Ring, Ring, HR Calling: How to Handle the Calls No Manager Wants to Get from HR

Terra Vicario
October 8, 2018

Ring, Ring, HR Calling: How to Handle the Calls No Manager Wants to Get from HR

As a manager, a call from HR can be one of the most stressful calls you receive if you’re not prepared.  Even though most managers have a better relationship with HR than, say, Michael Scott does, there are still phone calls no one wants to receive from HR.  Let’s look at five such calls, and how you can prepare for situations like these before they happen.

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1. “You know Devon – as in Devon who you terminated two weeks ago?  We just got a letter from his attorney.”

It’s easy for this kind of news to trigger an emotional response – What is he claiming?  How will I be implicated? – but try to keep your cool and focus on the facts.

As you prepare, gather any documentation you have about the reason for termination, from poor performance to disciplinary action. Your HR Leader will require this documentation from you as they work closely with your legal counsel to address the situation.

Never speak with the terminated employee or their attorney.  Even if Devon calls you directly, or his lawyer does, do not engage.  Let your HR Leader and your legal counsel speak for you.

Don’t make any disparaging remarks about the terminated employee – not out loud, and definitely not in writing!  You’re likely angry about this situation, but you need to keep those thoughts to yourself.

Keeping your composure is key.

Keep in mind that HR is going to ask you a lot of tough questions during this process. Don’t take it personally or get defensive – they just need to know what they’re dealing with, so they can best protect the organization.

2.  “We need to chat about the personal health stuff Stanley just told us – it sounds like his heart condition could impact his work.”

If an employee advises you that a personal health concern is affecting their ability to do their job, or has asked you to make an accommodation related to a disability, it’s time to chat with HR about the ADA interactive process.

That might sound intimidating, but the good news is, this is generally a conversation about what the company can and can’t reasonably provide. That said, it’s important to let HR lead this conversation, and to follow their guidance to the letter. Failing to have the conversation, or denying an employee’s request without HR approval, could expose your organization to risk.

3.  “I know you already offered Dwight the role, but we just got the results of his drug test and he didn’t pass.”

Don’t rescind his offer of employment yet. There are many prescribed drugs or over-the-counter medications that can trigger a positive drug test – like how some decongestants can look like methamphetamine on a panel.

The next step here is to allow the employee to go through a “medical review process.” This means the employee, his pharmacist, and his doctor can appeal the drug test if they provide a valid prescription that accounts for the positive result.

Even if an employee presents a valid prescription, however, that does not mean you have to bypass your organization’s safety standards. For example, a forklift driver should not be allowed to operate machinery if their valid prescription makes them drowsy. These situations can become very complex, very quickly. Defer to HR’s guidance to ensure the organization and the employee are protected.

4.  “Jim wants to relocate from Scranton to Stamford.  He’s our best salesperson, so can we talk about how we can keep him with the company?”

If you’re able to accommodate a remote workforce, and you feel this employee will continue to add value to the organization, give it a try. As today’s global workforce is trending to be more remote, it is better to retain top talent than lose them to a more flexible competitor.  43 percent of U.S. workers today work remotely to some degree. In fact, a recent FlexJobs study has predicted that more than one-third of employees will be entirely remote in the next ten years.

The key to success here is to make sure that both you and the employee understand and agree to expectations set for remote workers. These expectations range from hours of availability to check-ins and everything in between.  See how it works for you, and remember – if it ends up not working, you can always end the arrangement. 

5.  “Creed got a DUI over the weekend.”

Was he arrested, or was he convicted? This is a very distinct difference that HR will want to know before any employment decisions are made.

To keep it simple, though, let’s start here: is the employee still allowed to drive? In other words, has his license been suspended? If it has, and one of his primary employment functions is driving for work, you may be able to separate.

But nothing is simple these days; employees in the past have received a DUI if they’ve been recently prescribed pain medications or their existing legitimate prescriptions have been modified. Arbitrarily terminating in these situations can expose you to risk – and we might end up back at phone call number one from this list. As with many arrest and conviction scenarios involving employees, it’s crucial to work very closely with HR.

image via YourPHX.com

Of course, there are many other reasons HR could be calling you. In any scenario, keep in mind that HR’s goal is to protect the organization and create the best possible outcome. They are fully equipped to handle these difficult situations and more. They are also a great resource to learn from when it comes to your rights and benefits as an employee. There is no need to ALWAYS associate HR as a “scary” team or the place you get sent to be reprimanded. They are there to have your back and help should one of these calls come your way. With the right preparation, you’ll be ready to pick up the next call from HR on the first ring.

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Terra Vicario

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