HR: your friend or your foe?

Picture the scenario. Your manager calls a meeting and politely informs you that the business is struggling, the staff headcount has to be reduced and you are first on the chopping block. Redundancy confirmed, you are placed in the capable hands of human resources, which manages your exit from the company smoothly, treating you with respect and dignity at every stage.

This wasn’t Maria’s experience. She explains: “I was working 12- to 14-hour days as a PA at an events organiser where the chief executive was highly unpleasant (she once sacked a woman because she had to take a fortnight off when her stepdad died of cancer). I eventually needed anti-depressants and had to reduce my hours to 10-12 a day but my stress increased and this, coupled with other problems, resulted in me making an attempt to take my own life.

“The doctor signed me off for two weeks but at 8am on my first morning back the HR manager joined my boss and me in a meeting and it quickly became clear that I was being fired with immediate effect.”

To Maria’s astonishment, and despite having received a glowing end-of-year assessment, her employer began claiming the standard of her work had been unsatisfactory. “I should have been given a warning that I would be attending a disciplinary meeting and thus be entitled to have another member of staff with me, and a whole host of other things – all of this according to the company handbook drafted by the very woman sitting opposite me,” she says.

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