Should we get tougher on discipline? (Analysis)

HR professionals vulnerable to retaliatory complaints

Perhaps more than any other Pulse Survey to date, this one has surfaced differing perspectives on the HR profession. A good number of respondents were unclear about the discipline process and the role of a provincial association in the professional discipline process.

Some did not see any role for provincial associations in the discipline of members and felt this should be left up to employers. Others saw effective discipline as the hallmark of a true profession and something we should set out to do well.

But the situation is different from one provincial jurisdiction to the next. In some jurisdictions, the authority and obligation of an association to discipline members have already been enshrined in legislation for some time, whereas in other provincial jurisdictions, they are not. The question is not whether associations should get involved in disciplining members but how can they best live up to the obligation of disciplining members.

There is clearly the need for more information, and discussion, on the topic of professional discipline. Consider, for instance, the size of the “not sure” response. When asked whether we, as a profession, should get tougher (more active, more vigilant) with discipline, 45.3 per cent of respondents felt we should put more focus on disciplinary matters. Only 13.5 per cent were of the opinion we should not, but 41.2 per cent were not sure they understood the implications well enough to have a definite opinion.

For other questions, the size of the “not sure” response was always significant — ranging from 21.5 per cent to 29.4 per cent.

In regards to whether the profession should get tougher with discipline, there were no statistically significant differences across tenure in HR, provinces, seniority or size of organization. But there was a significant difference between designation status groups.

Overall, 45.3 per cent felt we should put more focus on disciplinary matters. For respondents with no professional designation, that figure was 40.9 per cent, rising to 42.7 per cent for those with a CHRP and 52.8 per cent for those with some other HR designation. This puts CHRPs among the most reticent in regards to professional discipline.

Respondents with a non-HR professional designation were most likely to say HR should put more focus on disciplinary matters, at 62.3 per cent. Perhaps this relates to the evolving maturity of HR as a profession.

Why are some HR professionals so leery of professional discipline? Many respondents made the point that HR professionals, because of the nature of HR work, may be particularly vulnerable to vindictive and retaliatory complaints by disgruntled employees or ex-employees. Others were concerned HR professionals may be held accountable for actions that were forced upon them by their employer.

HR professionals were decidedly more reticent about the idea disciplinary proceedings should be made public — 60.3 per cent were against this practice. This is not surprising given the difficulties involved.

There are two competing interests at play — protection of the public would necessitate the disclosure of discipline decisions, but professionals also have expectations of privacy. There is also a distinction to be made between investigations that do not lead to discipline or lead to unsuccessful discipline proceedings and those with findings of professional misconduct. Where the line is drawn can be tricky and depends on the specific provisions of the enabling legislation.

Survey respondents were similarly torn with respect to the investigation of those convicted of a criminal offence (46.1 per cent said “yes” versus 31.4 per cent who said “no”) or the requirement to report other HR professionals who may have been guilty of misconduct (38.2 per cent said “yes” versus 35.9 per cent who said “no”). Some respondents were concerned about fostering a “snitch culture” but many respondents felt something should be done about those whose behaviour was impacting the reputation of the profession — and all HR professionals had a role to play in this.

Claude Balthazard is director of HR excellence and acting registrar of the Human Resources Professionals Association in Toronto. He can be reached at [email protected].

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