12 Important Things HR Can’t Tell You (But Want You to Know)

From how complaints work to what will not get you hired, here are a dozen things HR departments want employees to know, but may not (legally) be able to tell them.
Updated Dec. 28, 2023
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There are certain things every employee will eventually need from their company’s human resources (HR) department.

HR professionals wear many different hats. They may recruit new employees, manage compensation and benefits, help train and develop employees, and monitor employee relations.

With all this responsibility comes a certain level of secrecy since HR professionals may not legally be allowed to disclose certain information to employees. 

To help keep you secure in your job and maybe help you retire early, here are 12 things your HR department may want you to know but probably can’t tell you.

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Not everything is confidential

Atstock Productions/Adobe businessman with hands crossed on table

You may assume that any issue brought to an HR department should be kept completely confidential. However, there are some situations where HR professionals do have to break employee anonymity.

When a sexual harassment complaint is filed, for example, the HR representative may be legally required to take action and launch an investigation that involves the person who filed the complaint.

A big ego won’t get you hired

Strelciuc/Adobe happy  african american woman holding laptop

You may be coming into a job interview with a killer resume, but HR professionals recommend checking the ego at the door.

Just because you feel extremely qualified for a job does not mean you’ll get it. During recruitment, HR is looking for key skills like being hard-working, a team player, and a willingness to get to know what the job requires.

If you come in the door assuming you already know everything, there’s a big chance the HR team is less impressed than they would be if you demonstrated a willingness to learn.

Don’t disclose too much to work friends

Halfpoint/Adobe entrepreneurs enjoying outdoor party

Having friends you get along with at work is great and can make your job so much more enjoyable.

But HR professionals want employees to be wary of sharing too much in the workplace or at work-related events. It’s important to always maintain a certain level of professionalism, even if you’re at a company happy hour. 

Don’t assume that some personal information you disclosed to a colleague after too many beers won’t make its way back to the office.

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Seek out development opportunities

kasto/Adobe people in conference hall attending seminar

Many jobs offer employees the opportunity to engage in professional development activities — from attending conferences and signing up for classes to seeking out related certifications.

If you can make yourself a more qualified employee on the company’s dime (perhaps your job covers travel fees for conferences), HR professionals urge you to take advantage of this.

Use your benefits

Vasyl/Adobe young ophthalmologist checking young man

On a related note, HR professionals want their employees to take advantage of the benefits they’re paying for.

Do you have a 401K set up with your job? Have you been using all of your paid time off? Do you actually use the health benefits you pay for (like regular visits to the dentist or eye doctor)?

If the answer to any of these questions is no, get in touch with your HR department for some information about what your benefits are and learn how to take advantage of those.

Be careful what you post online

escapejaja/Adobe reacting on social media using smartphone

With people all over the world on social media these days, it goes without saying that you should be careful of what you’re posting online while on the job hunt.

It’s easy enough for an HR department to find potential employees’ social media accounts. Even if your profiles are private, unprofessional information posted to social media can follow you into your professional life.

Seek out feedback

fizkes/Adobe employees from different ethnicity having a conversation

Even if your boss isn’t the best at providing constructive feedback, HR professionals note that seeking out feedback from others within the company leads to successful employees.

It may even be helpful to get feedback on a project you’re working on from someone in a different department who may be able to offer unbiased advice.

When seeking or receiving feedback, it’s important to take everything with a grain of salt. Try not to be offended if someone suggests a different approach. You don’t have to take a colleague’s suggestions.

Don’t bring drama to work

len44ik/Adobe man working from home on desktop

Employees should also avoid bringing personal drama into the workplace where possible.

If you show up late to work because you were fighting with a partner or air your relationship issues out for the whole office to hear, your employer may lose trust in your ability to be professional.

If you do need to inform your employer about a personal situation — perhaps you need to leave work early due to an issue at your kid’s school — there is a professional way to bring this up to your boss.

They can ask about your health

Drazen/Adobe businesswoman covering nose with tissue in office

Many employees would be shocked to know that employers can ask about your health — but legally, you are not required to disclose certain health-related information.

Your HR department may ask about your health if the information can help them make reasonable adjustments for you or other employees or for monitoring purposes.

If you have a very serious allergy, for example, the HR department may ask about what they need to do should you have a reaction at work.

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They can mislead staff

bnenin/Adobe employees in meeting room

Lie is a strong word, but there are certainly many situations where HR departments have to mislead or omit certain details when talking to employees.

For example, if promotions are underway, but the HR department is waiting on paperwork, they may have to lie by omission to any employee who asks about it until the paperwork is finalized.

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You can be put on discipline plans

Nina Lawrenson/peopleimages.com/Adobe employees working on desktop

The HR department can put employees on a discipline plan if their performance needs to improve in some way.

A discipline plan would likely be discussed with the employee’s manager first and they would be involved in the planning process.

If you are put on one of these plans, you do have the right to speak to HR about the process at any point.

They can tell new employers if you were fired

bnenin/Adobe business woman talking with an employee

If you’re in the process of applying for a new job, the HR department at your old job is free to discuss the terms of your departure if a potential employer calls them to ask. This includes if you were fired.

Generally, HR departments don’t disclose too much information about past employees when asked. Due to legal restrictions, companies tend to be very careful about how much information they give out.

Bottom line

Prostock-studio/Adobe businesswoman holding tablet in office

Your HR department can be a great resource for all employees, especially new hires who are still trying to get a handle on how things work.

But these departments represent both the individual employees and the company overall. That means that they may not always be able to be as open as they’d like with employees.

To help boost your bank account and put your job in jeopardy, keep these HR tips in mind.

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Author Details

Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore Laura Gesualdi-Gilmore is a seasoned freelance writer who also teaches writing courses at Rutgers University. She's based in Jersey City and enjoys travel, live music and, of course, spending quality time with her pup.

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