Human resources generalists, specialists and managers generally are responsible for a number of the key functions of an HR department. However, HR functionality doesn't always require a large number of HR employees to be efficient. Depending on the size of the employee base, small businesses can function quite well with one HR employee instead of an entire department. However, regardless of the HR department size, certain functions are necessary to support the company's workforce and employee base.

Compensation and Benefits

An essential function of an HR department is the administration of the company's compensation and benefits strategy. Compensation strategy positions the company as a competitor in the labor market, which enables an organization to attract some of the best-qualified applicants for job openings.

Benefits administration includes everything from negotiating the cost of group benefit plans to counseling employees on medical, dental, vision and disability coverage.

Administration of employee benefits also involves counseling employees about income protection and savings plans, such as 401(k) plans, flexible savings and health savings accounts.

Employee Recruitment and Selection

The recruitment and selection process starts with workforce planning to determine the organization's staffing requirements. Line managers and supervisors might be directly responsible for creating staffing plans; however, HR staff carries out the duties of recruiting talent.

Recruiting includes posting job vacancies, screening applicants through preliminary interviews, scheduling in-person interviews, providing guidance to managers on hiring decisions and organizing the final stages of the vetting process for new employees.

The recruiting arm of HR also handles immigration and visa applications for workers not yet authorized to work for U.S. employers, conducts background checks, calls references, schedules drug tests and prepares written job offers and coordinates new employees' start dates.

Employee Training and Development

HR training and development responsibilities begin with new employee orientation. Preparing activities for newly hired workers is an essential step for HR to establish the relationship between the employer and employee, as well as help form collegial relationships among co-workers. During an employee's tenure, HR's training and development section coordinates skills training and professional development opportunities that prepare employees for additional responsibilities with the company as well as future promotions.

Employee and Labor Relations

The employee relations function includes activities such as planning employee recognition and reward events, identifying workplace issues, investigating employee complaints, ensuring HR compliance with employment laws and regulations and administering employee opinion surveys.

The unique feature about employee relations is that it generally involves all the HR disciplines – recruitment, safety, training, compensation and benefits – because employee concerns may focus on any of those areas.

Employee relations functions can also include policy development and performance management, including providing guidance to supervisors on how to conduct employee job performance appraisals.

In some organizations, labor relations is a separate function that negotiates union contracts or collective bargaining agreements, handles employee grievances and assists the company's legal counsel with arbitration.

Safety and Risk Management

Many organizations have an obligation to compile company information related to safety, workplace injuries and fatalities, hazardous materials and complex machinery. This information is then provided to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration for reporting purposes to ensure the organization is in compliance with federal regulations concerning safe working conditions. In addition to compliance activities, HR functions include mitigating risk through developing programs that improve safety for employees and customers.