I contacted HR today about a grievance I wanted to log because of an ongoing situation. Rather than reply to me directly, the HR advisor forwarded the email directly to one of the managers who had been looking in the situation and that manager has taken it personally causing an ugly situation.

Additionally, that manager has then forwarded it onto some other people investigating the issue.

So my email to HR which had the subject heading Formal Grievance is now circulating around my workplace.

I am furious to say the least but want to ensure before I kick off, I am right that this would be a breach confidentiality?

  • My view is that the company says grievances will be handled confidentially and fairly. Is it fair on me that the exact email in its full content is being sent to various people? Surely, it would be more appropriate to email just the questions or information they need only e.g. "You've been asked to look into x, what is your latest update on this?" rather than "Please see the email below, what can you tell me?" – raining hail Oct 17 '16 at 21:13
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    Power is everything. Unless you intend to appeal to powers greater than those above you in the org chart, e.g some kind of workplace rights tribunal at a government level, there's literally nothing you can do except exercise the one power that employers (as yet) cannot deny you – the power to leave. – Toadfish Oct 18 '16 at 2:39
  • I don't mean to sound unsympathetic, I too would like to be able to expect to be treated with respect in a situation like this – but the whole crux of this is "what can you do to redress this breach of your trust in those with power over you" and the answer to that is "basically nothing" – Toadfish Oct 18 '16 at 2:41
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    I'm a bit puzzled. Your letter was forwarded to the people who are investigating. What do you think is wrong with that? Did you not want the things you said in your letter investigated? If not, why write the letter? – David Schwartz Oct 18 '16 at 11:11
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    VTC rant. Who cares if they did or did not infringe on an arbitrary concept? What do you want to do about it if they did? – Lilienthal Oct 18 '16 at 11:54

You've learned one of the most important lessons in the corporate world:

HR is not your friend

One of the main purposes of an HR department is to protect the company from its employees, not the other way around. I'm not suggesting that HR is necessarily adversarial with the employees or that they're against the employees at all. But they are going to be loyal only to the company. That's why they exist.

One common failing (and I used to have it as well) is that we believe that HR is somehow there to protect us. It's normal to think that because it's what we're always told during onboarding and in handbooks, etc. We're told repeatedly that we can always talk to HR if we have a problem with our supervisor. Sometimes it's even implied (though rarely actually stated) that talking to HR will be held as confidential. That's simply a lie.

What HR will hold confidential is whatever it benefits the company to hold confidential. These would include allegations of fraud or sexual harassment or other discrimination. But don't think they're keeping it confidential because of something they owe you. They do it to protect the company so they can deal with nasty situations quietly and without outside interference. The only reason they don't fire you for bringing stuff up like that is because they can't anymore. Notice I said "anymore" because that used to be standard until laws stopped them.

Which brings us to your particular situation. Unless you're telling HR something that your manager or someone else has done that's illegal or a massive violation of a written policy, you can count on HR to tell everyone involved. There is no expectation of privacy with HR because HR represents the company. HR IS the company.

Look at an organizational chart. Starting at the top, follow it down to the bottom. That is the order in which people will be protected. In any dispute, you can count on HR siding with whoever is higher on that chart. Period. Don't ever think HR is your advocate, they aren't.

I'm sorry if this seems like a cynical answer but it is not. It is based on decades of experience and while I'm certain there may be some company somewhere that has HR acting as advocates or true mediators, what I'm telling you here is 30 years of experience in 100% of the cases.

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    HR should not be your friend nor your enemy. It should be impartial, People do not like sacking people. It is not fun and it is expensive. HR tend to moderate and find out what is going on. The poster says the email is being circulate to all and sundry. Buy the posters email it is being sent to people doing the investigation. What should HR do? – Ed Heal Oct 17 '16 at 21:40
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    @EdHeal In an ideal world, HR might be seen as impartial, but reality is as Christopher states, they are employees of the company, there to protect and look out for the interests of the company. When it is good for the company to do so, they will also look out for the interests of the employees. Their first order of business though is to answer to those who pay them, and they are paid by the company, not their fellow employees. – dlb Oct 17 '16 at 22:17
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    +1 - I think it takes people awhile to learn this lesson because its not always obvious. – Mark Rogers Oct 18 '16 at 1:25
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    If you want somebody that is on your side, you should join a Union (if one is available in your place of work), they are the only aspect that will try and help you (so long as you've not broken any laws, are blatantly in the wrong, etc). – MattR Oct 18 '16 at 12:24
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    @ChristopherEstep "HR is not your friend" should be in bold letters on the top of each page in here. – Old_Lamplighter Oct 18 '16 at 13:51

No, it's not great ethics, but HR often make up their own rules, and you cannot stop people from using information you give them. Once you give it to them in writing you don't own it anymore.

Just stand behind your words, the manager had his chance to fix it quietly, but didn't, so you had to escalate and now he's upset. Hard luck for him. Any formal grievance will usually result in multiple people being involved and probably an information leak.

There's not much point getting upset, writing another formal grievance to address why your first formal grievance was given to the manager is a waste of time.

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    You would also be complaining about the exact people (HR) who are supposed to help you, which is not a good idea. – gnasher729 Oct 17 '16 at 21:20
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    @gnasher729 where on earth did you get the idea that HR is supposed to help you? Yes, they help you navigate paperwork and policies and they help you get your benefits, but HR helps the company, not you. In a company, you are your only true advocate I'm afraid. – Chris E Oct 17 '16 at 21:34
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    HR is supposed to be impartial - so if you have a justified grievance, they are supposed to help you. – gnasher729 Oct 17 '16 at 22:20
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    @gnasher729, HR is in no way supposed to be impartial, their sole purpose is to protect the company, sometimes that works in the employee's favor But often it does not. They are being paid specifically to keep the company out of trouble. They are not impartial mediators. – HLGEM Oct 18 '16 at 13:22

You say that the original email you sent to HR is now being forwarded to people doing the investigation. What do you think HR should do? Get people to investigate in the dark?

I do not think that it is being circulated. It is being sent to people that need to know to do the investigation.

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Step 1: Do your best to NOT be furious. Allowing your emotions to escalate will generally make matters worse. Keep a level head so you can properly assess your options.

Step 2: Review your company's Written Grievance Procedure (which, from my understanding is required by Law in the UK) https://www.gov.uk/handling-employee-grievance/overview

Step 3: Confirm if YOU followed the Written Grievance Procedure. If you didn't you may not be able to contest the actions of the HR department.

Step 4: If you DID follow the procedure (or at least followed the SPIRIT of how it was written -- meaning your intent was to follow it), then confirm if the HR Dept followed the procedure.

Step 5: If you feel that your work environment is now compromised due to a breach of HR following the written procedure, then you should probably seek outside assistance. Be sure, no matter what you do, to handle everything as professionally as possible. Because what you are trying to protect is your FUTURE value -- either at this company or another. You do not want to be penalized for raising a grievance and if you mishandle things, it could be VERY costly (in the sense that your FUTURE earnings could be damaged). This is why it is important to seek out professional assistance -- get someone on your side who has a lot of experience with these type of things.

Best of luck!

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Well, what did you expect? Ethics aside, how do you expect the HR to proceed without informing the people concerned?

Imagine someone complained about your work, but you didn't get to know what exactly went wrong because the person raising the complaint didn't want to disclose their name. Your boss would just say "You have to handle customers better, one of them complained the other day". How would that help you to improve, even if you genuinely wanted to?

This article explains pretty well what happens when you complain at your workplace.

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