HR is an important part of every successful business but it is often a department that is not looked upon with any great affection by employees. Many employees find that rather than having their backs, the HR department is only ever concerned with keeping the higher-ups happy. Others feel that the staff who run the HR department can be deaf to even the most reasonable request or complaints. Fortunately, there are various options available to employees when dealing with a difficult HR department.
From understanding employee rights to seeking legal advice, here is what to do when HR is not on your side.
Know your rights
While it may not always feel like it, you have a number of rights as an employee, and it is important to understand what these rights are to prevent them from being ignored or abused. When it comes to dealing with HR, here are three of your most important rights:
- You have the right to not be dismissed unfairly or retaliated against by your employer.
The HR department may try to intimidate you or trick you into believing that you have no power, but it is illegal to just fire or punish an employee for no reason. Therefore, if your employer tries to take any action against you, they need evidence that there is good cause to do so. They may try alleging some form of misconduct in retaliation for you raising legitimate concerns about discrimination or unacceptable work conditions, but they had better be able to prove it or the penalties can be severe.
- You have the right to challenge any attempt by your company to fire, demote, or take any other disciplinary action against you.
In practical terms, HR can’t do anything to you without your consent, and the only way for them to proceed is with your signature on the paperwork. This is crucial because it will not only give you the time you need to file an appeal but also to secure any money that is owed to you.
- You have the right to take legal action against your employer if they treat you unfairly.
A breach by your employer of any of your rights is a serious issue, and if the HR department fails or refuses to do their job and protect you, then you have the absolute right to take legal action against your employer. This may be a breach of your legal rights or of an explicit clause in your employment agreement. Either way, legal action should usually only be taken as a last resort if all other attempts at reasonable discourse and resolution fail.
Go over HR’s head
If your HR department is refusing to do their job and listen to your concerns, then the best thing to do first is to follow the chain of command. This means talking to whoever is above the HR department, such as a manager or a director, to see if that person is more responsive. If they also refuse to intervene on your behalf then contact someone higher up than them. It’s important for employees with complaints to keep taking the issue higher and higher up the organisation so that if the matter ends up as a legal dispute, you can show that you did everything possible to make the company aware of the situation.
When dealing with a troublesome HR department, try to remember that they are often in a difficult position acting as the go-between for employees and the company. It can be easy to become frustrated, emotional or defensive, especially as most of us only ever deal with HR when there is an issue, but try to remain professional no matter what. If you can maintain a friendly, empathetic tone, you may even get better results. There is a chance that the HR staff are actually trying to help you, but they are just struggling to fully understand your situation. This can lead to confusion and confrontation, especially as HR staff are used to experiencing ambivalence or even open animosity from other employees.
Keep records of everything
When dealing with an unhelpful HR department, you should always save the paper trail so you can prove what went down in any later legal proceedings. Keep copies of emails, memos and any other written correspondence relevant to your dealings with HR and management. You may even want to consider recording conversations and phone calls if your company is threatening you or trying to ignore your rights.
It’s also wise to keep any documentation from employees who have been involved in similar situations as this will help to show a pattern of misconduct and illegal retaliation on the part of the company. The more records and documentary evidence you have, the more wary HR will be to try and do something underhanded like dismissing you without cause or making false accusations against you in court.
Consider legal action
If you still do not get the help from HR that you need, or you are in a situation where they are in violation of your rights, you may want to consider seeking legal advice. Especially if you feel like you are being in any way discriminated against, then consulting an attorney will help to protect your interests and secure a just outcome. They will review all of the details about your case and decide whether or not pursuing legal action would make sense given the circumstances. Consultation fees can vary significantly depending on the attorney’s reputation and how complex the issue is to resolve, so make sure you shop around.
When all is said and done…
Sometimes, the best thing you can do is to look for a new job. Not every company or HR manager is necessarily out to get you, but if they don’t have your back in difficult situations, it might just be time to find a new company where you are valued and respected. Whatever ultimately happens, follow the advice in this guide, and it will help to make all of your dealings with difficult HR departments a lot easier.