Some people believe you should only go to human resources when you have a major problem. In theory, small issues or minor changes could be handled internally or looked over. However, there are many instances where employees legally need to alert HR about a change. Furthermore, a problem that seems minor could actually be a symptom of a major issue. Your human resource professionals understand the law and your options better than most people in the company. If you’re experiencing any of these problems, it’s time to schedule a meeting with HR.
Any discrimination or harassment
According to the Society for Human Resources Management, companies are legally required to prevent discrimination or harassment on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, marital status, citizenship, genetic information, or any other characteristic.” This means that any form of discrimination must be reported to human resources.
Even if you think you can solve the issue internally without the involvement of the mediator, it’s better to turn to human resources for help. If the problem becomes bigger and the government learns that your company has a history of discrimination or harassment that was going unreported, there could be hefty fines waged against your organization. Furthermore, you and your superiors could get lose your jobs because you failed to report harassment. It’s safer for the company and all parties involved to turn to HR if you see or experience any form of harassment or discrimination.
Emotional and physical outbreaks
Emotions can spike in offices. Sometimes meetings get heated and people cry. However, emotional outbursts because of a screaming employee or employees who leave their coworkers in tears with their words or aggression need to be reported. If the incident is an outlying event, then HR will make a note of it in the employee’s file. However, if there is a pattern of emotional outbreaks, HR might recommend anger management or termination.
These emotional outbreaks are considered bullying, which increases turnover and creates a toxic work environment. Any form of bullying should be reported to HR.
Physical outbreaks should also get reported to the office of human resources. Any employees who were harmed because of a coworker should talk to HR about worker’s compensation while any damage to company property should be recorded. Most companies have a zero-tolerance policy for workplace violence. Not only will the employee be fired, but the company will also call the police to report the assault.
Human resources can help you learn about your options if you have a medical issue that prevents you from working or will cause to leave for long periods of time. For example, an injury that prevents you from walking around could keep you from doing your job. Another example is receiving a cancer diagnosis that requires significant hospital time.
Managers are unable to make decisions because of medical conditions on their own. There are strict laws that prevent companies from unnecessarily terminating an employee. Your human resource professional should be well-versed in these laws and can help you learn your options during this difficult time.
In-office romantic relationships
Whenever you enter a romantic relationship with a coworker, both your manager and human resources should be made aware of the issue. Some companies have policies against employees dating, and your company may suggest transferring one or both of you to different departments to prevent conflict. The goal of this is to create a comfortable workspace for everyone around you, even if your relationship doesn’t immediately seem to affect your coworkers.
Manager and subordinate relationships also aren’t allowed in many companies. By disclosing a relationship to HR, the department can move you to reduce tensions if you break up. The goal of talking to HR about your consensual relationship is also to prevent sexual harassment suits that might stem from a scorned significant other.
Questionable social media content
While the laws about social media and employment vary by state and are still murky, employees can be fired for posting discriminatory and harassing posts online. In a recent example, one Atlanta school employee was fired for posting racist and derogatory comments about Michelle Obama in a Facebook post.
Simply put, racist and discriminatory behavior outside of the office could potentially work its way inside the office. Furthermore, employees are associated with the companies they work for, even when they’re sharing their opinions during their personal time. Companies don’t want to be associated with hate and racism, which is why employees are typically let go. If you know someone is posting racist, sexist, or derogatory comments on Facebook that concern you, bring them up to HR. You could prevent abuse or violence from happening in the company.
When to talk to HR about issues at work
Not all HR problems are personal. Some workplace problems are caused when employees or managers are difficult to work with. While you shouldn’t run to HR any time you disagree with your boss or when a coworker eats the last donut in the break room, there are instances when it’s wholly appropriate to talk with human resources. Here are three examples of when to talk to HR.
When management won’t step in
Most employees present issues to their managers about a problem with a co-worker. If they’re having problems with their boss, they might reach higher above in the organization to discuss a problem. It’s the role of both middle and senior management to listen to employees and determine if action should be taken. However, this doesn’t always happen. If you’ve already talked to your managers about a problem you’re having with a coworker or peer, then it may be time to meet with HR.
It can be difficult to know when to go to HR, but many employees follow the “three strikes” rule. If they approach management three times without a clear answer, then it’s time for HR to step in. If you’re going to meet with HR, try to bring solutions to your problems to the meeting. This might involve moving your desk or working in another department. You might not get what you want, but it will help the HR representative understand what they can do to help.
When you have tried coworker mediation
Even the most professional and mature employees can struggle to get along. If you have problems with a coworker, consider setting up a third-party mediator to work through your issues. This person is typically from another department and doesn’t know you personally. In some cases, your manager will also sit in on these meetings and take notes on any actionable agreements.
If you have tried to work through your issues with your coworkers but nothing has come from mediation, then it might be time to reach out to HR. Explain that you have followed the necessary steps to find peace with a coworker and that the company’s productivity and revenue is on the line because of your disagreements. The company might bring in a professional mediator to try again or look for a more permanent solution that makes both parties happy.
When you need to terminate an employee
Managers also struggle with their employees and, in some cases, might decide that the best course of action is to fire them. Before firing any employee, you should reach out to your manager and then talk to HR. They can help you understand the company’s policy on firing employees. Many companies have a strict disciplinary code that must be followed to prevent unlawful termination suits. Managers typically have to follow a process of a verbal warning, written warning, probationary period, and final warning. By talking to HR, you can make sure that you followed all of these steps and that the employee is being terminated for a lawful reason (because of poor performance or a violation of the employee handbook).
This will protect you as much as it will protect the company. If an unlawful termination suit does get filed, you will be able to show that HR approved your decision to fire the employee and that you followed the appropriate processes.
By following these guidelines, you can learn exactly when it’s appropriate to turn to the HR department and when you should try to mediate the problem within your department. If you’re unsure about which path to choose, talk to a manager or a close peer you can trust. A second opinion can help you make the right call.