The theme for August has been about HR earning a reputation for being lazy. The Extra Mile isn’t THAT Far, Newbie Schnewbie, Eating Your HR Veggies and Don’t Be a Lazy HR Daisy each address how lack of initiative and thoroughness in administrative tasks gives the profession a lazy reputation.

This post looks at a different and more dangerous area where HR has the reputation for being lazy — investigating employee complaints. Employees bring concerns to HR almost daily looking for guidance, protection and resolution. And sometimes HR gives a lazy response that is less than comforting or confidence-inspiring.

It was one of my first employee complaints. Dewey said some guy from another department was threatening him because he was now dating the guy’s ex-girlfriend. The guy admitted to making threatening statements and lurking around Dewey’s work area so we let him go. Simple right?!?

It’s never that simple.

About a week later, Dewey came back and said this guy was continuing the threats outside of work. Dewey said the guy was really mad because the complaint had cost the guy this job and the guy wanted payback against him for taking his girl and the job. He said he’d already called the police to get an order of protection because the guy had a criminal record. He said the police told him that the guy was mixed up in some kind of gang and that he should get out of town as soon as possible because this guy was sure to carry out his violent threats. Dewey said he was resigning immediately and asked for $2500 severance to cover his moving expenses.

My boss immediately said no. We could not afford from a financial or HR practice standpoint to set such a precedent. Our facility was huge and employed a lot of local people so we would face a circus of requests if word got out. And despite our best efforts at confidentiality, word always got out somehow! We just couldn’t do it.

Dewey, of course, threatened to sue.

My HR mind was still new so it wasn’t yet jaded or lazy in its thinking. I felt like if we could pay severance to harassers, bullies and other litigation-happy scumbags, we could certainly do something for Dewey. I set off on a mission to get the company to agree to pay the employee for the two-week notice he would have given if he hadn’t resigned so abruptly and his earned vacation time, which he now wasn’t entitled to get because he’d resigned without a proper notice. That wouldn’t get him all $2500 he’d asked for but it would get him close and help me feel like we’d done everything we could to help the employee without setting a bad precedent, landing ourselves in court, or getting me in too trouble with my boss.

The results of my investigation didn’t get me in trouble at all. In fact, it made my boss quite proud of me! And I felt a sense of bittersweet pride .

Dewey lied! Once fired, the guy we’d terminated had never threatened Dewey and he was not a known gang member and the police were never contacted and no one told Dewey to get out of town … except Dewey’s mother who had recently put him out of her house and Dewey’s girlfriend who wouldn’t let him move in with her after getting her ex-boyfriend fired and kicked out of his mother’s house. He made the whole thing up to get some fast cash so he could move to another town and move in with a different girl there.

Wow!

Part of me felt taken advantage of . Here I was wasting my time feeling bad for him and looking into a way to help him while he was lying the whole time! What a jerkface! However, if I had just accepted the quick ‘no’ from my boss and not looked further into his claims, we never would have uncovered the truth. We may have ended up paying more money defending separation litigation if Dewey took his lies to an attorney or some government agency.

Once I let him know we were onto his lies, Dewey cursed me for being a “nosey b$&#%” but we never heard from him again.

And I learned a little healthy HR curiousity combined with compassion is all that’s needed when dealing with employee complaint issues. Employees need to know that HR takes their concerns seriously, no matter how big or small, and that HR will take the time to address and resolve the problem — and they especially need to know that you cannot just feed HR some outlandish story, thinking they will not look into it and/or there will be no consequences for misleading info. My investigation took about two hours total — and it potentially saved us thousands of dollars! It was worth it.