Ask a Recruiter: How Do I Get My HR Department to Take My Problem Seriously?

It's your HR department's job to protect your wellbeing at work. Here's what to do if they aren't taking action to find a resolution
Emily Durham, senior recruiter at Intuit (Photograph: Emily Durham)

Welcome to CB’s work-advice column featuring Emily Durham, a Toronto-based coach, public speaker and content creator known for her funny and relatable TikToks about all things work. Each month, Durham answers reader questions on topics that affect our ability to thrive in our jobs, and offers her real-world insights on how to handle even the most rock-and-a-hard-place conundrums. Have a work-related question? Send it to [email protected].

Q: I’m currently dealing with a manager who likes to make snide remarks and “jokes” about me being single, like how I must have “plenty of time to work late” since I don’t have children. I’ve had a one-to-one with him to explain how uncomfortable these comments make me feel, but that has not helped—they still continue. I’ve also talked to his skip-level manager and HR all without any action being taken. I’m not in a position to leave this role at the moment, is there anything more I can do or should I suck it up and keep quiet?

Let’s be clear—any comments that anyone at work makes about your family life or relationship status are unequivocally inappropriate. Your feelings of discomfort are valid and, frankly, you should not have been put in this position in the first place. In some places, including all of Canada, inquiring about family status is not only inappropriate but illegal, especially in the context of job interviews.

In cases like yours, I usually advise an open and honest conversation with your boss and/or human resources. At any company that values the psychological safety of its employees, this would typically put a stop to the commentary. In your case, all three parties you addressed this with haven’t taken actionable next steps to ensure you are being treated fairly at work. There are three routes you can take from here:

The first is: You put into writing your concerns to human resources. In the email ensure you document the specific statements being made, when they were made and your responses to them. It is important you also call out the specific time and place you met with each party to discuss your concerns and what their responses were, along with the crucial detail that nothing has changed. In this note, I would advise asking for a response that outlines their specific next steps and what they will do to mitigate the situation.

Putting things in writing opens up additional risk for employers who ignore your claims—now there is a formal paper trail that can be used should they be investigated. Usually investigations are conducted by your human resources business partners as a core mandate of their role is to ensure employee psychological safety. In most organizations this investigation will likely include reviewing written communications and speaking directly to those involved with the goal of a resolution that protects employee wellness. Keeping time-stamped documentation of events is critical to building a case. This may be the additional push needed to ensure HR protects you appropriately.

Although putting things into writing may light a fire under your employer; do you want to work at a company that needs that big of a push to respect you? You have had to commit so much additional energy, time and thought into navigating this situation, that frankly your HR team should have done that for you. As you continue to work through the situation by putting it in writing, this is likely a good time to start looking for a new role.

Related: How Can I Tell When It’s Time to Quit My Job?

The third option would be to consult an employment lawyer. Although more information would need to be collected to determine if you have a strong case, there is a possibility that what you are experiencing is harassment, and that is best navigated by an expert. Cases like these sometimes result in filing claims against your employer and/or support in receiving an exit package.

Most importantly, don’t blame yourself for the position you are in. Your employer has a duty to treat you with respect and dignity, and that includes respecting your personal life and your boundaries.

Emily Durham
Emily Durham
Emily Durham is a Toronto-based coach, public speaker and content creator known for her funny and relatable TikToks about all things work. Follow her on TikTok and Instagram at @emily.the.recruiter.