An Employee’s Guide to Dealing with Human Resources

by Sharon Elber

Dealing with HR

Does your company have a Human Resource Department? Are you having conflict at work and wondering if going to HR is a good idea? This article will help you decide if approaching HR is the right choice for you and your career.

Why Do Companies Have HR Departments?

There are a lot of reasons why companies staff a Human Resource Department once they reach a certain size. HR professionals take on important responsibilities that include hiring, training, and managing benefits for employees and management. They are trained to identify and attract top talent, stay on top of employment trends in their industry, and make sure that the company is in compliance with state and federal workforce regulations.

HR professionals are also experts on company policies and standard operating procedures. In fact, they often play a pivotal role in implementing changes in policy, for example, by disseminating updates to the workforce. They often develop training programs to keep employees up to date on skills important for their work. And in some cases, they may even provide career guidance for their employees.

However, what many people do not realize is that HR professionals are also extensively trained on legal issues regarding common workplace disputes, conflicts, and diversity. And, their training in such matters is biased towards protecting the company from legal liability.

Is HR on Your Side?

To the extent that your needs are in line with the company's objectives, HR can be a tremendous resource. They may be able to help you navigate your benefits package, locate educational resources to advance your training, or help you deal with a move if you are a recent hire from out of state.

However, it is important for all employees to understand that if you find yourself in the position where your own needs are in conflict with the company, HR is not always going to be your best friend. In fact, as representatives that are trained to protect corporate interests, HR can actually be aligned against the interests of employees.

For example, if you have a grievance with your supervisor, it might seem like marching down to HR is a good idea. However, it may be in the interest of the company to maintain harmony at work and your complaint could be taken as evidence of trouble making.

Remember that as staff move up the corporate ladder, it becomes more difficult and expensive to conduct a hiring effort to replace a worker or manager. Thus, it may be in the interest of the company, as well as HR, to keep a bad manager and replace you rather than give your complaint the respect you believe it deserves.

When to Get Outside Help

Unfortunately, if you are having issues at work that are serious enough to take to HR, you might be best off talking with an attorney outside of the company before even approaching HR. When you hire a lawyer who specializes in workplace law, you can be certain that they will take your interests and rights seriously and give you the tools and language you need to advocate for your case.

In addition, a lawyer can help you prep for taking your case to HR, making sure that you have a clear understanding of your rights under the law, the tactics the employer is likely to take to protect themselves or management, and a better picture of what you might expect in terms of a fair resolution.

Examples of when to contact an attorney outside of the company before going to HR include (but are not limited to):

  • Sexual harassment towards you or another employee
  • Hostile work environments
  • Racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia or other forms of discrimination in the workplace
  • Violations of the law by management or other employees
  • Failure to meet ADA accommodations
  • Potential change in your health or disability status
  • Chronic problems with safety in the workplace
  • Whistleblowing of any kind

If you work in a union shop, then you have the advantage of working with your union rep. Unlike HR departments, union representatives defend the rights of labor when there are problems in the workplace. However, beware that if the issue is with another employee, then there may be a conflict of interest that could make talking with an attorney a prudent move.

Make the Most of What HR Does Offer

Despite the fact that HR might not always be on your side when things are going wrong at work, they are definitely a resource that can help you advance your career, take advantage of all of the benefits available to you, and even learn about opportunities to receive advanced training or financial help for continuing education.

Here are some more examples of how your Human Resource Department may help your career:

  • Help you navigate benefits such as health insurance or retirement plans
  • Offer aid in getting your spouse hired either within the company or with a local partner
  • Make you aware of tuition assistance or even free educational programs
  • Connect you with a career mentor
  • Help you better understand corporate policies and how they apply to your job
  • Make you aware of potential openings within the company for advancement

Because HR professionals have their thumb on the pulse of hiring and employee development, having a good relationship with them may play an important role in your advancement at your current company. In other cases, they may even provide a reference for you in a future job search. Try to keep your relationship with HR positive so that you will be considered in the best light when opportunities arise.

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