In a perfect organization, the relationship between human resources and department managers would be strong. HR leadership and departmental leadership should speak with one voice when it comes to employment matters and maintaining a productive workforce. Attorney and HR consultant Wendy Bliss summed up the relationship between HR and department managers this way in a white paper titled, "Will the HR Manager Please Stand?" "The HR department designs and develops people management processes; line and staff managers implement and use them."


In many organizations, the HR manager's peers are other departmental managers. For example, the HR manager's counterparts are department managers for sales, finance, facilities and so on. Given the structure of some organizations, the HR department manager is responsible for ensuring departmental managers handle workforce issues consistent with the company's policy. These managers are peers, yet the HR manager -- and, in some cases, an HR generalist -- may have the final word on employment decisions, such as discipline, suspension and termination.


When a department manager intends to carry out employee discipline or counseling, she might contact HR to determine if the employee's action or behavior warrants discipline. In addition, the department manager and HR discuss the level of discipline that's appropriate for the action -- whether a verbal or written warning is sufficient, or if the employee must be suspended. In the event of egregious misconduct or willful violations of company policy, the two managers will discuss termination. Throughout this process, the HR manager has the expertise required to guide the decision that's most closely aligned with company policy and applicable employment laws.


One of HR's goals is to empower department managers so that they can handle their departmental employment matters without seeking the advice and counsel of HR every time a disciplinary action needs to be approved. Empowering departmental leadership entails teaching them about employment law, fair employment practices and workplace policies. Although many organizations provide department managers and supervisors with leadership training that includes a review of employment law, they must have more extensive training to make the kinds of decisions that HR supports, such as firing an employee.


Another aspect of employment that HR provides guidance on is workforce planning. Again, HR has the expertise necessary to advise department managers on succession planning and future workforce needs as they relate to organizational change. For example, when a department manager has two equally qualified employees and only one opportunity for advancement, he seeks the help of HR to make a prudent decision concerning promotion. Factors such past performance, aptitude and compensation go into the making a decision. HR is helpful in providing a well-rounded perspective to department managers facing difficult choices.