It fails to surprise me any more when I get this question. I have heard it so many times over the years. At first I was shocked. How was it possible that a working adult doesn't know what Human Resources is or what an HR professional does. I thought they were a bit oblivious.

Then it occurred to me; I am the one who was oblivious. I lacked the understanding then that out of the myriad of work situations, most employers don't have the infrastructure big enough or have operated for many years without this component. No exposure. One of my favorite adages really applies here - you don't know what you don't know.

With that understanding, I offer the following information to answer that question.

What Are HR Responsibilities?
On the most basic level, HR is involved in recruiting, hiring, employment conditions, employee assistance and counseling, benefits, compensation, training, discipline, firing--just about anything that involves employees and their working lives.

There are some general areas of responsibility that characterize most HR departments, which include:
Employee and labor relations--Equal employment opportunity compliance, dispute resolution, union efforts, negotiations and arbitration, employee communications
Staffing--Forecasting, recruitment and selection, hiring, orientation, retention, performance management, discipline and termination
Performance -- Helping supervisors assess an employee's specific and overall performance, and documenting performance accurately
Benefits--Health insurance, workers' compensation plans, pension, profit-sharing, and 401(k) plans, other retirement benefits, work and family programs, vacations, leaves of absence
Compensation--Wage and salary programs, job classifications, performance appraisals, salary surveys, incentive and bonus programs
Training and development--Management training, supervisory and nonsupervisory training, skills-based training, team-building, career development, organizational development
Compliance--Keeping track of state and federal employment law and requirements, and keeping managers and supervisors informed of what they need to do
Recordkeeping--Maintaining accurate records to help prove your compliance with government recordkeeping and reporting requirements, as well as to defend your decisions on such matters as hiring, discipline, and compensation
Planning--Strategic planning, restructuring, mergers and acquisitions, succession planning
Miscellaneous--Safety, facilities management, medical services, employee services

Many businesses without an HR professional divvy up these responsibilities amongst their administrative team or have a point person to handle most of these while other elements don't even get addressed. Most of the time they are handled in an ad hoc fashion. All in all a bit risky. Of course you know my point of view, best to get your HR ducks in a row.