Four office employees sitting on a green sofa

Whose Side is Human Resources On?

by Jim Guttmann, on September 16, 2016
When an owner or manager is told that a staff member has just reported a complaint to HR, this event is not likely regarded as good news. In fact, sometimes it may elicit feelings of anger or embarrassment. Perhaps management becomes anxious and defensive because they don’t know whose “side” human resources will support. Well, I’m here to tell you that if the HR Manager is competent in the job that she is doing, there is no reason to be concerned.  It is just a matter of understanding the value that human resources brings to your organization.

When an employee contacts human resources to make a complaint, it is important to know that the HR Manager will often patiently listen to the individual and must take the matter seriously. This is usually done even when the HR Manager may suspect that the individual is being less than truthful or has questionable integrity. Sometimes that might seem like HR is automatically taking the employee’s side on the issue; however, that is certainly not the case since HR’s role in this situation is to be fair and impartial. Although HR Managers won’t normally turn the complainant away in an abrupt manner, rest assured they know that there usually are two sides to every story.

When listening to the complaint, it is a key responsibility of HR to assess whether there has been a violation of law. This is a much greater concern than someone just not liking the boss’s management style. For instance, an owner may have unknowingly failed to properly pay someone in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act. In that event, the HR Manager will be coordinating with the owner to bring the Company into compliance with the law. In truth, some employment laws can get quite complicated and one of the important services that human resources provides is to keep the owner in compliance.

Sometimes there is a need for an investigation to determine whether a law has been broken. For instance, an employee may claim sexual harassment and only through a proper and confidential investigation can it be determined as to whether the allegation can be substantiated. A Human Resources Professional has the training and years of experience to make those kinds of assessments. Even if you believe the complaining employee lacks credibility, please trust that the process used by HR will provide an appropriate outcome. Also, HR understands the importance of protecting the rights of all parties involved (e.g. complainant, the accused and any witnesses).

If final resolution shows that the complaint was without merit, the HR Manager may play a key role in convincing the employee (or former employee) that there would be no further value in pursuing the issue. This often diffuses the matter entirely and avoids litigation. We can’t overstate the overall value in having a proper complaint or “open door procedure” that includes human resources as part of the process. It lets your employees know that, as a fair employer, you understand that a happy employee is usually a productive employee and, consequently, problems in the workplace should not be allowed to fester. Equally important, having a strong internal complaint procedure means it is far less likely those employees will take matters into their own hands and go to an outside agency such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or to an attorney to file a lawsuit against your company.

So, whose side is human resources on? Are they for the employee or the company? I’m certain that the answer from competent HR Managers would be “both.” When possible, HR looks to create “win/win” situations where both the company and the employee are treated fairly.
Jim Guttmann

As a LandrumHR Senior Human Resources Manager, Jim is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and has over 30 years of HR generalist experience. He holds a Masters in Business Administration from Florida State University and is an active member of the Raleigh-Wake Human Resources Management Association in North Carolina. Jim is also certified as a County Mediator in the State of Florida and in the administration of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). Jim is also very involved in his church community and is commissioned as Stephen Ministry Leader.

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