Human Resources Responsibility: Protecting the Employee or the Company?

June 17, 2021

The Human Resources department has immense responsibility. But is the greatest responsibility to the company or employee?

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For Human’s Sake

Oftentimes, when someone says “HR,” we think of the Human Resources department of a company.  In fact, do any of us actually think of ourselves—the workers—as human resources?  Maybe not. However, that is exactly what we are.  Human resources are the people who comprise the workforce of an enterprise.  I, personally, never thought of it that way.

Now, the human resources department within an organization is uniquely positioned between the company and the employee.  So, if there is a dispute, where does the HR department stand?

To help clarify, here is what you need to know about the Human Resources department’s responsibility to the company and the employee.

The Original Human Resources

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Since our minds are currently blown realizing we are human resources, let’s see what this is all about. 

Companies also refer to their employees as laborers, associates, personnel, or manpower. 

What about human capital?  That one is interesting.  Human capital is the combination of all attributes of a worker: skills, education, experience, expertise, personality, etc.  These combined attributes determine the employee’s ability to perform work.  When employees are working, they are directly or indirectly contributing to the production of revenue for a company.  An employee’s contribution to the bottom line is known as the employee’s economic value. The Human Resources department is mindful of each worker’s economic value.

The Human Resources Department Today

Now, the role of the Human Resources department can be multifaceted.  In fact, HR wears many hats each business day.

Many of us encountered a company’s HR department during the interview and hiring process.  Besides initiating the hiring process, Human Resources’ responsibility also includes the following:

  • Recruiting, headhunting, or talent acquisition
  • Ensuring labor law compliance
  • Administering benefits
  • Keeping employee records
  • Organizing employee files
  • Terminating employees or offboarding

Additionally, the Human Resources responsibilities are not necessarily limited to these.  Sometimes HR absorbs certain tasks that might not have a dedicated department.  Take training, for example.  Some businesses don’t have a specific training department, so the HR department trains new employees or may provide continuing education opportunities.

No Human Resources Department 

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Still, not all companies have an HR department.  While most large corporations have an entire HR department dedicated to HR responsibilities, many small businesses forgo even an HR generalist.

But why wouldn’t a small business want an HR department or a generalist, at least?  Well, HR personnel aren’t acquired on the cheap.  In fact, according to, the average HR salary is just over $55k.  So, even having just one generalist could literally break the bank for some small companies. 

Related:  Breaking the Glass Ceiling: Offering Employees Equal Pay for Equal Positions

Furthermore, some businesses don’t realize the benefit of having a dedicated HR department.  While the benefits are many, sometimes they don’t become obvious until the company is in a situation where HR expertise would become helpful.  Once they recognize the benefit of having a team to take care of the Human Resources responsibilities, they often do something to implement some form of HR for their business.

Another reason a company might not have a Human Resources department is that they chose to outsource to a company that provides HR services.  Some payroll providers, for example, offer a suite of HR services.  This is a cost-effective way of taking care of Human Resources responsibilities without having to harbor an in-house team to get the job done.

Whose Side Are You On, Anyway?

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One thing that may seem like a conflict of interest is the question of whether the purpose of Human Resources is to protect the company or the employee.  Well, put plainly, Human Resources is charged with protecting the interests of the company. As complicated as it may sound, protecting the interest of the company can result in protecting the interest of the employee, as well.  Here is how.

The Anti-Union

So, historically, companies did everything they could to keep employees from unionizing.  Employees who were part of a union could disable a company if something went awry.  Human Resources originally emerged to communicate the vibe of the workplace to the powers that be.  This was a way for companies to ward off any anticipated problems by nipping them in the bud before they could come to a head.  So, having an HR team could help keep employees from unionizing—at a minimum— by keeping the peace.  This could be good for all parties involved. 

The Middleman

Even in modern times, one of the ways HR can nip the problems in the bud is to act as the go-between from the employee to upper management.  The higher-ups don’t have time to get involved in every little squabble within an organization.  Anyway, who would want to?  So, part of Human Resources’ responsibility is to sift through grievances.  Also, they help compile and analyze those grievances to understand why turnover rates are what they are. If HR does their job well, executives will know what keeps employees happy, and upper management will create a company culture that facilitates contentment.

Related:  The Dress Code: Decoding Your Company Style

The Compliance Enforcer

The 20th century was a time of major change for employers and employees alike.  Decade over decade saw amendments in legislation that required employer compliance of laws protecting employee rights.  So, who do you think became the enforcer of compliance?  You guessed it—the HR department.  Essentially, the goal was to protect the employee, which was a twofold protection since it also served to keep the employer out of a lawsuit.

Suffice it to say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. 

What Can HR Do for You?

Sooner or later, all companies will need to decide if a dedicated Human Resources department is right for them.  An alternative to housing an entire HR team is to hire an HR generalist.  Or, better yet, companies can outsource their HR needs to a trusted payroll provider and potentially get more bang for their buck.

Regardless of what you choose, a good HR resource can help protect your company and put your mind at ease.  Consequently, HR will also be protecting your employees, which is very important if you are a company that values a positive company culture.  So, do yourself a favor and consider to what degree you could use an HR staff.  The last thing you want to do is to find yourself in a bind wishing you had done something sooner.

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