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September 29, 2014

#HR Tip – Talk To The Employee, Not His Parents: When An Employee's Parent calls HR

“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.

© MICHAEL BEST & FRIEDRICH LLP

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About this Author

Mitchell W. Quick Michael Best Friedrich LLP
Partner

Mitch Quick is a partner whose practice includes all aspects of management labor and employment law, with an emphasis on employment discrimination litigation, wrongful discharge, and wage and hour law issues. He has represented large and small manufacturing facilities, dairy cooperatives, hospitals, financial institutions, nursing homes and county and municipal employers. He is co-author of Michael Best & Friedrich’s “Guide to the Fair Labor Standards Act” and editor of the Firm’s “Wage and Hour Question of the Month.”

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