Dilemma of The Month: When HR And Department Heads Clash

Back Q&A Nov 1, 2018 By Suzanne Lucas
I’m the HR manager for my company, and a director wanted to write up an employee for posting an article titled “Employees Don’t Leave Jobs, They Leave Managers” on her personal LinkedIn account. An anonymous employee took a screenshot of the post and gave it to the director. The director had already spoken with the employee and asked her to remove the article from LinkedIn, which she did. However, this doesn’t appear to be a violation of our organization’s social media policy. She didn’t direct this post toward anyone and didn’t add her own comments — she just shared an article she found interesting. What should I do?

You chew out the director. Her behavior was completely and utterly inappropriate.

Social media policy or no, employees are allowed to share general business articles on their LinkedIn pages. And if the director were a good boss, she wouldn’t be threatened by this — after all, she wouldn’t assume the employee was talking about her.

I know that in most organizations, standing up to a director can be a daunting task for an HR manager. Just the difference in titles tells me that this person is higher up the food chain than you are, so you’re taking a risk in pushing back — but it is absolutely your job to do so.

HR’s job is to protect the business, always. And standing up to the director protects the business for two huge reasons.

The Law

Every organization needs a social media policy, and what that is depends on business needs and your location. But that policy needs to comply with all laws; in California, that means you can’t prohibit people from discussing political views or prevent discussion of otherwise legal activities, nor can you do anything that stops people from talking about their own working conditions.

If the employee in question had added a comment to her LinkedIn share that said, “Dealing with my boss makes me understand why this is true,” and she had at least one coworker as a connection on LinkedIn, then it could be considered protected concerted activity. That’s a fancy way of saying: She’s talking about her working conditions, and that’s protected by law.

Even though the employee didn’t make a comment, you could easily argue that merely sharing the article is discussing working conditions. So, you’re putting the business at risk for punishing an employee for sharing this article.

The People

The human resources department is supposed to provide expertise about people, just like the marketing department should be the expert on marketing. You’re responsible for recruiting, developing and retaining good employees. Assuming this was a good employee, writing her up just pushes her toward the door.

Even if she was a terrible employee and everyone would cheer if she quit, the other employees may know what happened in this situation, and now know the director is a horrible manager. If you allow this write-up, they’ll understand that HR doesn’t have their backs either.

Related: Dilemma of the Month: Speaking Freely on Social Media

Related: Don’t Wait to Create Social Media Guidelines

Because this tip-off came via an anonymous employee, you know there’s a bullying problem, as well. If this unnamed employee is concerned this article might give people the wrong impression about the company, this person would have gone to the poster directly and said, “You know that the director will think this is about him and he’ll be furious! You might want to take it down before he sees it.” But the coworker didn’t, and instead set out to undermine and destroy a colleague. That’s textbook bullying.

If there is to be punishment, it’s for the anonymous tattle-tale. Do an investigation and figure out who it is. I bet that it won’t take more than 15 minutes to figure out who sent this. What should the punishment be? Well, that depends on whether this is one-time trouble-stirring or part of an ongoing pattern.

So, now you know that your director is a crappy manager and that you have a bully who stalks others’ social media accounts.

Next, you need to explain to the director why you won’t write up the employee. When the director pushes back, you’ll have to stand up and state your case. If necessary, take this up the ladder. If, ultimately, the senior team decides to ignore your pleas and punish the employee, that’s their right — HR is never the boss. But in that case, you’ve learned something as well: This company doesn’t value employees. As you’re also an employee, it’s time to spruce up your resume and look for a company that respects their employees.

But, I don’t recommend publicly saying you’re looking for a new job on LinkedIn: Your company has spies, and that won’t go over well. 

Have a burning HR question? Email it to evilhrlady@comstocksmag.com