The primary function of human resources is to ensure the company complies with federal and state labor and employment laws, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970. Employees are the HR department's internal customers; therefore, HR's obligation to serve its customers is another function of the department. Within those two areas -- compliance and customer service -- the core responsibilities of HR include transactional and functional activities, such as establishing compensation structure, addressing employee relations matters, recruiting qualified applicants and maintaining workplace safety.


The HR department is responsible for posting job vacancies, conducting preliminary interviews and coordinating pre-employment processes, such as drug testing, background investigations and reference checks. In small businesses, these positions may be filled by HR generalists, who have expertise in every HR discipline. Therefore, the company doesn't need to hire an employment specialist or a recruiter to perform these tasks. These core responsibilities ensure that candidates are properly vetted and that the organization has adequate staff.


Employers have an obligation to provide a safe work environment. HR's primary responsibility related to workplace safety is compliance with federal guidelines established by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Specific activities include monitoring safety equipment, training employees on the proper handling of complex machinery and potentially dangerous chemicals, and providing ergonomically sound office equipment and seating. In addition, HR develops workplace safety policies, such as evacuation plans and policies that address workplace violence. HR is also responsible for implementing the organization's drug-free workplace policy.

Employee Relations

When employee issues arise or when there are supervisor-employee or employee-employee conflicts, HR's responsibility is to process employee complaints, investigate and resolve those issues. Workplace issues could range from an employee's dissatisfaction with her performance appraisal to an employee alleging that her supervisor engaged in improper behavior, such as sexual harassment. These activities fall under the HR employee relations area, and they generally are performed by an HR staff member who is specially trained to handle sensitive workplace issues. The HR staff member who handles these matters is also the company representative for legal matters and the liaison between legal counsel and the organization.

Compensation and Benefits

Wage-setting and negotiating rates for group health insurance coverage are core responsibilities of HR. Specific tasks that HR handles include administering the compensation plan and ensuring there's pay equity throughout the workforce. In addition, benefits specialists or someone with authority to negotiate on the company's behalf shops for benefits such as health insurance coverage, workers compensation and disability insurance. Another responsibility of HR includes processing employees' leave requests covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act.


HR leadership establishes goals for the HR department, and importantly, participates in the decision-making process for determining the overall strategic direction of the company. In highly structured organizations, HR generally has input on all business decisions because human resources are among the most valuable resources that an organization has. Specific functions include reporting to the executive team about succession planning, compliance issues and the effect that compensation has on employee satisfaction and the company's reputation.