An employee relations specialist is usually the person within a company or government agency who monitors various aspects of employee performance and well-being. This professional also often investigates and coordinates disciplinary actions, claims of discrimination or harassment, and sometimes labor disputes. In small organizations, the employee relations specialist may perform these and a number of other functions, but in a large corporation or government entity, these duties are often performed by an entire department. He or she is typically part of the human resources department, but in some organizations this position is found within the legal department.
One of the most basic employee relations specialist duties is that of liaison. The person in this position typically fields employee complaints or concerns, as well as requests for information, guidance, and counseling. After reviewing the organization's policies and any applicable laws, the specialist will then determine the appropriate course of action. This specialist facilitates communication between employees, management, benefits coordinators, labor unions, mediators, and attorneys. As a liaison, the specialist may also be consulted for clarification of company policies, safety and health programs, and disciplinary actions.
In some organizations, the employee relations specialist may serve as an intake counselor for employees dealing with drug and alcohol addictions, health problems, or other personal problems that may interfere with work life. If the company offers an employee assistance plan, the employee relations coordinator handles intake and refers employees for further counseling and treatment, if necessary. Specialists in this are may assist employees in finding outside resources for legal or marital problems. They may also be involved in administering the company's health and wellness programs and smoking cessation programs. By assisting employees with personal issues, many organizations find they have a healthier and more productive workforce.
Employee relations professionals are often involved in disciplinary actions and involuntary termination of employment. The specialist will normally review company policy and advise management about what is appropriate as a next course of action. In cases of involuntary termination, the employee relations specialist may handle administration of final paperwork and conduct an exit interview. Some organizations offer retraining or placement assistance when employees have lost their jobs due to outsourcing or automation.
The employee relations department often handles complaints of discrimination based on race, religion, gender, age, and disability. In the United States, for example, the Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) forbid discrimination in certain cases, and the company's EEO compliance officer is typically classified as an employee relations specialist or manager. This position may also be responsible for training and advising employees about how to avoid discrimination or the appearance of discrimination. If the organization has a policy against sexual harassment in the workplace, this specialist will also investigate these types of claims and recommend appropriate disciplinary action, if necessary. He or she may also be responsible for conducting the company's harassment awareness training as a preventative measure.
Specialists who deal primarily with disputes between employees and management are sometimes called labor relations specialists. This specialist may serve as a first-step mediator, attempting to resolve minor issues before they become major ones. If the employees are part of a union, the labor relations specialist may assist in negotiating labor contracts and collective bargaining agreements. The labor union may also employ a labor relations specialist to negotiate on behalf of the employees.
Most entry-level positions require some college education, typically a bachelor's degree; higher level specialists typically hold a graduate degree. Applicants often have a degree in human resources or labor relations, but sometimes a general business degree will suffice. On a personal level, employee relations specialists must have exceptional communication and interpersonal skills. They should be patient, pleasant, and understanding, with the ability to remain calm and diffuse tense or angry situations. This type of worker handles sensitive and highly personal information on a daily basis, so he or she should have the ability to maintain confidentiality in a mature and non-judgmental manner.