Busted! Five Human Resources Myths


In a previous post, we discussed “dirty little secrets” that every Human Resources professional should make clear to each employee. Some felt it was a little harsh.

Human Resources
Human Resources (Photo credit: zachstern)

Yes, many human resources “secrets” should be obvious to a majority of workers, but unless employees aren’t told the truth (even obvious ones), how can you be sure they know the truth?

One of the biggest responsibilities of human resources is to prevent foreseeable problems in the workplace. To that end, every employee should know exactly what rights they have, and what the employer is obligated to do.

The list of myths, misunderstandings and “secrets” can certainly be long, but this information is important to everyone—management, employees and human resources.

Clearing up myths should be a top priority for human resources, so everyone knows where they stand.

Busting some of the biggest myths of the workplace:

Myth: The First Amendment protects freedom of speech at work.

Busted: The First Amendment right of free speech protects government from restricting speech. Private companies are a different story. Your employer can fire you for what you say at work; in some cases, you can be fired for things you say outside of work, as well.

If you organize workers in response to working conditions or wages, that is protected speech. Beyond those instances, you had better be careful.

Myth: You have legal rights against an unreasonable or malicious boss.

Busted: Unfortunately, it is not illegal for a boss to be jerk or even unfair. It may not be good management, but it is not illegal. There is an exception; if your boss is being biased precisely for reasons of race, gender, religion, or some other protected class. Then, you have legal options.

Other than that, it is not illegal to be a jerk.

Myth: Human resources are there to help you, the employee.

Busted: Human resources are a function of the company; its primary allegiance and responsibilities are first to the employer. There are many ways that HR will help employees, simply because it is in the interest of the employer.

It is good business sense for human resources to learn about and address poor management, take care of legal problems before they get out of hand, and the like. If there is a dispute between employer and an employee, where the interests of the employer is not what is in the best benefit for the employee, the company will almost always win out in the end.

Myth: Human Resources must keep things private when asked.

Busted: HR does not have the same fiduciary duty as attorneys or priests. Think of them more like a bartender; you can empty your soul to them, but they have no obligation to keep it a secret. The job is to focus on solutions to workplace problems, if they come upon knowledge of a serious problem in the workplace; their primary task is to take care of the problem—secrets or not.

Myth: Employers are only permitted to provide title and dates of employment for references.

Busted: Detailed references are certainly permitted. They only have to be honest! Many companies have a policy of giving only title, salary and dates to verify employment as a way to avoid nuisance lawsuits. However, it is not the law. It is common (and certainly allowed) for employers to deliver detailed references—many are either indifferent or downright bad.

The most conclusive response HR could send in any case is to the question if an employee is “eligible for rehire.” It the answer is “no,” It doesn’t matter why, that reference could destroy a candidate.

Whether current employee or prospective candidate, it is always good to separate fact from fiction, especially when it comes to a career.

Do you have any other human resources myths that you wish you could bust for the benefit for your employees. We would love to hear them. Join the conversation in the comments below.

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