. Love it Laurie, perfect parallels. You put the (tolerated) liability in perpective. Enjoy your birthday week!

  3. Amy Reynolds says:

    Great post – and as I scrolled down, I was HOPING to read the answers in the last paragraph. Continously sweeping up and putting on band-aids in the wake of damage caused by a high performer / out-of-this-world ego is a tricky, tricky game. In my experience, the crazy “eccentric” behavior line gets pushed further and further – putting the entire organization at risk. I’m far more inclined to encourage the rockstar to tamper down and this is where strong relationship management skills come into play because you have to carefully play both sides of the table. We’ve all seen the rockstar apology – it’s a sad fact that HR sometimes has to drive the “say you are sorry” script writing, how-to-deliver-an-apology coaching process. I have been lucky that most rockstars “get it” once a major consequence comes into play. And I am not above dramatizing a potential consequence to change behavior. (Meaning: “You will lose everything you have if this continues and you do not slightly conform your style to the expected behaviors.”) Hard stuff – managing a rockstar – kinda like being the strategically focused party-crashing mom of everyone that is “fun.” All. The. Time.

    • LFR says:

      Amy, I just ask the questions. You have the answers. And this is the tough stuff that HR is paid to think about, so thank you for commenting!

  4. Off to a great start this year Laurie-

    Dave Chappelle rewarded R. Kelly for his crimes in the best possible way: ridicule of the sublime variety for the ages https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5sX24usBvQ

    As to the hard cases with difficult people, it’s really no different than choosing our friends, loves, and associates…. people are vastly complex and each situation swings it’s own gravity…. the important thing is to be open and ready for changes in that gravity when they occur; what works today may be hopelessly obsolete tomorrow, and back in style the next day….. A fox knows many little things, and a hedgehog knows one big thing: so it goes when you deal with human affairs….try to be the fox…

    • LFR says:

      I think this is 100% right.

      I also wonder, as the criminal justice system gets more messed up, if R Kelly is prosecuted and convicted with vigor in 2014 versus 2008. Things have changed in 6 years.

  5. Ben Olds says:

    Intriguing article – thanks for the post. If the question is “how do you handle a rockstar who doesn’t fit into the culture” then I think there’s a problem right off the bat. To be defined as a “rockstar,” ideally one would HAVE TO fit into the culture. The sales guy who generates huge numbers but harasses his coworkers shouldn’t be celebrated as a rockstar, should he? And when he asks why someone with inferior numbers is being celebrated over him, it’s a perfect invitation to discuss his need to change his behaviors.

    Too often, we separate what we value from what we celebrate. But what we celebrate is what we signal to the world that we value! If these jerks produce results, you may need to keep them. But don’t give them top bonuses. Don’t publicly recognize their contributions. And when they ask why, show them the company values again. And if they leave because of it, then chances are they were never going to change. Thoughts?

    • LFR says:

      I love this comment so much. Thank you, Ben. And you’re right that our values are revealed in the smaller things … what we buy, what we consumer, what we celebrate, etc.

  6. Teena says:

    Secure personal belongings and valuables school bus Remove all furniture before starting
    the construction enterprise. In fact, that you can choose to have a inside track on the project
    falls behind schedule.

    Take a look at my web page; web page (Teena)

Comments are now closed for this article.

Contact Us | Hire FOT to Speak | About FOT