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When to Talk to HR

One of the most common questions I get from people new to the workplace is: When is it appropriate to contact Human Resources? Before you reach out to Human Resources, HR, it is important for you to understand its role and function.

The HR Department deals with management of people within the organization and is responsible for hiring members of the staff. This includes attracting employees and keeping them in their positions, and ensuring that employees perform to expectation. Members of the HR team are not job coaches or counselors. It is important to remember that when you talk with HR, you are formally talking to an agent of the company. To be direct: HR may have told you to contact them if you have issues or concerns but there are only a few instances when reaching out to HR is appropriate.

Contact HR When. . .

  • You have been discriminated against or have been sexually harassed. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protects employees against discrimination in the following areas: age, genetic information, religion, national origin, gender, race, color, retaliation, disability, sexual harassment, pregnancy, and equal pay.
  • You have witnessed illegal activity or have been asked to engage in illegal activity.
  • You have questions about your benefits provided by the company or company sponsored programs.
  • You have a change in your status which requires you to take advantage of government or company programs such as Family Medical Leave.

Don’t Contact HR When. . .

  • You have an issue with a colleague and have not already taken direct action. Minor issues such as loud telephone calls, too much perfume, or playing music in the office are not complaints to take to HR. These are issues you should try to resolve on your own or with the assistance of a supervisor.
  • You don’t like your relationship with your boss. Before going to HR, take an objective look at the relationship. Is your boss unfair to you or just not warm and friendly? Differences in personality are not for HR to resolve. In the end, your workplace relationships are yours to manage.
  • You think you are being treated unfairly. Whether your issue is feeling you should be promoted or paid more, you have to focus on the facts. Gather information that is specific to your situation and don’t go to HR unless you have clear and direct evidence. It is important to realize that employees and their situations are all different - making comparisons that seem like they are related often are not.

In the end, HR works for the company not the employees. While the HR department is designed to be a resource to help you protect your rights and understand your benefits, they are not the place to take complaints about your job. Find a mentor or trusted colleague you can talk to about those issues of concern. Decide first if you are just frustrated or really in a situation that requires a visit to HR.