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How can I talk to HR when the director is the owner’s wife?

THE QUESTION

I have a problem with the owner of the company I work for that should really be resolved by Human Resources. But how do you handle that situation when the director of HR is the owner's wife?

THE FIRST ANSWER

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Eleanor James, Communications consultant, the James Institute, Toronto

The conflict of interest in the company's managerial structure has you between a rock and a hard place. You want to resolve the problem rather than take a more rash or destructive path, and that's good. Do some homework and contact the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) for assistance, which will be directed by the specific nature and scope of the problem. They might also direct you to an independent HR professional who could be a third party.

When you have the information, arrange to meet with your HR director, which is the proper channel and a no-fault move for you. Prepare yourself well for the meeting; think carefully about what you want to say and how you're going to say it, including the problem, how it's affecting your work and any suggestions you have. Choose your words carefully, use non-accusatory language and take out any emotional tone. Write it down and rehearse it out loud, a few times. All this preparation will calm you and greatly reduce your chances of inflaming the issue. You never know, the HR director might see your point or even agree with you. If not, there are lots of resources available based on what you want to do.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Eileen Dooley Vice-president, Gilker McRae, Calgary

Having a problem with any owner of a business presents limitations on what you can do. Having family members in key leadership roles poses additional issues.

Perhaps, even though the two work together, they may have a separation with respect to work. The director of Human Resources may very well be approachable in discussing difficult matters regardless of her relationship with the owner. Some companies even have non-retaliation policies, which are supposed to protect employees who bring up concerns with the company.

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If the concern has to do with a matter where Human Resources would typically be brought into the fold, such as harassment, discrimination, or any violation of human rights or workplace law, it is the right thing to do to bring it to the attention of someone who can invoke change. You would naturally start internally, but you may also want to consider bringing these types of matters to the attention of your local employment standards office.

If neither of these two options is viable, you may want to ask yourself if it makes sense to move past the issue, or walk away entirely.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that minefield? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com

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