What happens when you report someone to HR?

Learn about the process and potential outcomes when reporting an issue to HR, including investigations, disciplinary actions, and what to do if your issue is dismissed


Craft Author: Craft Team
Craft Team

If you’ve experienced or witnessed workplace harassment, discrimination, or a toxic situation, you may be considering the difficult decision to report someone to HR.

However, filing a report is not always a simple process. It may come with some risks affecting your coworker relationships and your job. You may have second thoughts about reporting the behavior to human resources, wondering what happens next and if it’s worth pursuing.

This article will explain what you can expect when you file a report with HR and how to make the process as smooth as possible.

Reporting someone to HR

Someone at your workplace is violating your rights, breaking company policy, or acting unethically. It may be a coworker or manager making lewd comments, physically harassing you, making you uncomfortable, or engaging in illegal activity.

You’ve decided you’ve had enough but aren’t sure whether to take the next step and go to HR. Start by asking yourself the following questions when deciding whether or not to report someone to HR.

  • Is the issue something that HR can help me with? If the issue is with someone's behavior, performance, or attendance, then HR may be able to help.
  • Have I talked to the person about the issue? If you haven't talked to the person about the issue, then HR may not be the best first option.
  • Do I have evidence of the issue? If you don't have any evidence, then HR may be unable to do anything.

Investigation stage

When you file a report with HR, they will address the problem by opening an investigation and taking appropriate action. Throughout each step of the investigation, HR will work to determine what happened, whether company policies were violated, and, if so, to what severity.

Personnel from human resources will confidentially interview you, the person you accused of misconduct, and witnesses involved in the incident who may have seen or heard what happened.

HR will also review relevant documentation. Present evidence you have collected of the person's inappropriate activity, including emails, text messages, witness statements, and video footage. The more evidence you have, the better it will support your claim and make it more likely that HR will take action.

After gathering all of the information, HR will determine whether policies were violated and what, if any, disciplinary action should be taken.

Resolving the issue

Employees have different options for resolving an issue. Before contacting HR, begin by speaking with your supervisor first. Perhaps, it’s a miscommunication or misunderstanding that doesn’t need to involve HR.

If the issue is more complex or you feel uncomfortable speaking with your supervisor, the next option is to speak with an HR representative. HR can help mediate the situation and come to a fair resolution for both parties.

Finally, if the issue is still not resolved, filing a formal complaint with HR may be necessary. If, after a thorough investigation, HR finds that the behavior did happen and it broke company policy, or worse, included illegal behavior, they will take disciplinary action against the person who did it, including a warning, a suspension, or even termination.

Can HR fire a manager?

Yes, HR can fire a manager for any number of reasons, including poor performance, misconduct, or a violation of company policy. The process for terminating a manager may vary depending on the company.

Generally, HR will first investigate any claims against the manager in question. If the claims are substantiated, HR may recommend to the company's leadership that the manager be fired. The final decision, however, rests with the company's leadership.

What to do if the issue is dismissed

HR may not always be able to take action against the person, especially if there’s no company policy against the behavior or if they find that the behavior did not happen or was not severe.

If your complaint is dismissed by HR, you may feel there is nowhere to turn. However, there are a few steps you can try to rectify the situation.

1. Speak to HR again and further clarify the severity of your issue.

2. Make a formal complaint in writing outlining the facts and evidence of your case in detail.

3. Take your complaint to an external body, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or consult with an attorney to discuss your legal options.

Why don't some employees file a complaint?

Employees who experience mistreatment at work may choose not to file a complaint for various reasons. Some may feel that doing so would be futile, as they do not believe their employer would take action. Others may not be aware of their rights or the complaint process.

Still, others may fear retribution from the person being accused. Sometimes, a boss or a co-worker may retaliate against an employee, claiming they made a false report. Unfortunately, employees fear a complaint may result in their own termination.

How should you complain about an issue?

Before filing a complaint, you should try to resolve the issue with your supervisor or manager. If you're not comfortable doing that, or if you've already tried and it didn't work, you can file a formal complaint with HR. But how do you go about doing that?

To file a complaint with HR, you will need to put it in writing, including as much detail as possible, such as what happened, when, and who was involved. If you’re still unsure how to proceed next, consult your company's employee handbook.

Companies usually offer the following methods for filing a complaint with HR:

  • Online complaint form (possibly anonymous)
  • In-person
  • By phone
  • Via email
  • Through an employee assistance program (EAP)
Free employee handbook template
Consult your employee handbook for HR details. You can create one using Craft's free template.

Final thoughts

Filing a report with HR can be a difficult choice, especially if you’re the victim of harassment or discrimination. But it’s an effective way to stand up for yourself, increase the chances that the behavior does not continue, and protect yourself and others from future mistreatment.

Before you speak to HR, talk to a trusted friend or family member about your decision. Be sure to document everything and keep copies of any relevant evidence. And remember, you have the right to a safe and respectful workplace. If you’re uncomfortable talking to your HR department, contact an attorney to help you understand your rights and the best course of action.