Employers typically use their human resources department for: job design and analysis, recruitment and hiring, training and development, performance, compensation, and legal issues. Employees often turn to their HR department when they have a question or a problem. This article focuses on when it is a good idea to take a problem to HR and how to document the communication.
Federal laws prohibit discrimination, harassment, or retaliation in the workplace if the employee is a member of a protected group. It is illegal for an employee to be discriminated on the basis of: race, color, religion, national origin, age (40 and over), sex, pregnancy, citizenship, familial, disability, veteran status, and genetic information.
Employers can protect themselves against sexual harassment lawsuits by having a well-defined sexual harassment policy that is disseminated among its employees. Proactive employers often have human resources conduct sexual harassment trainings that explain what is and is not sexual harassment (and how to report sexual harassment). An employee who believes a co-worker, supervisor, independent contractor, or client is violating the anti-harassment policy is required to go through the proper complaint channels before being able to file a complaint with the EEOC or a successful anti-discrimination lawsuit.
If you are having an issue with a manager, co-worker or customer, the first step is letting your employer know so that they can try to address the issue internally. This is called putting your employer on notice. If you are concerned about being retaliated against for making a complaint—ederal laws protect against retaliation. While you can verbally tell HR or your supervisor your complaint, it is best-practice to follow any conversation up with written documentation either via email or a letter. Keep a dated copy of all documentation you send to your employer as well as any response from your employer. If your employer responds verbally follow that up with a confirmatory email that reiterates the content as well as who was a part of the conversation. If your case progresses to a lawsuit, then documentation will be important evidence that helps you build your case. Testimony is also evidence (however, avoiding a he-said-she-said scenario is usually best). It will be hard for your employer to deny they were on notice of alleged discrimination if you can provide the email you sent putting them on notice, as well as any response.
One incident can be enough to warrant a complaint to HR. Thus, you do not need to wait until there is a serious, pervasive problem. Off-color or offensive jokes, sexual comments, constantly being asked out, racial slurs, or bullying are some examples of scenarios that can be brought to human resources. The goal is for everyone to be able to ensure a workplace that is free from harassment and discrimination. It is best to use the channels set up to deal with workplace problems rather than take the matters into your own hands or putting up with inappropriate or illegal treatment. Be aware of your employer’s policies. If you need to put your employer on notice that you feel harassed or discriminated while at work, then document your communication with management and human resources.