# Can a boss tell an employee not to go to human resources?

If Alice is having conflicts with Bob and the issue is brought to the boss and the boss doesn't rectify the issue, and also warns Alice that it is advised not to go to HR, what do you do?

The conflict is not of any type of sexual harassment. The conflict is about just making Alice work environment difficult and strenuous because of Bob jealous and envious ways about Alice. Seems like a petty issue, but Bob's jealous and envious emotions towards Alice is making it difficult to work in this environment. It has been brought to this boss' attention and the answer is just deal with it because Bob apparently has personal issues and her life is hard outside of work.

The boss, which is also the director of this particular company, warns Alice not to notify HR because they don't care about what happens at this facility.

What does Alice do at this point? Continue to work in a uncomfortable environment, take it to HR (being that Alice was warned not to), deal with the problem, just find a new job, or report the situation and the boss for warning them not to go to HR? Doesn't an employee have the right to go to HR if an issue arises?

(Alice & Bob are being used here as generic placeholder names. Gender is not an issue here)

• With no details: It's possible you were told not to take it to HR because it would actually wind up as a black mark on your record, indicating that you're unable to work well with other people... – keshlam Sep 30 '15 at 15:09
• Your boss can't stop another employee from being jealous of you, but you think HR can? Are you sure you've made it clear what exactly you want to change other than someone's personal belief about your? – user8365 Sep 30 '15 at 15:27
• It is the victim's responsibility (and right) to take his/her grievance to the right authority. If you're intending to approach HR in behalf of the victim, as a third-party observer of the problem, don't be surprised by their response, which will likely be blunt towards you. – Kent A. Sep 30 '15 at 15:35
• This question is very difficult to read as currently worded, with all of the uses of an employee and another employee. Could you either change it to I/Me and another employee, or Employee A and Employee B, or just use two made-up names, like Alice and Bob (matching the genders of the actual people involved will help to avoid any wrong assumptions in answers), so it is easier to understand the context? – Dan Henderson Sep 30 '15 at 18:43
• @LOSTinNEWYORK, keep in mind that HR is NOT some kind of impartial ombudsman which is there to help employees. Their sole purpose is to protect the employer (the company). Your boss has "the right" to say almost anything and you have "the right" to go to HR against his wishes. However, it sounds like your boss may be trying to deal with this issue in a discrete and careful manner. Please consider that before making the situation vastly more complicated/difficult by introducing HR (who are unlikely to help anyway). – teego1967 Sep 30 '15 at 19:29

Exactly what is to be gained by going to HR? Unless you are looking to get reassigned elsewhere or get the other person fired, HR is not the place for this. If your boss told you the person is having difficulty outside of work, then it is possible she is in a somewhat protected status right now. Consider that he would only know this if there was something very serious going on such as a cancer diagnosis or a death in the family etc. He would legally be constrained from telling you what is going on, but assume that the person is seriously ill or has a family member who is for the sake of dealing with the person.

People are generally not themselves when they are seriously stressed. So give this person the same benefit of the doubt that you would want if it were you in the situation. So no, don't take it to HR and, yes, learn to live with it. The easiest thing to do is to train yourself to stop being bothered by it. Every time this person does or says something that indicates jealousy, then you say to yourself, "X is going through a hard time, let it go." and then do so. Your boss is telling you that it is not about you but something else in her life, so don't take what she says personally. Once you stop taking things personally, the workplace becomes much easier to navigate. This is not an easy thing to learn, it may take month or years to get really good at it. But it can be done, I had to do it. It is more about being persistent in noticing that the behavior is not about you and then letting it go.

Take steps to help out the person instead of getting upset. Being nice to people you don't like is often an effective way to get them to be more on your side. So take the first step and help them out and compliment their work when deserved. Don't get angry back at catty statements. Take the high road and the other people in the office will respect you more for staying above it. When you get into a "tit for tat" kind of fight with someone else, it doesn't matter who started it, you both look equally bad. So take care of your own reputation by being above it.

• There are plenty of not so nice people in the workplace at almost all employers, it is best to learn to let things go rather than stew on them. You only have control over your reaction not their actions, so learning to control your reaction will help tremendously in the long run. This doesn't mean you have to be a doormat, but pick your battles carefully for only the important stuff. When someone is known through the organization to be a pain, then people tend to discount the nasty things that person says anyway. – HLGEM Sep 30 '15 at 15:56
• Very good answer. I once had a teacher that had issues with one of his neighbors. The guy would basically park his car on other people's spots on purpose, steal mail (from everybody), and so on. My teacher, instead of being pissed and angry at him, went to see him with a six-pack and suggested they talk to each other. The guy apparently had a very crappy life but this was enough for him never to park on my teacher's spot again. To this day, they still talk. Sometimes the nice way is clearly the best way. – ereOn Sep 30 '15 at 17:20
• Very similar attitude to mine. Restrain your emotions and separate your professional responsibilities from your personal preferences. – Anthony Sep 30 '15 at 23:27
• While this answer is good and I agree completely with its contents, I'm not sure that it answers the title question. – reirab Oct 1 '15 at 15:37
• Presumably the boss has anticipated that, sadly, the result of "going to HR" in this case won't be that HR gives the questioner this kind of advice and help in dealing with a difficult environment. Or anticipated that Alice's approach will be "hey, HR, I demand that you deal with Bob", and is warning Alice not to do anything of the sort. – Steve Jessop Oct 2 '15 at 8:42

...because of the other employees' jealousy and envious ways about the other employee.

If this is how this was explained to the boss, then this is the problem. Your co-workers are not required to like you. What they are required to do is behave in a professional manner and do their work.

"Co-worker B is jealous of me" is not a managerial or HR problem. "Co-worker refuses to get me information for the project on time" is a manager problem. "Co-worker is wrote obscene things on my desk in permanent marker" is an HR problem.

The co-worker who was told not to go to HR should focus on behaviors, not motives, if they want a complaint to be taken seriously.

• +1 for "focus on behaviors, not motives". A good manager will ask you for examples or situations that demonstrate and confirm what you say. – Long Oct 2 '15 at 11:30
• Great breakdown of who should be involved in different types of problems. – Matthew Read Oct 2 '15 at 16:10

Because nobody seems to have said it clearly:

Your boss can say anything he likes to you. Freedom of speech and all that. If you think what he's saying is illegal, then you can take him to court. Short of that, you have no 'protection' from your boss, especially when they're the director of the company.

You have no "right" to interact with HR. Your company may have policies that say you can contact HR about anything you like. It may not. It may not even have a defined HR department (though yours obviously does). It is entirely down to your company and what their HR policies are.

Workplaces have a general legal responsibility to prevent harassment, discrimination against a protected class and general illegality. I sincerely doubt your situation would constitute "harassment".

In short:

• You have a problem with another co-worker.
• Your boss (THE boss) has advised you that going to HR will not help the situation.

And unless you're willing to sue him in Court, it doesn't matter either way.

Nobody bothered to answer the ACTUAL question: NO, a boss can NOT (legally) tell you to not go to HR if you want to. They could probably get in trouble for even suggesting to not go.

All (US) employees have the rights to work in a non-hostile work environment. If another employee is creating a hostile environment (making disparaging remarks; not providing information or work items in a timely manner that are required to finish your work on time, etc.), then it is the duty of the Manager and HR to deal with that employee. If Employee A is purposely doing things to make Employee B not perform well, then the whole company is hurting. Of course, it really depends on what the details of "difficult and strenuous" are. Regardless, it sounds like the manager has not done a good job of MANAGING his employees, and might need some help from HR himself.

That being said, HR actions usually require a 3-strike rule before anything real happens. Going to HR may cause you even more issues in the workplace; there can be lots of ways to make someone's life hard that don't technically break any rules, and without technically breaking rules it can be near impossible to stop such activity.

I have no knowledge of the details, how much you've tried to be nice or work with them, etc., so forgive me if this is off base, but some advice: "jealous" and "envious" are peculiar words to use in a work situation. If another person actions are hurting you, it may be worth considering how YOU and your actions are affecting THEM. If you know that it annoys them to hear stories of the awesome vacation you took (that they can't afford), or the awesome dates you go on (that they can't get), etc., then you could make THEIR life easier by not sharing those stories when they are around (which then makes YOUR life easier). Be compassionate of others, take literally 5 minutes alone to empathise, try to understand their life and point of view. Maybe even try to be their friend.

And if you're stuck with an unreasonable bastard, at least it will be clear to your coworkers that you tried, and you may prevail in the situation. Good luck!

• The answer is wrong, it's just what you want to hear. No law prevents management from specifying how you should communicate grievances to the company. There's also no law that gives every U.S. worker the right to a non-hostile work environment. There are only laws that protect people from harassment based on discrimination against a protected class (examples: race, sex, religion, age). eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm – Michael Hoffman Oct 1 '15 at 1:58
• I did post an answer. @Davor, as mentioned, no law prevents management from specifying how grievances should be communicated. An employee isn't physically prevented from complaining to HR but there is no legal protection against any consequences for ignoring management directives. They could be fired immediately. – Michael Hoffman Oct 1 '15 at 11:34
• @LOSTinNEWYORK no more or less than at any other time. – hobbs Oct 2 '15 at 3:13
• Yeah, this answer could be horrible advice depending on the company. While it might be the idealistic answer, it's not actually true in many companies. The idea that an employee voicing a complaint to HR would somehow result in HR helping the manager do a better job managing... sounds great, but really, is not what will happen in many (most?) cases. – enderland Oct 2 '15 at 14:12
• @LOSTinNEWYORK The rules will vary depending on where you are, but in most places I know about, a company can let you go "without cause" (meaning they don't have to give a reason). In practice, that means you can get let you go at any moment - as long as they pay severance as required by local law. (And in some states, none is required, so your boss can literally kick you to the curb at any moment). So while your paperwork will be silent on why, the practical reason you were fired can be literally anything your company doesn't like. – Allen Gould Oct 2 '15 at 15:16

the answer is just deal with it because this employee apparently has personal issues and her life is hard outside of work.

The employee who feels as if their work environment is hostile has already been given information that SHOULD NOT have been shared. If HR catches wind of this, not only the hostile employee, but also the boss may be put into some pretty hot water.

With that part established, I would implore the uncomfortable employee to consider practicing empathy and/or develop some backbone instead of increasing hostility by elevating the issue to HR and trying to get the other employee fired.

Double down on efforts to build a positive relationship, and overcome the struggles in a non-confrontational way.

That said, if the employee feels that their work environment is just too hostile to deal with, and they feel as if the appropriate course of action is to invoke hostile work environment protections and try to get the 'hostile' employee and potentially the manager fired, then that is the uncomfortable employee's prerogative and they cannot be prohibited from doing so.

• HR is the Supreme Court of the company. They are there as the last line of defense for the employee. So, again, going to HR would get your coworker in trouble, which would anger your manager, and depending on what you tell HR you could get your manager in trouble too, but as inadvisable as it is, you always have the option to take the issue to HR. You ALWAYS have the right to go to HR. – user2989297 Oct 1 '15 at 19:42
• Technically speaking, your boss CAN tell you not to go to HR and technically speaking, you CAN go anyway. They are not mutually exclusive. – cdkMoose Oct 1 '15 at 19:56
• @cdkMoose Yes, we are just parsing words now. Technically I CAN set a museum on fire and technically I CAN be sent to jail for it. – user2989297 Oct 1 '15 at 20:01
• HR is not a "Supreme Court". They are not independent or impartial. They are not there to defend an employee. They are there to serve the needs of the company. One way they can do this is by helping management fire employees that seem to cause problems for their supervisors. – Michael Hoffman Oct 1 '15 at 20:46
• The other side to that is that HR need to be aware of situations that make the company vulnerable, such as when a manager divulges personal information about an employee to another employee, and then attempts to intimidate them into not going to HR. While you are right that they are not independent and they are not quite impartial, they are aware of the obligations of the company, and they will adhere to those obligations moreso than they will expose the company to liability by supporting a manager who is acting in an illegal manner. – user2989297 Oct 1 '15 at 20:54

Yes, management can specify how you communicate grievances to your employer. Unless your employer has a policy that specifies otherwise, or your contract with the employer specifies otherwise, there is no right to interact with a human resources organization. There is usually no requirement for your employer to even have a specific human resources organization.

"HR" is not an impartial tribunal that exists to mediate disputes between you and your co-workers or supervisors in a fair way. They usually work for company management and exist to serve the needs of the company.

Apparently, as the boss is the head of the company(as you say so), it would be advisable to take his suggestion into consideration.

If I were you, then I would sit and talk with the employee who is having a tough time outside work, and see what I can do for her. Most problems get solved if the other side of the story is also heard. It would also help you get some nice impression.

In case if that does not work, then you can inform the HR and the boss simultaneously, as the problem does not get solved, and you can't risk your work efficiency due to some other employee's personal problems.

About the "let it go" philosophy some are preaching here:

• Internally: Yes, just let it go! This person is not important and has no power to upset you.

• Externally: Fight back, but technically and without passion. Just tell the person to dial it down a little, so he/she gets some feedback that the behaviour is not wanted. If it continues, explain how it's affecting the working atmosphere for everyone or you, and so on. the person might have problems, but it's not your fault, so he/she shouldn't take it out on you.

Only when all this fails, take it to HR. I sometimes act grumpy when I have other things to worry about, but as soon as someone points me to it, I apologize and try to be nice. That's the normal way to deal with it. Also, it helps to step out of the other-problems-bubble for a while, so might do the person a favor .. or cause a nervous breakdown leading to sick time and peace and quiet in the office. ;-)