Over the years of representing employees in disputes with their employers, I've noticed employees share many of the same misconceptions about the function of human resources. Unfortunately, these misconceptions often lead employees down a path that compromises their career or leads to their termination. Here are 3 general rules you should know before complaining to human resources departments or representatives.
1. Human Resources has little or no authority to fix the problem. As a general rule, HR representatives, even at the highest levels, don't have authority to fire abusive managers or even discipline them. This authority rests with the managers and officers in a company. HR sometimes suggests actions and discipline, but those decisions are ultimately made by managers and officers.
2. Companies exist to make money, not provide healthy places to work. This shouldn't surprise us, and we could certainly debate whether this is the way things should be in an ideal world. What you need to know is that it is generally true. As a result, if you make a complaint to HR and it is your word against a manager's word, the company will usually side with the manager, particularly if the manager is a producer (i.e. makes money for the company).
3. Human Resources probably cannot protect you from retaliation. Employees rightly are concerned if they complain about a boss or someone else in management that they will be subject to retaliation. This is a legitimate concern. Why? See Rules #1 and 2.
Human Resources tends to attract good people who want to help others and provide healthy work environments. I've generally liked the HR people I've come across in litigation. But they can only act within the bounds of their authority, and of course they don't want to lose their jobs. I'm not saying an employee should never complain. In fact, I've posted here before on 3 Things To Remember When Reporting Sexual Harassment. The law sometimes requires an employee to complain before bringing a claim. And when the complaint is against a coworker rather than a manager, a victim is likely to obtain a better result from complaining to HR. Because of the complexities of the employment laws and their reporting requirements, it's a good idea to consult with an attorney before making a decision to complain to human resources about a manager. GSF