What to Do If the One You Need to File a Complaint Against Is HR

In a perfect world, talking to HR would always be a fruitful and pleasant experience. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and you should not use the word “always.” Human resources professionals are still people, after all, and sometimes they are unpleasant, and sometimes they break the laws they are employed to help the company uphold. What should do if you need to file a complaint against HR? The answer might surprise you.


Follow your company policies

If you work at a company large enough to have a dedicated human resources department, then more than likely the employee manual contains a policy outlining the process for filing grievances or reporting harassment. You need to follow it to a T, even if you’re reporting HR to HR. In contentious circumstances, employers will often look for any potential slip-ups to make a case for termination or adverse employment action, and you do not want to provide any fodder for consideration.

Determine whom HR reports to

Although HR can seem like an omnipotent force, the department still reports to someone—generally the CEO and sometimes the CFO or COO. Just as you can make a report against your CEO to HR and HR has an obligation to follow up on it, whoever supervises HR has an obligation to respond to complaints against HR. If you do not feel comfortable going to the CEO, you may be able to make a report to another supervisor.

In cases involving sexual harassment and discrimination related to a protected class, any supervisor has a legal obligation to follow up if such a report is made to them. Federally protected classes under the Equal Employment Opportunity Act include race/color, national origin, religion, sex (including pregnancy, sexual orientation, and/or gender identity), age (40 and older), disability, and genetic information (including your family medical history. States and municipalities may offer additional protections in local statutes.

Gather as much documentation as you can

Documentation is key to resolving any type of employment situation. If you have relevant emails or messages, save copies of them in a safe place to which only you have access. This might involve printing them, saving them as PDFs, or taking screenshots. Be cautious not to violate other employee policies in the process and take care not to create a digital record (for instance, by forwarding a bunch of messages to a personal account).

Investigate making a claim with the EEOC

If your complaint is related to one of the federally protected classes listed above, you may consider making a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Keep in mind, federal law allows employees only 180 days after alleged discrimination in which to make a claim (the statute of limitations increases to 300 days if a state or local law also covers your complaint). Once you file a complaint, the EEOC will assign the complaint a charge number, as well as send a copy of your complaint to your employer. Although your employer cannot retaliate against you for filing a complaint, EEOC complaints are not anonymous. The EEOC may proceed to mediation, ask your employer for a written response, or begin an investigation. It’s important to know the EEOC does not file lawsuits in every case in which it finds discrimination.

Consider whether you should speak with an employment attorney

Before filing a complaint with the EEOC, it’s wise to consider whether to consult with an employment attorney. Although this can be costly—attorneys work for a percentage of their client’s settlements—it can be helpful to have someone experienced help you navigate this complicated and bureaucratic process.

Filing a complaint at work—whether against a colleague, supervisor, or HR itself—is not an easy process, but sometimes, it’s the necessary and right thing to do. If brave employees had not taken this step, we would not have access to the legal protections employees have today

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