Advice to Human Resources Representatives
"Personnel matters are generally confidential, limited to those that have a need to know. Can you explain your concern? "
Attempt to clarify your role and your obligations, and identify what you can do within your discretion. Seek to find a comfort zone to continue the conversation or offer more confidential resources.
As a human resources professional, you represent the university and its interests. You cannot serve as a personal advocate, but you can advocate for the interests of staff from the standpoint of recruitment, retention, and the best interests of your unit and the university.
"As a representative of the university, I may be obligated to take action upon the information you tell me. For example, I am obligated to take immediate action to protect the health and safety of faculty and staff, and to report allegations of sexual harassment. I may also be obligated to report violations of university policies, such as research misconduct or financial impropriety. If your concern is outside of these requirements, we can talk more about what discretion I have in acting upon the information you want to share with me."
As an agent for the employer, in certain circumstances you have an obligation to report information to other university officials or outside agencies. Some examples where you are obligated to report information include:
- Immediate risks of harm to self or others under the OSHA General Duty clause or the university's policy on violence
- Violations of the university's sexual harassment policy
- Reports of research misconduct
- Violations of regulatory requirements required under whistle blower regulations
- Workers' compensation injuries or illnesses
- Allegations of criminal activity or financial impropriety
- Serious violations of other university policies
- Knowledge of a health condition that may trigger obligations under FMLA or ADA
As a human resources professional, you can make judgments about how you respond to information you receive beyond the obligations listed above. You can utilize your judgment to determine:
- Whether to take action or initiate communication with anyone based upon what you have heard
- When you initiate your action or communication,
- Nature of your actions
- Contents of your communication
- Whether you reveal how you obtained the information
These can be the basis for your response. Examples:
- Provide time for the employee to resolve an issue on their own with their supervisor without your intervention.
- Offer suggestions to a supervisor regarding an issue without revealing detail about how the issue came to you or why you recommend that course of action.
- Initiate reminders of policy and practice to supervisors and managers without explaining why these are timely.
- Maintain confidentiality to only those with an official need to know. Consider whether sharing the source of the information is truly constructive or necessary.
Be transparent about how you intend to proceed, what actions you will take and, to what extent you will hold confidential the content or source of the information you received. Clarifying roles and setting appropriate expectations can help avoid problems or misunderstandings in the future.
"If you are looking for a resource that is more confidential, you may want to consider…"