Depending on your Human Resources office and your relationship with your HR staff, there may be things about you that you should never tell HR.
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Average employees don't understand the precarious balancing act that’s required when you work in HR. Nor do they understand how HR has to think to successfully serve the company as well as the managers and the other employees.
This lack of understanding can add up to a deep distrust of HR.
Sometimes, the distrust is earned; HR staff members are people. You can’t pigeonhole them, placing them in a neat category that fails to reflect the actual complexities of people and HR offices.
I will acknowledge that some HR staff members are thoughtless, careless, mean-spirited, fawn on management, and have little care for employees or their rights. But, neither is it fair to group all HR staff under the same umbrella. For every unprofessional HR person I've heard about over the years, I’ve personally worked with many more trustworthy professionals.
So, before you share a secret about yourself with HR at your workplace, know your HR staff. In too many workplaces, these are the 10 things that you should never share with HR.
1. You participate in some activity that is illegal even if it takes place totally outside of work.
Your HR person may feel compelled to do something or say something about it.
HR doesn't want to make a decision about whether he or she is legally obligated to report you to the police. The fact that you caused the problem is not going to ring their happy chimes. It will deeply affect their opinion of you and your place in your organization.
2. You are considering whether to become a full-time mom while you are on your FMLA maternity leave.
Here’s a true story shared by a friend.
A teacher, let’s call her Jan, shared with HR that she was doing exactly this—hoping to see if stay-at-home mom was the best role for her life balance once the baby arrived. About half way through her FMLA time off, she was informed by her HR that she had been reassigned to teach a different grade in a different school. Her long term sub had been hired to fill her former teaching role.
In the meantime, Jan had decided that staying at home full-time was not professionally fulfilling and she missed teaching and her students. As a result of sharing her thoughts with HR, however, she found herself learning a whole new school and preparing teaching materials for a whole new grade level while balancing the demands of her infant.
The key is that HR will make decisions deemed in the best interests of the employer if they are uncertain about your reliability or commitment. Don’t give them the information that makes them feel they need to make decisions that may be adverse for you.
3. You need favorable treatment, time off, or other privileges from the company because of an event that isn’t true.
It will always come back to haunt you. Another friend shared this story. Her cousin had lied to his HR office when he was young and stupid about the deaths and funerals of both his mother and grandmother.
He said that he needed the time off to go to a funeral—when the person wasn’t dead.
Time passed and he became committed to his job and his employer. Then, his mother truly became ill and needed him to take time off work to help her. His earlier lies placed him in an unfortunate position. If he confessed his lies, company policy said that termination was the consequence.
But, FMLA time was only allowed for close relatives, so without confessing, he couldn’t take the time to provide the care his mom needed. This is one example, but it’s a good one. You can mess yourself up forever by lying to HR.
4. You lied about something during the hiring and interviewing process before you were offered the job.
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Yahoo CEO Scott Thompson, who left his job after only four months in 2012, claimed on his resume to have a degree in computer science—when he didn’t.
He was forced to step down as CEO, and he is not the only company executive caught in a lie. Most companies have a policy, and it may even say on the job application, that any untruthful statement can result in termination.
Companies need to be consistent in their practices, so if your organization has that policy, no matter how much you are valued or liked, you may find yourself without a job. The best advice? Never lie during the hiring process by omission or commission.
You don’t want to spend the next 10 years at work trying to cover up your untruths. But, never tell HR if you did.
5. Your significant other, partner or spouse might be transferred to a job in another city that is not commutable from the current location.
As with a number of the other recommendations, you will put your career on immediate hold.
Your organization is not going to promote you or provide you with career development opportunities when they think that you will leave. You may find yourself ineligible for educational assistance which employees must often pay back through years worked.
This is more career-busting than telling your employer that you are job searching because the employer will perceive that you have less control over the outcome. (Never tell HR that you are job searching outside of your company. While you may think telling HR will help improve your job or company, the time to encourage and participate in improvement is before you've started looking for other employment.)
6. You are moonlighting in a second job if your current job is full time.
When you tell HR that you are working a second job, you communicate all sorts of messages that you may not mean. The result? HR wonders about your commitment to the company and your current job.
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They become concerned that you may be job searching because the current job either doesn't pay for your living expenses or you need additional challenges.
In any case, you've brought yourself to their attention. A good HR team will probe to find out the reasons for the second job to determine if there is anything your current employer can offer or do. The HR team with whom you should never share anything will hold it against you and you will lose access to opportunity in your current workplace.
Plus, they will blame any failings you exhibit such as missing work, arriving late, being unavailable for a meeting and so forth, on your second job. Unreasonable? Perhaps. But it happens.
7. You sued your former employer for harassment, ADA accommodation or civil rights violations.
HR departments live in fear of lawsuits—even the good, ethical, painstakingly fair departments. If you've ever been sued, you understand the amount of staff time that must be invested—even if you're in the right.
And, the lawsuit that generally follows takes up more time and energy and exposes years of employee record keeping to the government and lawyers—both entities you should avoid at all costs.
So, you have nothing to gain but suspicion from letting HR staff know about any previous lawsuits. HR staff also regards the fact that you share this information with them as potentially threatening to them and your employer.
I've heard plenty of complaints over the years, and such a lawsuit can hurt your prospects for employment. If you're job searching, employers do discriminate (secretly, as it's illegal) when they know that you have sued employers in the past.
8. You have medical issues that might cause disruption to the workplace flow when you need to take time off, go on disability or seek extensive medical treatment.
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If you share your medical condition or information in too much detail, you may find that your employer begins to work around you as if you are not there. The employer is trying to protect their productivity, profitability, and workload; your absences would adversely affect the workplace.
If you create a situation in which the employer is anticipating your absence sometime in the future, you are generally saying good-bye to transfers, promotions, opportunities and plum team leadership positions, to name a few examples.
9. You received a DWI or DUI, depending on your location, or were otherwise arrested for crimes such as tax evasion, fraud, stealing and so forth.
Yes, I know; activities and events that occur outside of the workplace are your own personal business and should be separate from decision-making at work. Keep them that way.
Unless an event threatens to flow over into your workplace—in which case, always tell HR before they are blindsided—your personal business is private. But, if you drive a company vehicle for business and you received a DUI, best come clean.
If you work in the accounting department and you were just charged with embezzling thousands of dollars from your church, you risk a lot either by telling or not telling. Know your company, but I am an advocate for truth.
Employers are smart also to do comprehensive background checks. If you're applying for a job, if you have a felony on your record, reveal it when asked on the application. If the employer finds out in a background check, you won't get the job.
In the most egregious case I've encountered, a company failed to do a thorough background check on a new batch of employees. Later, when the employees were fired for stealing, they all had criminal records. One had gone to prison for arson and now that he was out of jail, he had to pay restitution in excess of $100,000. Of course, he was stealing product in his workplace from his $12 an hour job.
10. Your personal life, in general, is in a shambles.
Items like, you are afraid of your stalker ex-boyfriend, you filed a lawsuit against your neighbour, or you haven’t spoken to your sister in five years, don’t belong at work.
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They consciously or unconsciously cloud the workplace opinion about you as a person. These conclusions can adversely affect your career and opportunities. The employer making decisions may never recognize that he or she is making decisions about you based on what is known about your personal life.
Don’t give your employer any more information than is necessary for a friendly, cohesive, and team-oriented workplace. Trust me. There are really many pieces of information that HR doesn’t want to know.
(My caveat: something that threatens to flow over into work or the workplace should be shared with HR. For example, the stalker ex-boyfriend who used to mock you on Facebook and on your cell phone, but has now started to show up at places where you are, should be shared as a potential workplace safety issue.)
No matter how good and competent you think your HR department is, all of these 10 things provide information that you should keep to yourself. Play by the same rules as professional HR departments. If it didn't happen here, and it won't affect your current work or workplace, keep the information where it belongs—home. To echo so many of my colleagues in HR, I just don't want to know all of this.
By Susan M. Heathfield
This article first appeared in The Balance.