One of the toughest issues you will face in the workplace is the prospect of reporting someone to HR. It’s not an admirable position to be in. But an absolutely necessary step you must make when it’s a matter of ethics, safety, or your right to be at a harassment-free workplace.
If you’re in this difficult position, or just curious about how complaints to HR get processed, keep reading. We’ll cover what happens after filing a grievance with HR, what the company might do, and possible outcomes.
What Happens When You Report Someone to HR?
The next steps will depend on your employer. Most will start an investigation. This will involve interviewing you and others who are involved or have direct knowledge of the incident. Further action will depend on the outcome of the HR complaint investigation.
In general, companies provide several mechanisms for filing complaints with HR. These may include:
- Employee hotlines
- Anonymous tipping via email
- Website forms
- In-person reporting
Depending on the corporate policies and the nature of your issue, here’s how you might report a complaint to HR:
- You have reason to believe that someone in another department is behaving unethically. However, you lack firsthand knowledge and don’t want to risk your own career with a baseless accusation. So, you contact an anonymous whistleblower number your employer has listed on the corporate website.
- Your immediate supervisor has discovered that you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community. They regularly misgender you and call you by a name you no longer use. Despite you asking them to stop they persist in making off-color jokes in your presence, and have reduced your hours significantly. You gather the evidence you have and ask for a direct meeting with an HR Generalist.
Once the complaint is logged, here are three likely scenarios of what happens next.
Proper Investigation and Remediation
The ideal situation is that your HR complaint gets properly investigated and resolved fairly and appropriately. Be aware that this can mean several different outcomes. For example:
- The reported person is suspended or terminated
- Other disciplinary action occurs that you may not be privy to
- The person you report is counseled or undergoes retraining
- Changes are made to the work environment or reporting structure
- You or the accused are transferred to another division so you no longer work together
That said: HR may also find that there isn’t sufficient proof of your claims or that they aren’t a “big deal”. This doesn’t mean your claim is baseless. It simply means there isn’t enough evidence, or the behavior doesn’t fall under a policy violation.
Remember: In some cases, it falls on the employee to attempt to resolve an issue before reporting it. So for your complaints to be given more attention, show that you’ve made prior attempts to resolve the problem. For example: brought up the issue to your boss or another superior or talked to the person directly.
Can HR Fire a Manager?
Yes, HR can fire anybody who violates company policy, harasses employees, displays any types of -isms behaviors, and so on. However, the process may be complicated if the company is not in an employment-at-will state (e.g. Montana). In that case, they may need to show cause. Likewise, in some situations, the company may have to follow specific protocols when firing a manager or any other worker.
Issue Dismissed or Ignored
It’s frustrating, but valid complaints are sometimes ignored. For example, in response to ongoing misconduct complaints, HR sent Google employees to counseling. Likewise, Uber’s senior employee famously went public to show the massive scale of harassment and diversity issues the company was trying to sweep under the rug.
Hopefully, this doesn’t happen to you, but be aware that your HR complaints may be ignored. You may also be subject to gaslighting — a toxic workplace practice of forcing you to doubt your judgment and think that you are the problem.
Escalation Beyond The Company
Some truly problematic issues may (and should be!) escalated beyond the HR department. Sexual harassment, assault, and discrimination are legal and regulatory matters. So is creating a hostile work environment or violating baseline safety procedures. If an employer doesn’t handle the issue(s) appropriately, you can pursue legal action through an employment lawyer, union, or labor board. But treat this path as the last resort.
How Do I Complain About Unprofessional Behavior?
Here’s how to file a complaint with HR:
- Formulate your grievance and gather proof
- Read the company policy and any regulations that apply
- Choose the best method for filing a grievance with HR
- Communicate your complaint and be objective and detailed
- Articulate how the issue impacted your ability to work
- Ask for an investigation timeline
- Follow up if necessary
- Escalate as needed
The steps may vary slightly depending on your employer or state. Additionally, for more serious complaints, you might consider speaking with an attorney who specializes in employment law before you proceed.
It’s challenging and intimidating to launch an HR complaint. Fortunately, you now know what to expect. Remember that you and others have a right to a safe work environment. Sometimes, filing a grievance with HR is necessary to achieve that. Just follow prescribed procedures, be clear in your complaint, and focus on your right to have your issue resolved. Finally, remember that you have the right to escalate your issue if it isn’t resolved fairly and promptly.