#HR Tip – Talk To The Employee, Not His Parents

“What we got here is a failure to communicate” – Cool Hand Luke

I am amazed at how often I hear from human resource managers that an employee has had his/her parent(s) call HR to discuss the child’s employment situation.  And I’m not talking about the parent calling in to report that their adult son or daughter (who undoubtedly has a cell phone) is sick and won’t be in.  No, I have even heard parents who called and acted as an advocate for the employee in disciplinary situations, or pressed for an explanation as to why a medical expense was not covered by the health insurance plan.

Perhaps it is simply another symptom of the “helicopter parent” generation, and the child was never really taught to be self-sufficient. Or maybe it is because the kid only knows how to text, as opposed to engaging in an actual face-to-face conversation.

Regardless of the cause, HR managers should avoid such communications if at all possible.  First, the parent is not your employee.  Assuming the child is not a minor or the legal ward of that parent, you have no legal obligation to talk to that parent.  Second, as what is discussed is often confidential in nature, and you have no idea whether the employee actually authorized the parent’s call, you could face an irate employee who claimed you violated his privacy.  Third, anything you say to that parent could be used against you as evidence in a later lawsuit by the child.

So don’t put yourself in this no-win situation.  Politely tell the parent (or spouse) that you can only talk to the employee, and will await their call. Then hang up.

Mitchell W. Quick, Attorney/Partner
Michael Best & Friedrich LLP
Suite 3300
100 E. Wisconsin Avenue
Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202
414.225.2755 (direct)
414.277.0656 (fax)
mwquick@michaelbest.com
http://www.linkedin.com/in/mitchquick
Twitter
:  @HRGeniusBar
@wagelaws

6 thoughts on “#HR Tip – Talk To The Employee, Not His Parents

  1. SERIOUSLY? I’m shocked that this happens. With the exception of a mentally disabled employee, or perhaps a situation where a teen is working in a job the parents actually secured for them (friend of the family owns the business), I can’t see how any parent would see this as appropriate, or any self-respecting employee would want this. I would see this as seriously undermining the perception of that employee as being capable of holding down a job. Yes, teens, who are not legally adults yet, have jobs, however, unless the situation a parent is calling about is a sticky legal one (sexual harassment, bullying on the job, drug use, theft issues, etc) and the employee is a victim, I’d tell my child that they are learning to be an adult and they need to start dealing with their own adult issues. If they don’t, and they get fired or have to leave, lesson learned. And, if it IS a legal issue that endangers the employee, then the parent would be better off getting an attorney involved immediately anyway. I can see some situations where it might warrant it. My brother worked in a job when he was young and found a co-worker was stealing. He didn’t want to say anything because the manager was a hot-head that he had clashed with already, and he didn’t want to rat out the co-worker to him (especially since the manager favored that co-worker over him). But he told my parents and my Mom asked him if it would be OK if she called the owner of the company (she knew him), It worked out perfectly (confession, firing, no police involvement) and I don’t think the manager was even told the info came from my brother.

  2. I am dealing with this right now. I have an employee whose father or sister (yes, sister) calls and demands to know why this employee was disciplined or to file a complaint on the employee’s behalf and then get irate when I tell them that I cannot speak to them regarding these matters. I always try to be polite and tell them the employee is welcome to come talk to me but no action can be taken until that happens and it just upsets them even more. On the bright side, this experience has certainly helped me not coddle my children and make them do things on their own.

  3. I am dealing with this right now. I have an employee whose father or sister (yes, sister) calls and demands to know why this employee was disciplined or to file a complaint on the employee’s behalf and then get irate when I tell them that I cannot speak to them regarding these matters. I always try to be polite and tell them the employee is welcome to come talk to me but no action can be taken until that happens and it just upsets them even more. On the bright side, this experience has certainly helped me not coddle my children and make them do things on their own.

  4. i go through this on a weekly matter. I have employees who will put on their availability that they can work from 5-11:30pm. I hire them. Then a week later I get a call from their parents explaining that they can’t work those hours because they have school the next day and that I’m stupid for putting them to work that shift. This is where it gets hard. I usually explain to the parent that I can’t talk to them about the needs of their child. I am not your child’s teacher, I am their BOSS. and then i would ask them to leave. just keep this in mind: I didn’t hire them, I hired their child. Their ADULT child signed that they could work those hours, and If they have an issue with their hours then they have to come talk to me about them. I know it seems harsh, but if they can’t talk to their boss when they have an issue, then we don’t need someone who is bad at communication. It makes life harder than it should be. They need to grow up!

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