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What should you not say to HR?

What should you not say to HR?

Many of our new clients call us with exactly the same question, which is some version of “ œHuman Resources just told me they want to meet with me.  I’m freaked out.  What should I do??

At this point, most employees are aware that the HR department is not your friend.  They don’t work for you “ they work for the company.  However, there are some guidelines about what you should and should not discuss with HR.

One note before we get started “ I am using the term œHR but if you work for a smaller company, you might not have a formal œHR department.  This advice applies exactly the same if you have someone in your workplace who œacts as a sort of HR person or assists with œHR-like matters.

The general rule is don’t bring your everyday complaints to HR.  They’re not there to make your job better or easier and they might fire you simply because they don’t want to hear it.  This is usually legal.

This is a little bit more complicated than it might initially seem.  What do I mean by everyday complaints? I am referring to anything that is frustrating or annoying but not illegal.

Why does this make such a difference? If you think there is illegal or potentially illegal conduct happening in your workplace, that should be reported because reporting it can protect you.  When to report, who to report to, and how varies, so we suggest you call us if you think illegal conduct is happening.

Now, what kind of behavior is often not illegal and you should not complain to HR about it?

1. Discrimination.  In the employment world, being discriminated against means that you are being treated differently or adversely in a way that is different from how your peers are being treated.  It’s rarely overt.  Consider whether certain groups of people are shown favoritism or given the best projects or commended by supervisors or invited to client meetings.  Consider whether you experienced or observed other groups being disfavored, sidelined, less appreciated, or treated more harshly.  Don’t be afraid to use the word discrimination or say, œI feel I am being discriminated against.  This is an important protection for you because it is illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee who has complained about discrimination.  Protect yourself further by doing it in writing “ over email.

2. Medical needs.  Your employer has obligations to you around different medical needs.  If you have to take time off for a medical condition or to help a family member with a medical condition, you may be entitled to federal or state protected medical leave (FMLA leave).  If you have a medical condition where you can do your job, but you need reasonable accommodations, your employer is required to provide these to you (some examples include needing limitations on the hours you work or how often you can travel).  Too often we have clients who get fired or demoted for being œa bad employee when they actually needed “ and would have been legally entitled to “ a medical accommodation.  If the employer doesn’t know about your need for accommodation, such as if the condition isn’t visible and the employee doesn’t report it, there is little we can do.

3. Pay issues.  I mentioned that if you’re an at-will employee, your employer is not necessarily barred from changing your pay going forward.  However, they always have to pay you all compensation earned or owed to you.  If you think you’re owed money, bring it up.

4Cooperate with HR if asked, but be smart about it.  This goes back to the example I started with.  What do you do if HR unexpectedly schedules a meeting with you?  Keep in mind these type of meetings might be about you, such as if you’re being placed on a performance improvement plan or investigated for misconduct, or they could be about someone else, such as someone else HR is investigating.  In either case, you want to avoid doing anything that could get you labeled as œinsubordinate or fired while you figure out what the situation is, and this includes outright refusing to meet with HR.  However, you have options! Your first option is to tell them that you would like to speak to a lawyer first, and ask if the meeting can be rescheduled until you can do that.  Another option is to go to the meeting and listen, but decline to make your own statement and definitely do not admit to any wrongdoing.  For example, if you are accused of poor performance or bad behavior, it’s a good time to simply say œI would like to talk to a lawyer before I respond.  Now, there’s no guarantees and you could still get fired or penalized, but often this statement alone is enough to put the brakes on and give you some time to figure out your legal options.

What should you not say to HR? If you need more information about this topic, please contact our employment attorneys at Carey & Associates PC at 203-255-4150 or email to

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Mark and his team at Carey & Associates are incredibly knowledgeable about Employment Law and have walked me through every step of the way. Their approach and guidance has been extremely effective in dealing with my case. They instill a sense of confidence by laying out the facts, caselaw, and risk assessment to help make well informed decisions. I would highly recommend them to anyone looking for an Employment Attorney.


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