Who is your head of Human Resources? In a small company, that person often has many hats, and their primary training was not in HR. I know because these people come to me asking questions that should be basic HR.

No problem. You can answer basic HR questions with a quick Google search or a quick phone call to an expert. But when things really go downhill, you need an experienced HR person who knows how to act now. Sometimes there is no time for a phone call or a text message.

While we can all hope that the most difficult ask your HR head deals with is helping an employee through a request for a leave of absence. But that's unlikely, and you will regret having an inexperienced person at your helm when these things happen.

1. Workplace violence.

How do you handle it when a male employee plays a "joke" on a female employee by jumping out of a dark corner and putting a plastic bag over her head? The employee believed it was OK, because "he removed it when he realized she was upset/unable to breathe."

The experienced HR manager, Rebecca Goldbach, saw to it that the company terminated him immediately. But this wasn't the only workplace violence she faced that week: There were four other cases. The company terminated all five offenders, but four appealed, and Goldbach had to testify in the grievance hearings to make sure the terminations stuck.

Without an experienced HR person, your business could easily lose your case. Knowing how to conduct an investigation, and keeping records, are critical to your day in court or before a grievance board.

2. Violence at home.

Sometimes the crisis doesn't happen in the office, but you still need strong HR to help an employee. HR leader Robin Schooling recounts that the worst behavior she's seen has come from employees' partners. She has done all of the following after employees' partners or family members had abused, beaten, or almost killed the employee.

  1. Helping an employee find a safe place to live and calling the police after her partner almost killed her.
  2. Sitting with an employee as she called a shelter.
  3. Arranged for an emergency leave of absence.
  4. Taking an employee for medical care because her hair was ripped out at the scalp.

Domestic violence is common, and when one of your employees experiences it, they are likely to come to HR for help. And HR needs to help. Some state laws require that companies provide a leave of absence and other support. Do you know your state laws?

3. Embezzlement claims.

Carrie Corbin, managing director of Corbin Global Consultants, had an embezzling accountant she had to investigate--against the company president's advice. The employee built a relationship with a bank teller, opened a new account, whitewashed and forged checks, and paid her American Express bill with company funds.

Instead of allowing a situation to get worse, Corbin did the legwork to put this all together and found out that the employee was claiming unemployment in another state as well. After this, the company president finally understood the importance of financial safeguards, like two signatures on checks.

An inexperienced or weak HR manager probably would have backed down rather than standing up to the boss. Corbin's boss should be thankful that he invested in experienced HR.

4. A violent employee.

This is an example of what happens when you don't have someone to address a problem. An HR consultant, who would like to remain anonymous, represented a client in an unemployment case. The case was standard: time fraud.

But she quickly realized there was far more than a little time card fudging when her client said there needed to be a metal detector in the building, and they should check for snipers on the roof. 

The consultant asked, "You are so worried about this guy's violent behavior that you think he might be a sniper, but you didn't do anything in the last five years to address it? You just lived in terror?"

That was pretty much the answer. Without well-trained HR reps, who know how to address complex employment matters like this, they just ignored the problem and hoped for the best. 

You may think that none of your employees will ever be as bad as these employees, or that no one that you hire will ever experience domestic violence. It would be great if that were true. But without quality HR, you won't be prepared should something like this happen.