Life can be hard sometimes. You get up early in the morning, trudge to work, deal with loads of people who have varying opinions about you, and finally go home at the end of the day. But if someone takes out their frustrations by, say, sending you flying over the cubicles with a Megaton Punch
, at least you can always go to Human Resources, tell them what happened, and have the guilty party out the door, facing a lawsuit and maybe in police custody by the end of the day. Right?
If you're living in a television show, probably not, because in fiction there is No Such Thing as H.R.
. Whether it's the Cowboy Cop
decking a paper-pushing Desk Jockey
who orders him to turn in his badge
, the crazy boss who's a firm believer in George Jetson Job Security
, or the office's resident Psychopathic Manchild
mail clerk, it seems that Violence Really Is the Answer
If the victim's a Bad Ass
hero, the Jerk Ass
co-worker who started the fight's probably going to quickly find himself taking a dive. If it's the Anti-Hero
doing the punching, expect his target, probably an Obstructive Bureaucrat
, to also be a Sissy Villain
. Just don't expect the situation to escalate into meetings with managers and termination notices, and certainly don't expect anyone to get arrested on assault charges.
This trope stems from a certain amount of Truth in Television
, at least historically: a "Human Resources" department is a fairly recent concept, and there are plenty of historical periods when people did settle most of their disputes with fistfights or worse
. It's also somewhat justifiable in settings where there's no legal system for people to turn to: fantasy heroes, hardened criminals and After the End
survivors probably aren't in a position to file grievances. But if it's a modern, everyday setting, and otherwise respectable people are routinely pounding each other flat in Curb Stomp Battles
, it's simply because there's no such thing as HR.
In dramatic storylines, this is used primarily to keep the character conflict and development building without having to complicate things or slow down the plot by bringing in the outside world, while in action/adventure and comedies, it's more likely to simply be all-out Rule of Cool
and Rule of Funny
If there is
an HR Department, they will almost always be horrible, horrible people
See also Fiction Is Not Fair
, George Jetson Job Security
, and Ultimate Job Security
. Compare with No OSHA Compliance
and contrast with Can't Get Away with Nuthin'
. Not to be confused with Human Resources in any way
. See There Are No Therapists
for another industry whose absence stops people solving their problems like grown-ups.
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- Neil La Bute's In the Company of Men portrays two He-Man Woman Hater office workers who curse, swindle and manipulate their way through the movie, with most of the story revolving around their romancing and dumping a female coworker to prove that they can. While the movie's point is that Humans Are Bastards, none of the numerous victims ever seem to turn to any higher authorities than these two mid-level, temporary managers. While one of them might be enough of a Manipulative Bastard to get out of trouble, the other most definitely isn't, and the issue never comes up either way.
- Indeed, the only time it arises in the story is when the Manipulative Bastard himself reports all of his partner's misdeeds and gets him in trouble for their shared offenses.
- The 2009 Star Trek eats, drinks and breathes this trope. The film more or less begins with Kirk getting into a bar fight that leaves him covered in blood and bruises: Captain Pike responds afterward by recruiting him into Starfleet Academy, with no apparent attempt to identify or apprehend the Starfleet cadet who administered the beating. Later, Kirk and Spock get into a prolonged fight while the bridge crew watches on. It only ends when Spock realizes he's crossing the line and stands down.
- Additionally, the aforementioned cadet who spearheaded the beating is later seen working as a security guard (and may possibly be the security chief) on the same ship the man who stopped the beating (Captain Pike) was captain of. The guard detains Kirk and remembers who he was from the aforementioned beating, mocking him by saying "Cupcake". He then brings him to the bridge and stands around watching while Spock (who at the time is the acting captain) beats the crap out of Kirk, which proves to be so shocking that Spock relinquishes command immediately after. Even though any sane person would have had him reprimanded for gross negligence, he gets off scot-free when Kirk assumes command of the Enterprise.
- Double Subverted in The Incredibles, where Mr. Incredible gets fired for punching his boss through fifteen cubicles. Oddly enough, the main issue the authorities seem to have with it was that doing this revealed he had Super Strength, thus violating a law saying that superheroes are not allowed to exercise their powers. Nobody seems to have a problem with the fact that he took out his frustration on his boss by punching him, possibly because they thought that the guy had it coming.
- Clerks, full stop. Dante and Randal do pretty much whatever they want at the Quick Stop and survive the day with no repercussions, mainly because the bosses are far away, giving their orders by phone.
- In the Harry Potter series, this trope also seems to come into play in a metaphorical way with Professor Snape: despite Hogwarts having a benevolent headmaster and staff, he seems to get away with stunning amounts of cruelty without any students thinking to bring it up to their parents or other teachers. Various justifying factors may exist, ranging from a more traditionally British culture that doesn't see a problem with a bullying teacher, to the Ministry of Magic's general incompetence, to the necessity of Dumbledore keeping Snape in his teaching position, regardless of his behavior. The movie series dodges the issue by softening his character into a more reserved Deadpan Snarker.
- And the Snape of the books is supposed to be based on a teacher J.K. Rowling had while she was in her teens.
- Umbridge's High Inquisitor job was sort of an HR-type position. However, she abused her power and was even crueler than Snape. By the end of the book, she eliminates nearly every teacher except for Snape. (The incompetent ghost teacher also gets a pass, but his pedagogy is more or less like Umbridge's without the punishments.) She does put Snape on probation at the end, but this is based on Insane Troll Logic rather than any one of the numerous things he would actually deserve to be put on probation for.
- Charles Stross' The Laundry Series inverts this trope, or just zig-zags with it. The Laundry does have a human resources department, but it is often the cause of the problems that in Real Life they'd be expected to solve. This is partly just because of Rule of Funny, partly because of the spy setting, partly because almost no one chooses to work at the Laundry and so they take their frustrations out on each other, and also partly because of the Ultimate Job Security - no one, neither HR personnel nor the people they're supposed to oversee, can be fired until they screw up big enough to get killed.
- In The Man With The Terrible Eyes, employees at Iotech are subjected to memory rewrites, torture, human experimentation, gunfire, explosions, monstrous shadow monsters being released from the cells in the basement. No one ever gets in trouble for all this. Probably helps that the Supervisor has done worse.
Live Action Television
- Torchwood has its HR concentrated in its boss, Captain Jack Harkness, which is basically the show's way of looking at this trope then doubling over from a laughing attack. In fact, while he does exercise the authority to make his team do as he says, one can lose count of when they have defied his command to the point all of them have Ultimate Job Security, threats of Retcon be damned. He also happens to have no policy whatsoever regarding office fraternization (mostly because he has the biggest libido in said office), and while Torchwood-3 has a thick enough veneer to pass as a serious organization (albeit understaffed), everyone from Jack on down has violated every security protocol ever established for Torchwood and has, through accidental or deliberate action, nearly screwed the entire planet over due to sheer incompetence/arrogance/idiocy to the point the HR division of his duties seems like the most hilariously ironic joke in the Whoiniverse.
- Much Star Trek fan confusion has arisen over the Unfortunate Implications of McCoy's constant verbal abuse of Spock as a "green blooded bastard", among many other terms of endearment, all to Captain Kirk's amusement. There's some justification in the show being written in The Sixties (later Trek series reserved such blatant Fantastic Racism for Aesop purposes), and in that Spock never seems anything less than amused by the insults (and gives as good as he gets), though its setting in a Utopian future aboard a military vessel makes Kirk and the crew's tacit approval of such behavior all the more baffling. And then it turns into an actual fight in "Day of the Dove," with McCoy smearing Spock, Spock getting angry and coldly announcing his dislike of the whole human race, tensions rise, Kirk gets in the middle pointing out loudly that Spock's half human...which, despite being the only thing that wasn't technically an insult, is the line-crossing that makes him realize something is very wrong here, and then they start tracking down the latest emotion-manipulating Monster of the Week.
- McCoy appears to be slightly outside normal chain-of-command concerns as Chief Medical Officer, too, and Star Fleet is pretty relaxed and technically nonmilitary at this point in history. It comes up once that they have no fraternization regs, and trust that to the discretion of the officers involved. (Kirk having mega-discretion here, interestingly, is how it gets brought up.)
- Averted in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Counselor Troi's job is basically an HR manager, although in true Star Trek tradition she seems to be the only person in her department. On the command side are a few references in the series to staffing issues that reach the level of disciplinary action being the job of the first officer, and Riker sometimes team up to deal with them. You can see this in Hollow Pursuits, where La Forge reports Barclay's holodeck addiction to Riker. Other times, inexplicably, it's just Troi, despite the fact she's not technically in the chain of command for anyone on the ship, at least not until season seven when she takes the bridge officer exam.
- Subverted in a specific episode of Next Generation, Silicon Avatar. When a specialist arrives on the Enterprise, she's judgmental and hateful of Data, later turning out to be looking for an excuse to get him disassembled. Picard intentionally assigns them together to work on research, against Troi's wishes. When asked why, he explains that if her personal views are going to be a problem he "needs to know now," implying if it turned out to be needed, the specialist would be either relieved of duty or closely supervised.
- FBI agent Paul Ballard's rather famous for his lack of police decorum in Dollhouse, but when he gets into a grappling, head-slamming fight with another agent in his office over a personal insult, it's hard to imagine how he's able to continue going about his investigation afterward.
- The American version of The Office plays this trope for comedy; it's somewhat justified in that incompetent office manager Michael serves as a buffer between the employees and the rest of the company, and the two HR managers seen might as well not be there in terms of effectiveness and ability. When the home office eventually discovers just how chaotic things have become under Michael's watch, they react with appropriate panic, and even more Hilarity Ensues.
- Specifically, Michael ostracizes Toby and dates Holly. In a way, it's genius.
- In an 8th season episode, when Toby is asked to do something in regard to Nellie basically stealing Andy's job and then firing him, he tells everyone "HR is a joke."
- In the series Grand Finale Kevin is finally fired for utter incompetence and then Toby is fired right afterwards for being so useless.
- Given a Hand Wave in Professional Wrestling with the wrestlers preferring to beat the crap out of each other in the ring in revenge. This gets flimsier and flimsier every time a wrestler supposedly refuses to press criminal charges for the same reasons, despite being run over, set on fire and/or home invasions.
- It's important to maintain the illusion that all of this could really be happening. In a world where Robocop is real, The Undertaker is somehow undead, and doctors, lawyers, tax collectors and garbagemen can also be professional wrestlers while keeping their day jobs. And then show up a year later with a completely different persona.
- Actually, it does make a bit of sense when a Heel attacks a Face. The logic being that if the face was to try to get legal satisfaction against the heel, the heel (being evil) would just use his nefarious resources to hire lawyers designed to drag out the case as long as possible, thus a) bankrupting the face with legal bills and b) the heel would probably win the case due to his slimy, smarmy, fast-talking lawyer. It actually makes sense (well, as much as wrestling can make sense) that the face would just wait until the Pay per View where he KNOWS he will get a chance to rip the heel apart with his bare hands, with no legal repercussions. When the attacker is a face however...
- In Angel Wolfram and Hart, being a law firm specializing in catering to and employing demons, vampires, warlocks and criminals, didn't have a lot of time for resolving employee disputes with anything but death. Things didn't improve much when Angel took over, though he did add a personal touch. That is, he'd call you into his office and cut off your head instead of having people dragged off by security. Wesley shot two employees, one fatally, one in the knee for suggesting that the entire department couldn't all work on the same thing, and stabbed another. Though they were all involved with what happened to Fred, and Wesley and Sanity have never been friends where she's concerned. It helps that they feel most of their employees deserve to die, so they didn't have much of an incentive to set up proper conflict resolution. Harmony also staked a secretary in full view of most of the management, during a business meeting. Though she probably would have got in trouble if the demons they were meeting with hadn't assumed it was a blood sacrifice and taken it as an apology for their earlier treatment.
- The Los Angeles branch of CTU in 24 was subject to so many instances of this trope that the entire locale of the series was changed in Season 7 because of it. To note, several employees were tortured and forced to go back to work, computer technicians were verbally harassed by other co-workers and several acting administrators abused their power over employees. Any attempts to change the status quo were usually done by an internal coup, and CTU was later disbanded as a result of these violations.
- The staff in the hospital in Scrubs spends a lot of time abusing eachother verbally and physically, usually but not always sparing their boss. Dr. Cox even punched Dr. Kelso, Chief of Medicine, in the face once.
- Justified in-universe: Kelso is so much of a jerk that everyone took Cox's side and testified that they hadn't seen anything, making it Kelso's word against theirs.
- Kelso also seems to think that the most effective way to maintain a stable employee environment is to make him the central figure of everybody's hatred. The effectiveness of this is... debateable.
- The IT Crowd is set in a business where swearing, violence and sexual harassment seem to be a daily occurrence (Played for Laughs, of course), yet they rarely have any lasting effect. Oddly, they actually do seem to have a H.R. Department when it suits them - for instance, Moss is sent to a psychologist at one point after he tells everyone that Jen has died.
- Lampshaded and inverted in Dilbert in that there is an HR department that's very involved in office affairs, but it's run by the gloatingly evil Catbert, who delights in making the employees' problems worse.
Scott Adams: Like cats, HR people don't care whether humans live or die, as long as they get fed, and they like to play with their prey before making them redundant.
- The premise of Archer, ISIS is a spy organization with incompetent employees. Pam, head of Human Resources, is a Fat Idiot, makes passes at everyone, and is tremendous gossip. Nothing stops the rampant sexual harassment, gunfire wounds and other inter-office debacles, such as Archer Pam and making her pee in fear. In Archer's case, he keeps his job because his mother is the head of the company, but that doesn't explain many of the other employees.
- In The Simpsons, all the hiring and firing in the nuclear plant is done by Burns himself. Not only is there no HR, but there's apparently no management hierarchy (except for one of the earliest episodes where Homer gets fired by Sherri and Terri's dad).
- Averted in Futurama, where they have a bureaucrat employed for these kinds of purposes. In fact, the bureaucrats seem to have an organisation of their own, with one assigned to each company.