“What can I do if the HR person is the bully?”

Question: Hi, hoping you can help me. We have one HR person at work – there are no other HR employees besides her. She’s a nightmare. She verbally abuses employees, gossips in the hallway, and targets good employees she doesn’t like to get them fired. (Luckily, I’m not on her list yet.)

My first thought would be to tell HR, but I can’t. Is there anything I can do legally? Some central organization that deals with HR professional ethics? I can’t talk to her boss: not only are they friends, but they share an office. Thanks.

Upland, California

Answer: I fully understand why you have submitted your question using the name “Anonymous.” As you may know, it is common for blog visitors to do that. However, in your case I think that your decision to submit your question anonymously suggests certain things to me, which I’d like to share with you.

1. Remember that Human Resources professionals are no different from other people: like the rest of us, they are just “people.” It has always been a puzzle to me, but many people expect Human Resources professionals to be more patient, more moral, more pleasant and otherwise “above” other human beings. That expectation is simply unreasonable, because they are just like the rest of us. Some are patient, some are not; some are pleasant, some are not; some are honest, some are not. And it is my expectation that no professional Human Resources organization would discipline a Human Resources professional for anything they have done, or not done. I don’t think that expecting that would be reasonable, either.

2. And, Human Resource professionals are subject to the same laws and rules as “the rest of us.”By the same token, you can file a complaint or legal claim against a Human Resource professional for the same offenses, in the same manner, and with the same effect as you may regarding any other person. They are subject to the same company policies, too. No one is above the law; no one.

3. While there is a growing “anti-workplace-bullying” movement, so far no anti-bullying laws have been passed to give employees legal remedies, unless the “bullying” is due to age, gender, race, disability, or other “protected” category. A quick search of “workplace bullying” on the internet will show you that many, many people are working all over the world to make workplace bullying illegal. My own search indicates that, to date, no laws have been enacted. However, bullying at work motivated by the victim’s age, gender, race, disability, pregnancy, religious beliefs or other “protected category” is illegal nearly everywhere under the title “hostile work environment.” Unfortunately, “equal opportunity bullies” are getting away with abusive behavior every day.

4. So, I suggest you review what remedies may be available to you for improper behavior, and don’t fear to use those remedies regarding your Human Resources manager. Check your employer’s company policies and Employee Handbook to see if your Human Resources Manager is violating any of them. If so, consider (a) writing to your Human Resources Manager to ask her to correct her behavior, or (b) filing an official complaint with the CEO, or the Board of Directors. Sure, this may require a good dose of courage, but it is something you must do if you would like to change her behavior. Unfortunately, there is no “legal” remedy at this time.

5. If you are concerned about retaliation, there are certain additional steps I might suggest you take.So very often, people are afraid to stand up for themselves and for others because they fear retaliation in response. While there are no “magic” steps you can take to guarantee that you will not be subject to retaliation, there are some steps you can take to reduce the chances of it happening, including: (a) mention in a letter to the HR Manager that, if she engages in retaliation, then you will have a strong legal claim against her; (b) consider raising this very issue with the CEO and/or Board Members, and that such behavior – if they permit it to take place – would make the company liable for a legal claim of improper retaliation; and (c) you might want to file your complaint anonymously, but with specific names of people she has retaliated against in the past, to prove your point that the HR Manager threatens the interests of the company. If management is made aware that the HR Manager is putting the company at risk, they just might do something to stop her.

I sure hope this has been of some help in your thinking of how to deal with this Bully at Work. While your Human Resources bully has not yet gone after you, the way bullies work, sooner or later someday she will. Consider, for your own welfare, and that of your colleagues, taking some steps now.

Thanks for writing in. Good luck to you, no matter what steps you take, or don’t take. And please share our blogsite with your friends and colleagues.

Al Sklover

P.S.:   For those who have fear of workplace violence, we offer a Model Memo to Your Employer Insisting on Protection from Workplace Violence.  It can help you get the protection you need. “What to Say and How to Say It.” To obtain a copy, just [click here.Delivered by Email – Instantly!

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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