HR Esq

What HR Needs to Know

Contributor: Devora Lindeman
Posted: 01/11/2010
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Often, managers treat Human Resources like their auto insurer—they only call when there’s a catastrophe. While understandable, that’s not particularly helpful. Waiting until an employee needs to be terminated or until a lawsuit is threatened means there may be little HR can do other than document the wreck. Instead, as you probably are well aware, if supervisors keep HR in the loop about issues affecting employees, HR can potentially help prevent the crash—or at least ensure a softer landing, if it’s going to happen anyway. However, managers rarely provide HR with the data needed for HR to do its job.

For this reason, HR should institute a "What HR needs to know" policy that gets distributed to all managers. Make sure you are receiving the information you need to do you jobs. In particular, managers should be reminded that "after the fact" justifications are less persuasive than documenting problems as they come up. If an employee’s file is silent as to any issues, and the company then has to take action owing to some performance or behavioral problem, the logical question (which may be asked by the employee’s attorney) is, "If things were so bad, why is there nothing in the file?" As HR knows—without proper documentation, it’s easier for employees who are so inclined to see discrimination or harassment in their treatment—and more difficult for the company to refute it. Managers need to be advised of this as well.

Here are the types of events that management should advise HR about on an ongoing basis. Your policy should list these and other items that managers need to relay to HR regularly:

  • Any kind of complaint by or about an employee. As soon as an employee even thinks the words "discrimination," "harassment" or "retaliation," tell HR. Even if the manager believes he or she can handle the matter, HR needs a heads-up so it is not blindsided if matters escalate.
  • Any disciplinary actions, whether it’s speaking to an employee about his or her performance, writing the employee up, or changing responsibilities. As with documenting complaints, even if the manager thinks this can be handled successfully without HR’s intervention, he or she needs to tell HR. That way, if it does escalate, HR’s ready.
  • Attendance. Managers need to keep accurate attendance records and cannot be "nice" by failing to let HR know of absenteeism and tardiness. Chronic lateness or excessive use of sick or personal days may be symptomatic of other work-related issues. Also, employees need to be paid correctly, which means accurately tracking and accounting for their use of any form of paid time off or leave—sick days, personal days or vacation days. Make sure this time is properly reported and granted.
  • Injury or illness. In addition to tracking sick or leave days, injury or illness could involve either worker’s compensation (if work-related) or disability insurance (if the company provides it). For larger companies, the FMLA could be implicated. HR needs to be kept in the loop about employee injury or illness.
  • Hours worked. Of course, if an employee is not working enough, their supervisor should tell HR. But supervisors also need to tell HR is an employee is working too much. Remember: many, if not most, employees will be non-exempt—they must be paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week. While it may seem great that an employee is voluntarily working through lunch or staying late, managers should know not to allow this. By encouraging or allowing employees to do so, the company may be incurring substantial overtime liability. If nonexempt employees put in overtime hours, it needs to be documented—and the employee needs to be paid appropriately. (Employees cannot legally "volunteer" to do their jobs.)
  • Performance issues. Is the employee having difficulty at work—turning in late or low-quality deliverables? Not doing the job well? Managers need to tell HR, so HR can document it in case action has to be taken. And in documenting performance, remember that attitude is performance, too—someone can be skilled at their job, but pure poison to have around. That’s something HR needs to know as well.
  • Policy violations. Whether it’s the Internet-usage policy or the company dress code—or indeed, any policy—employee violations to be brought to HR’s attention now in case some remedial or disciplinary action needs be taken.
  • Requests for assistance due to disabilities or "reasonable accommodations." Under the law, employers need to make "reasonable accommodations" for employee disabilities, or religious practices. This could be changes in hours or duties; it could also be assistive technology for the disabled. Even if a manager feels this can be handled within the department, by just adjusting schedule or work, they need to tell HR. It’s important for a company to not just make appropriate accommodations, but to make them consistently, in order to avoid any trouble under the law—including claims of employment discrimination. Ensure HR is involved.

Important! Managers shouldn’t be afraid to share good news. Employee files are not there only to justify disciplinary action or termination; they’re there to help manage employees for both their and the company’s benefit. Businesses prosper when good people are motivated, retained and promoted. So if someone is showing good skills, good initiative or good attitude, be sure managers tell HR. That will help make sure that the right people receive bonuses or opportunities. When they do, that helps the company do better and make more money—which benefits everyone.

HR has headaches enough without trying to chase down the information they need from the people they are trying to service. Make sure your managers know what data is needed and wanted by you, so that you can better help them help the company grow and expand, or at least, survive.

Contributor: Devora Lindeman