Defining Ethical and Legal Duties in Human Resources

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Balancing workplace ethics and legal responsibilities in the world of human resources can be extremely difficult. On one hand, providing people with the care and comfort they deserve is a human trait that many possess, with many managers and HR professionals wanting to express this characteristic within the workplace. On the other hand, depending on the circumstances, doing so can result in legal and ethical complications that may not have been considered beforehand.

Those in human resource departments must define the line between professional obligations and moral ones in order to be effective in this field. However, both may arise within the workplace, and understanding one’s responsibilities as a representative of the company and as a human being is crucial in order to avoid blurred lines, though it is ideal when the two skill sets are able to come together under one circumstance.

First, be sure to establish clear boundaries as to what you can and cannot do as a Human Resources professional. Many employees can come to their HR departments with information that they wish to submit anonymously, or have held in confidence. However, those working within these departments must recognize a legal or ethical obligation to disclose this information to a manager or executive.

For example, if an employee approaches their HR department to discuss an incident in which they were asked to perform an illegal activity, whatever that may be, but remain anonymous, that department would be legally obligated to notify their next level of command to discuss possible ramifications and prevention of similar activities in the future. Make sure your employees understand what they should be reporting to human resources, and how this can benefit both them and the company as a whole.

The biggest dilemma HR professionals face is the decision-making process when they come across a legally or ethically complicated situation. There are many circumstances that can put one in between a rock and a hard place, but those in human resources should understand when it is appropriate and necessary to take action. For example, if the safety of an employee is at risk, or an individual is going against company culture or policy, a human resources professional should step in and resolve the situation.

It can be extremely difficult deciding whether or not to help in personal situations as well. Laws on reporting domestic violence and child abuse vary from state to state. Take this as an example as to how a personal situation should be approached. Do you or an employee suspect a coworker is a victim of abuse in any way, shape, or form? Aside from the laws that may demand you take action, approaching this situation delicately is important. If it is simply suspicion, accusations can result in harmful legal battles, so tread lightly if there is not concrete evidence.

Both ethical and legal situations can be difficult to navigate in the world of human resources, but professionals trained to deal with both understand the importance of addressing each with care. Often times, it comes down to a judgment call when dealing with ethics, but remaining professional and putting the interests of your employees first is required in this business.