Human Resources fulfils an important and complex role balancing what’s best for the company with what is best for its employees. When employees experience interpersonal issues at work, HR is often considered as the go-to. But what do you do when HR ignores the problem, makes it worse, or is the problem?
Former engineer at Uber, Susan J. Fowler, claimed her HR department was part of a significant harassment and gender bias problem through a blog post which ignited an internal investigation and a very public response.
Or, for instance, maybe your HR department is seemingly ignoring employee complaints, showing favouritism, engaging in harassing behaviour, violating company policies, or acting unethically.
When HR Is Unprofessional
An HR problem is incredibly damaging to an organization and its reputation. It can create a toxic company culture which impedes productivity and collaboration and if left long enough ignored/unchecked, may lead to an increase in resignations. Further, HR can also create problems regarding prospective employees in the recruitment process, repelling great candidates. Aside from being unprofessional, HR issues can also be illegal. For instance, if an HR professional/team member fails to investigate a claim of harassment or discriminates against an employee, this poses significant legal risk to the company.
An organization faced with an HR problem must act fast to resolve issues before they explode; and to prevent recurring employee relations and potential legal risk complications.
So, what can you do when Human Resources is the problem?
As an Employee:
- Follow company procedures and file a formal complaint. Even if you don’t think it will be handled appropriately, filing a formal complaint shows that you have followed the appropriate steps and serves as documentation.
- Consider speaking to your manager, if they weren’t involved in the issue.
- See if your company has a feedback or ethics line portal to report issues. In many cases, they can be anonymous.
- Contact a third party. If you have tried the above and the issue persists, or you feel you are unable to raise a complaint internally, consider contacting an external third party such as the Ministry of Labour or the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.
As an Employer/ Manager:
- Establish a clear code of company ethics and expectations. Ensure HR staff is aligned with company goals and have regular conversations about performance. Proper and regular performance management is essential.
- Take complaints about HR seriously and discipline where necessary.
- Ensure you have a standard employee complaint procedure outlined, such as in a policy, and follow that procedure.
- Hire an external HR consultant who can objectively identify HR issues, their causes, and provide recommendations to improve, such as delivering customized management training programs.
- Despite best efforts and coaching, it can be possible that the HR person is not the right fit for your company. Termination may be the most effective solution, especially in cases of severe misconduct.
“HR is only as good as the leadership and the management of the firm.”