The people in the human resources department of any company can wear many hats. They’re the people who are often responsible for recruitment, payroll, benefits administration, employee training, and other administrative duties. Importantly, they can also serve as the intermediary party between employees and managers when conflict arises.
The ideal work environment is one where everyone is treated with dignity, tempers don’t flare, and the people with power don’t abuse it. Of course, not every work environment is ideal according to these terms. Every day, employees across the country find themselves facing a situation where they’re being unlawfully mistreated at work – should they always go to HR for help?
When You Probably Shouldn’t Go to HR
Before we tackle the main question at hand, employees should be aware that there are times when they shouldn’t go to HR. In these cases, however, it would be unlikely that even a lawyer would take your case. A little initiative and self-awareness can save you trouble and heartache at work, after all.
You may not want to file a complaint with HR if:
- You haven’t tried to resolve a non-legal issue (such as someone’s body odor or humming while working) with a coworker or supervisor yourself before going to HR. Unfortunately, this also includes bullying.
- You’re actually responsible for something, meaning that you should think twice about reporting harassment or discrimination if your employer is reprimanding you for constantly coming in late or watching cat videos on YouTube all day.
In the latter example, however, it might be worth going to HR if all of your coworkers arrive late and watch cat videos on YouTube all day, yet you’re a member of a protected class and the only one getting in trouble.
Your Mileage May Vary with HR
Skeptics might dismiss the notion that HR is interested at all about the welfare of employees, but it might not be that simple. If you subscribe to this notion, consider the fact that keeping the company’s best interest in mind could translate to taking your rights as an employee to heart.
That’s by no means how things always shake out in reality, but while there’s truth to the fact that HR is solely concerned about protecting the company, that doesn’t mean there’s no interest in protecting your rights – it’s just that HR’s focus is on keeping you from suing the pants off your employer. After all, legal disputes are costly and hardly enjoyable for anyone involved, and constantly fielding legal battles with employees would tank a company’s resources.
That said, employers and HR could weigh the risks and rewards of doing nothing to address an employee’s complaint. It’s just as likely that your complaint may be formally recorded yet placed in the bowels of the company’s records to collect cobwebs and dust.
Ultimately, filing a formal complaint could work to your benefit because it’s in the company’s interest to avoid a lawsuit, but you might also encounter inaction from unconcerned HR staff members that don’t want to rock the boat.
An Argument for Going to HR Anyway & Talking to an Attorney
Even if you suspect HR’s capability or willingness to handle a serious employment law-related complaint is null, it might be worth going through the motions anyway. Why? Because if your company becomes aware of a serious problem and does nothing to correct it, their inaction could strengthen your case should you choose to file a lawsuit against your employer. If nothing is done to resolve the problem at work after going to HR, reach out to an attorney who can help you hold your employer accountable.
Employees may fear enduring retaliation or termination for making their complaints known, and it’s a completely valid concern. In this situation, you might want to consider reaching out to an employment law attorney first before you go to HR. Your attorney could advise you of the likelihood that you have a valid complaint and guide you through your next steps. If you endure retaliation or termination for reporting unlawful behavior at work, the silver lining – albeit a thin one – is that those can be further grounds for taking legal action against your boss.
A word of caution: If you choose to interact with HR before consulting with an attorney, be mindful that any information you provide could be used against you. It might look like HR is doing its due diligence in reporting your claim when really it could be on a fact-finding mission to uncover details that could torpedo a future lawsuit.
So, should you always go to HR before calling an attorney? Honestly, it depends. Doing so could help you resolve the problem or strengthen your case if you intend to sue. It might also turn up the heat with your situation at work and make things worse – if you’re wary of filing a lawsuit at all, this could be a big problem.
The usefulness of the HR department ultimately comes down to the people who run it and your employer’s interest in avoiding a lawsuit. If you find yourself facing an uphill battle to address violations of your employment rights, it’s probably time to seek representation from an attorney whether you’re comfortable with legal confrontation or not.
Bailess Smith PLLC Is Here to Help
With more than 25 years of combined experience, Bailess Smith PLLC fights for employees’ rights when they face mistreatment at work. Unlike your company’s HR department, our interest in protecting your rights is about you.
Our firm can handle many employment law claims involving matters such as:
- Racial Discrimination
- Disability Discrimination
- Pregnancy Discrimination
- Sexual Harassment
- Whistleblower Laws
- Wrongful Termination
If your company’s HR department failed you, Bailess Smith PLLC will work hard to hold your employer accountable for violating your rights as an employee.
Contact our firm online or call (304) 553-0337 to schedule a free consultation where you can learn more about how we can help.