Can I report something to HR and ask them to keep it confidential?

Question: Just before Christmas, my boss asked me out on a date, and I politely said, “No thank you.” Since then he seems angry with me. I don’t think he necessarily did anything wrong, but I thought it would be best to make a report about it. Can I report this to HR and ask them to keep what I told them confidential? I don’t want to lose my job.

A Blog Fan
Reno, NV

Dear Reno Blog Fan:

The answer is simple: No. No. No. No. And No. Oh, one more thing: . . . there are No Exceptions to this rule.

You must understand, accept and remember that HR should have just one loyalty: to the Company. If what you tell HR seems to them to justify their taking some action, step, or measure to correct a situation, or to prevent a worse situation, they will (and, to my mind, should) take it. You are not the judge of what they should, or should not, do in response to a report of any kind.

Often employees would like to “report” something, but have it stop at that. Unfortunately, HR just can’t guarantee that no further steps will be taken . . . to anyone. Until HR hears all of the facts, and investigates the matter, HR won’t know what it is required to do . . . sometimes even by the law. There are many laws that actually require HR to report matters that come to their attention, and HR will generally not violate those laws in order to fulfill a confidentiality assurance to an employee.

I am aware that some HR Departments have a policy that permits employees to report incidents or problems on a “strictly confidential” basis. I’ve seen those policies and those assurances violated many, many times. I’ve seen those “strictly confidential” reports sent on to the Legal Department, sent on to managers and executives, sent on to the police, and sent on to the alleged victimizer.

What is the solution? There are really only three choices:

a. Don’t make the report, claim or complaint.

b. Make the report, claim or complaint in a “blind” manner, that is, send it to HR without including your name, although that’s impossible in some situations – like yours – with only two people involved. Understand, though, that most HR Departments won’t follow up on a “blind” report, claim or complaint.

c. Make the report, but accept that it may not be kept confidential. Have the courage of your convictions to stand up for yourself.

But when filing a report, claim or complaint, don’t expect confidentiality from HR, no matter what you are told. It’s like telling a police officer the identity of the person who robbed a bank, and asking the officer to “keep it just between us.”

Sorry if this is not the answer you wanted, although I’m sure you really did want the truth.

Best, Al Sklover

P.S.: Feel you’ve been retaliated against? Use our “Model Memo Objecting to Retaliation on the Job” to stop it and have it reversed. “What to Say, and How to Say It,™ just [click here.] Delivered by Email – Instantly! 

© 2009 Alan L. Sklover. Commercial uses prohibited. All rights reserved and strictly enforced.