HR is not your friend, but you should not even contemplate befriending HR. It is a workplace relationship, and should be treated as such.
HR jobs are not easy. It is an important job, but it is a difficult job to do well, because their job is inherently a conflict of interest. HR is tasked with enforcing employment law. They’re generally assumed to help the employees. But who pays them? Exactly. Where does their loyalty lie? It depends on whether the company empowers the HR Department to correct the tough issues, or whether it expects HR to do the bare minimum to keep the company out of trouble.
If you’re lucky, they will guide you through your options because they want to make sure the employer is compliant with the law. If you’re unlucky, they either won’t understand this stuff, or they won’t care enough to inform themselves. This is true generally when you work for a small business, when the HR person is not trained in employment law (such as a payroll rep who got assigned HR duties), or if you are the first pregnant person working for the company.
Be prepared to assert your rights and educate HR on your rights. Yes, yes, they are supposed to know this, aren’t they? Often, they don’t. Or they don’t care. So if HR is not on your side, you may need to be your own advocate, because you essentially have a conflict between you and the company.
In my experience, there are HR people who really want to do the right thing for the employees. These are the ones who are taking the classes and going to the seminars and getting the certificates. Sometimes they even genuinely care about workers’ rights. Then there’s those who are really trying, but are simply overwhelmed or overpowered. Keep in mind, HR is often staffed by folks without legal training who are pretty much expected to know how to enforce extremely complex regulations. Sometimes they don’t feel empowered to investigate the wrongdoers, who are sometimes people in higher positions than they are.
And then there’s the last category. These are the ones who end up in our deposition chair. They are either disinterested to delve into the issues and try to understand them. Or they are only concerned with helping their boss, often the same person who got them the job, which automatically means they are going against the employees. These folks are in the risk management business, not the people-caring business. There’s a big difference. They will do the bare minimum for the employees… Just enough to avoid liability. They will be loyal to the organization to the end. These people are not your advocates. These are the ones who will cut corners so that they remain in the good graces of their employers. And if there’s a conflict between the employee and the employer, they will take the side of the employer.
So don’t assume HR is your friend. Do your independent research. Don’t be afraid to push back on HR when you feel like they are not doing enough or are not understanding the law. And most importantly – keep a paper trail!
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