An employee relations department helps employees with all of their workplace issues. They want to create a positive work environment and create a good relationship between employees and managers.
It's important to know when you should talk with an employee relations specialist (or HR generalist who is filling that role). Here are six situations when you should go to employee relations for assistance and one time when going to employee relations is discouraged.
A Serious Health Problem
First, see your doctor, but if your health problem has an impact on your work, you need to speak with employee relations. You may be covered by a federal or state law that gives you protection while you're dealing with your condition.
For instance, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires the company to provide you with a reasonable accommodation if you qualify. Companies with 15 or more employees must comply, and you're eligible for protection immediately. If you need accommodation, the employee relations manager will help with the interactive process to come to a decision.
If you have chronic migraines, you could ask for accommodation to work from home as needed. The company could counter that working from home isn't possible, but you could work in a private office with a door and window blinds to minimize sound and noise. If your job is as a bartender in a nightclub, it may be impossible to come up with a reasonable accommodation. The point is, it's a back and forth conversation between the employee and the company to come to a reasonable accommodation if possible.
Employee relations often manages this process and works with the employee and the supervisor.
Another possibility is a health problem that is protected under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This can allow you time off for medical treatment or to take care of an ill parent, child, or spouse. To qualify, you must be employed at this company for a year, have worked 1,250 hours within the last year, and the company must have 50 employees in a 75-mile radius.
If your condition qualifies, you may be eligible for protected time off, although unpaid. An employee relations manager can help you through this paperwork and help you understand your rights.
You should always report improper behavior by a manager or another employee to employee relations. If you experience any of the following situations, you will want to take action.
- A person sexually harasses you
- You feel like your paycheck is smaller because of your race, gender, or other protected characteristic
- Your boss gives the women bad shifts and the men the good ones
Then, it's time to file a complaint with employee relations.
The employee relations manager will investigate (or appoint someone from outside of the company such as an employment law attorney to investigate) your report. You must make a report with as many details as possible, including names, date, time, location, and who said and did what. This will make the investigation easier.
It's illegal to retaliate against you when you report this type of behavior in good faith. That means that you believe that the action was inappropriate, and weren’t making the report to get someone punished.
Employee relations managers aren't counselors or therapists, but they can coach you through difficult workplace situations. If you're having difficulty with a manager or an employee, it may be time to schedule a visit with your employee relations person. He or she can give you help while you develop the skills necessary to work through a problem.
A useful way to get the help you need from employee relations is to ask, "What can I do to make the situation better?" rather than saying, "This coworker needs to change."
Performance Improvement Plans (PIP)
If you're struggling in a job and get placed on a PIP by your manager, employee relations can often help you sort through the requirements and help keep you up-to-date on your progress. He or she can help you develop the skills you need to succeed or point you in the right direction to get more help. This may include opportunities such as helping you to get technical training.
As stated earlier, employee relations people are not counselors, and you should not expect them to act as such.
It is illegal for them to work as therapists, financial planners, or lawyers, as they are unlicensed.
However, if you're going through personal difficulties (a failing marriage, a lawsuit, or financial issues), they can often point you in the right direction. The first stop is probably your company's Employee Assistance Program (EAP), but if that's not available, your employee relations person may have resources to help you out.
Employee relations may also help smooth matters over with your manager if the situation you are experiencing is affecting your work performance. Without violating your confidentiality, the employee relations people can tell your manager that you are experiencing a tough time if you haven’t already wisely shared this yourself.
General bullying is not illegal in the United States. However, many companies have adopted a zero-tolerance policy. If you feel that someone bullies you—whether it's a boss, peer, or direct report—the employee relations manager can help you out. This may include conducting an investigation, training you how to respond, or working directly with the bully to resolve the difference.
When Not to Go to Employee Relations
The employee relations department does not play the role of playground monitor; they are not there to settle petty disputes or reprimand employees for their bad behavior. They expect you to handle the challenges of most workplace situations on your own or with the help of your manager. However, this should not discourage you from seeking help when necessary. Just be sure to fully assess the situation and see if you can resolve it with open communication before bringing in employee relations.