Speaking with your human resources representatives can be difficult, but you should absolutely reach out to your HR rep if you feel your health, safety, or legal rights are at risk.
Understanding HR’s Role
HR departments serve different roles in different companies. Sometimes, Human Resources is a robust organization that handles employee recruitment, development, retention, and legal compliance. Other times, it is a predominantly clerical department with very little power.
Regardless of its scope and influence, you should always remember that HR is an important arm of the company. Their job is to manage employment relationships, but they are not necessarily an advocate for employees. For this reason, HR departments sometimes struggle when a problem employee is a company leader. Due to its wide responsibilities, the department might also not help you resolve minor, interpersonal disputes with colleagues or your boss.
Workplace Harassment or Discrimination
In California, it is illegal to discriminate or harass someone based on their race, religion, disability, national origin, age, marital or family status, gender, sex, or sexual orientation (sometimes called “protected classes”). Discrimination occurs when you suffer a negative employment action because of your membership in a protected class. Harassment can come in many forms, including unwanted physical contact, requests for sexual favors, inappropriate jokes, threats, and displaying offensive images.
In nearly every scenario imaginable, Human Resources will be better equipped to address harassment and discrimination than your direct manager. HR typically has more training and tools to investigate the situation and help resolve it. If the behavior continues after HR becomes involved, you should also consider contacting the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) or the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH).
Accommodating a Disability
Employees with medical conditions or disabilities have multiple legal protections. Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks off per year due to medical issues involving themselves or their families. While your employer does not have to pay you during your medical leave, it cannot terminate you if you properly assert your right to FMLA time. In most cases, you must complete a form and meet specific eligibility requirements to be eligible. If you’re going to need time off for an ongoing medical issue, consult with HR and make sure you follow your company’s established processes and guidelines.
Additionally, employers must reasonably accommodate disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you need a disability-related accommodation, you should notify Human Resources immediately. They should help you identify and implement solutions that meet you and your company’s needs.
Questions About Your Benefits
Employee benefits are increasingly difficult to understand. If you need help understanding your company’s health care, vacation, paid time off, or other benefits, consult with HR. A representative can also help you understand how much you have in accrued benefits.
While benefits get more attention during Open Enrollment, don't hesitate to contact HR with your healthcare benefit questions. Studies suggest the majority of employees do not fully understand their health care benefits and options. You might be missing out on valuable benefits, paying unnecessary expenses, and selecting the wrong health plan. When in doubt, contact an HR representative with your questions.
Violations of Employment Laws, Safety Rules, and Company Policies
Employers are bound by numerous federal and California laws that govern workplace safety, wage and hour issues, and employment issues. If you believe that violations are putting employees or community members at risk, you should advise HR. If safety issues aren’t addressed after your report, contact the California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (CalOSHA).
Similarly, contact HR if you believe someone is violating important company policies. For example, notify Human Resources if you think someone is inappropriately using company resources (such as a credit card or computer) or if a supervisor is engaging in a romantic relationship with a subordinate.
Any time your personal circumstances change, you should notify HR. For example, if you’re having or adopting a child, you’ll want to add them to your health insurance. Or, as you approach retirement, you might want to understand the pension application process in greater detail. Because certain benefits have strict deadlines, it’s in your best interest to consult with HR right away whenever experiencing a life change.
Questions About Career Advancement
While some HR departments offer more career advancement help than others, it never hurts to seek out advice. You might discover that your company has mentoring, training, or tuition reimbursement opportunities that can help you reach your career goals.
Canopy Health Values Our Bay Area Members
At Canopy Health, we are advocates for high-quality healthcare, transparency, and employee empowerment. We encourage our members to work with their HR departments — especially when your health, safety, or legal rights are at risk.