Tips about Dealing with Problems When There Is No HR

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Reader Question:

I have some questions. Is it possible or okay for a retail store with more than 50 employees to have no human resources department? We don't have anybody to contact if we need talk about some issues. Thank you.

Response:

It's certainly possible and more common than it should be for companies of any sort to reach 50 employees with no dedicated HR person. And, unfortunately, many companies that do begin to have HR at about that stage, do so by saying, “Hey, Jane, you're now in charge of HR.”

Jane has no real training in HR, but she says, “What the heck, this is easy enough. Hiring, firing. Got it.” HR does far more than that, but without an experienced person on board, it's tough to know what you need to do.

For instance, several laws kick in at 50 people, like the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Once you have 50 employees within a 50 miles radius, you're subject to those laws, even if no one knows what they are or how to administer them.

Of course, you, as an employee, can't make your bosses see the value in a dedicated HR manager, but just because there isn't one, doesn't mean that the functions aren't done. For instance, just because you have no HR manager doesn't mean that if you have a baby or get cancer, you aren't entitled to take up to 12 weeks off for recovery.

If your coworker is sexually harassing you, the company is still obligated to stop the harassment, even without an HR manager to conduct the investigation.

In other words, not having an HR manager is a pain in the neck for the management team, but it shouldn't be for the employees.

It doesn't always work correctly (and, that is why you should think about dedicated HR before you reach 50 employees), which can leave the employees feeling they have nowhere to turn.

What to Do if You Have No HR Manager

Here's what you can do in this situation.

Remember that HR is never the boss. While it's nice to have an HR manager, they aren't the saviors for bad management. A good HR manager will listen to employees, investigate problems, and ensure proper application of all relevant laws. But, an HR manager only has as much power as her boss gives her.

So, if an HR manager says to the boss, “The scheduling is unfair and a violation of federal law because men are given the best shifts,” and the boss says, “Well, I don't care,” there's nothing she can do about it other than report it to the proper federal or state agency. You can do this as well.

You can report problems to your boss. In many companies, even with HR departments, the first step for any problem is the direct supervisor and then the boss's boss. In your case, since there is no HR department at all, you must use this reporting technique.

If your direct supervisor is the problem, you can report the issue to her boss, all the way up to the president of the company. If the company president won't address the problem, remember, he wouldn't do it if an HR manager existed either.

Educate yourself. While HR managers are really there to protect the business, good ones know that a business is most successful when the employees are treated well.

Without that help, you can feel alone. It's possible to educate yourself on your rights.

This website, About Human Resources, of course, is a great start. Another source that I highly recommend is employment attorney Donna Ballman's book, Stand Up For Yourself Without Getting Fired: Resolve Workplace Crises Before You Quit, Get Axed or Sue the Bastards. Ballman's book should be on every employee's bookshelf, but especially on yours, since you have no HR department.

Ask management who the dedicated HR person is. While there isn't an HR manager, somebody has to do those tasks. Somebody has to make job offers and determine salaries. Someone has to fill out leave of absence paperwork.

Somebody has to make the decision on company health insurance. That person should be knowledgeable about what is going on, even if she isn't well versed in what an HR manager should do.

Go ahead and speak to that person.

Hopefully, the management at your company will realize that whatever money they save from not paying an HR manager, they are losing in not having a skilled person running the people side of things. Just one lawsuit can cripple a small business - far more than paying a professional to handle the tasks.