As women, we’ve all been faced with the annoying coworker, the one who straddles the line between offensive and funny. We’ve also worked with the one who never completes a task and throws everyone else under the bus. Or what about the boss who pushes staff to stay late, but leaves early four days a week? That’s always a good one.
Still, despite the prevalence of these issues in the workplace, it can often be hard to know when to take your complaint to Human Resources, whether because you don’t trust the HR (or the company) to be on your side or because you don’t want to make a bigger deal of something that seems relatively small. (Pro tip: Trust your gut. If it bothers you, it’s worth addressing.)
Staci Smith, human resources business partner at Compass and owner of Staci Smith Consulting, says it’s important to nip inappropriate behavior in the bud the moment something starts happening instead of spending time collecting evidence to present when you finally decide to go to HR. “Often, employees think they need to bring documents they have collected over time before they can raise an issue,” Smith says. "Instead, that just exacerbates the issue. My biggest advice is to go to HR the moment you are uncomfortable or something happens.”
That doesn’t mean you always have to have a “bad” issue before you visit HR, though. These are the six reasons you should visit HR—the good, the bad, and the ugly.
1. Being Bullied or Harassed
Women shouldn’t feel intimidated or ashamed of reporting harassment. However, Smith says it’s important to realize that when you report, it’s unlikely anything will stay off the record. “Once an employee raises these claims, the organization has been put on record and now has the responsibility to investigate,” she says. If employers don’t take your claims seriously and start an investigation, they could be held accountable. If your HR representative isn’t taking your claim seriously, then you have the option to file a lawsuit against the company and individuals involved.
2. Salary Concerns
Suppose you find out your male coworker is making more than you for doing the same job, and you both have the same experience; that pay gap is a valid reason to visit HR.
Human Resources is there to be an ally, but the outcome may not always be in your favor. Smith says you can always raise concerns about your salary, but it doesn’t mean it will change anything. “HR has to consider internal equity, the pay band [which is how employees jobs are classified], budget, and performance,” she says.
3. Office Dynamics
Did someone make a comment you don’t like or you find yourself distracted by a coworker’s loud talking, gum popping, or they aren’t pulling their weight on the team? HR professionals recommend trying to handle it on your own a couple of times before bringing HR into it. If it’s your supervisor and you feel uncomfortable, then, of course, talk to an HR rep, or ask one to act as your advocate during a mediation session. However, in the case of someone making a comment about you being a woman in a derogatory way, then refer to the first tip and talk to HR.
Read more: Mean Girls in the Workplace
4. Career Growth
Concerned about where your career is headed? Some Human Resource departments can help with employee training, career development, and education. This is especially helpful for women, because we don’t always receive the mentoring opportunities needed or the resources such as attending workshops and conferences to help with continued growth or making career changes. Check with your company to see if that’s something HR offers.
If you are injured on the job, report it immediately. According to The Society for Human Resource Management, HR professionals will then investigate the issue and handle other matters such as helping you to navigate leave possibilities depending upon the injury, and accommodating you if you are unable to fully perform essential job functions.
Confused about 401k contributions, medical, dental benefits, or even parental leave? Human Resources is there to help guide you through the process and answer any questions you have to make sure you are maximizing your benefits at a cost you can afford. They can explain how the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) works and if that is the type of leave you’ll need to enjoy your new bundle of joy! Some companies range from six weeks to several months, so be sure to find out what you are eligible for.