Updated: May 10, 2019
If this is your first full-time job out of college, you might think the first place to go with any workplace issue is that nice HR director who says his or her “door is always open.” But that’s not always the case. HR’s role is to support employees, but only if it’s in the best interests of the company. Keeping this in mind will help you make smart decisions throughout your career. Let’s talk through five common situations to give you a better sense of when you should or shouldn’t talk to HR.
Should I talk to HR if I’m having a personal problem?
As a rule, it’s best not to share anything that could create a negative perception. Many people mistakenly assume that everything you tell HR is confidential. However, this only applies to medical information. You can ask HR not to share your personal issue, but if it’s affecting (or will affect) your work, they may talk to upper management without divulging details. Consider asking about your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) instead. These programs are confidential and can connect you to helpful resources.
Should I talk to HR if I’m being discriminated against or harassed?
Yes. HR is the best first step. Be sure to check your company handbook to see if the circumstances fit the description of discrimination or harassment and if so, find out what you need to do. Usually, you’ll need to document the situation in writing. HR is legally bound to investigate these scenarios and often has training on how to proceed since this relates to federal law.
Should I talk to HR if I have questions about my benefits or employment rights?
Yes. Your HR department is responsible for these areas. For example, if you have questions about your health insurance, vacation time, taking leave through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA),
or accommodations through the Americans with Disabilities Act, HR can help with all these issues. However, read the next scenario for few things you should keep in mind before over-sharing your personal situation.
Should I talk to HR if I may need to leave the company or reduce my hours?
If a personal situation might affect your job in the future (such as a maternity leave, medical diagnosis, or a spouse’s new job), don’t share anything right away. Remember – HR is trying to protect the company’s productivity. By telling them you might leave, your employer begins to anticipate your absence (even if it doesn’t happen). That generally results in losing out on promotions and other growth opportunities. Wait until you’re 100% sure before letting HR
know that you need to leave or reduce your hours.
Should I talk to HR if I’m having a conflict with my coworker or boss?
This is where it gets a little tricky. As noted above, HR isn’t legally bound to keep information confidential – and if your complaint relates to discrimination, harassment, or an illegal activity, they’re required to act. The best way to decide is to ask yourself:
Do I trust the HR contact to keep the information confidential if I ask them to?
Is this something I can resolve on my own?
Would it be better if I discussed the issue with my boss (if related to a peer conflict)?
What outcome do I want? Is it something HR can do?
Is this conflict a personality issue that isn’t likely to change?
Should I talk to HR? Keep these tips in mind:
• Personal issue? – No, don’t share unless it’s affecting your work
• Discrimination or Harassment ?– Yes, HR is mandated to address
• Benefits or Employment Rights? – Yes, this is one of their core roles
• Leave or Reduce Hours? – Maybe, wait until you’re 100% sure
• Conflict with Coworker or Boss? – Maybe, try to resolve yourself first