You could be forgiven for thinking that HR’s role is limited to hiring and firing. But in reality, there is a lot more to it than that.
In fact, in celebration of the upcoming International HR Day, Penninula Group has shined a spotlight on HR professionals everywhere for whom no two days are ever the same.
Peninsula Group provides HR services to over 120,000 SMEs around the globe. They have pulled together the wild and wackiest calls received by advisors from group companies in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK.
Kate Palmer, HR Advice and Consultancy Director at Peninsula, says: “HR can get a bad rap, but the job is extremely varied and rewarding. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, we recently had a client call the advice line trying to sell his parrot…. now HR can handle most things, but maybe isn’t the best port of call when trying to offload a feathered friend!
“Believe it or not, crazy situations like this are all in a day’s work for HR. Let’s look at the wildest calls received by our advisors over the last year, and I’ll give my advice on how best to handle them.”
Can I fire someone for playing hide and seek in the office?
“Firstly, you need to find out when this happened. It’s unlikely that playing games will be included in any employee’s job description, so taking time away from their normal duties to do so could potentially be a conduct issue, especially if it resulted in missed deadlines or unattended customers. However, if it was on a lunch break and caused no disturbance to colleagues, then it’s a rather different and fun way of spending some downtime and building interpersonal relationships. You need to ascertain the facts before taking any disciplinary action.”
A colleague drove me to work the other day and was a terrible driver. Can I raise a grievance against them?
“Bad drivers are the bane of many people’s lives. And sharing a vehicle with one can be a terrifying experience. If the employee in question drives for a living and there is a concern about their ability to safely carry out their role, then there may be grounds for a grievance. However, it may be better to raise an informal complaint to their line manager in the first instance. They can then take steps to educate and provide training where necessary, and perhaps introduce a performance plan. If they do not drive for a living, then there’s not much that an employer can do. I would suggest not accepting a ride from them in the future.”
Can I fire someone for stealing my lunch?
“Going to the fridge on your lunch break to find someone has taken your food can be a common annoyance. Often this is a simple mistake and can be rectified with a quiet word. Alternatively, if it is not clear who is taking the food and it keeps happening, it may be appropriate to get HR involved. Reminding staff to be respectful of each other and their property should work. If the problem continues, you may need to carry out a full investigation to find out who the culprit is. But remember – installing CCTV is not as simple as it sounds due to data protection laws. It’s worth noting that you should discourage employees from taking matters into their own hands, such as adding laxatives to food to help identify the thief. This could put someone’s safety at risk, and lead to further disciplinary action.”
A staff member swore at me, am I allowed to swear back?
“Society’s attitudes towards profanity have certainly relaxed over the years. In fact, a recent tribunal ruling found that effing and jeffing is so common at work now that it’s acceptable. However, context is key. It is, ultimately, up to each employer to decide what is acceptable language at work. This stance should be clearly set out in the workplace policies. And as an employer, you should lead by example. But there’s one line that must never be crossed. Swearing should never be used as a tool to belittle, bully, or discriminate. Use of any words relating to the 9 protected characteristics set out in the Equality Act 2010 will be wholly unacceptable and could leave you at risk of a discrimination or harassment claim. It goes without saying that some in lines of work swearing will never be acceptable. And remember there might be some other explanation that isn’t obvious and could affect an investigation. Perhaps the employee suffers from Tourette’s, or English isn’t their first language, or maybe they’ve been under a lot of stress recently. All these things need to be considered.”
A staff member resigned recently, and I did not say goodbye. Can they sue me?
“Whilst this could be considered ignorant and leave a bad taste in your employee’s mouth, it will not be reason to sue. Injury to feelings is valid grounds for an employee or former employer to sue their employer or former employer, but they would have to provide evidence of unlawful discrimination and show they have experienced upset, worry, frustration, humiliation, or distress as a result. It’s unlikely that failure to say goodbye would amount to this. If you feel that badly, then maybe reach out to apologise and say goodbye.”
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.