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Labor & Employment Law: Strategic HR Lawyer
Why HR Professionals Shoud Never Rely on "the Law" as the Source of Their Power
One of my biggest pet peeves and one of the biggest things that human resources professionals rely upon as a source of power is touting the law. The law gives you power. The law makes you look smart. If you tell your managers that they cannot do something because it's illegal, they actually listen to you. On the other hand, if you tell them not to do something because it just makes sense, you are ignored. So what do human resources practitioners do? Cite the law as the basis for all of their decisions and communicate in that manner.
I once knew a human resources manager who cited her outside labor and employment counsel continuously, all the time, to the point where it was nauseating. She forgot several important concepts. First, lawyers give advice on the law. Business people run businesses. This means that lawyers don't actually tell you what to do. Your job is to interpret what they say and apply it in your business. Second, most of the time when a lawyer tells a human resources person something it is a recommendation. Companies ignore lawyers all the time. Trust me, I know this. Lastly, using lawyers in this fashion gets really expensive. If the human resources professional is calling the lawyer to figure out how to run human resources, that's a problem.
What the human resources manager in the above example failed to realize is that she did absolutely nothing to help her credibility. In fact, she made herself look incompetent. She could not convince someone to do something because it was right, ethical correct, reasonable, or based on good judgment. Eventually, everyone ignored her and gave up asking her anything.
The problem here becomes even further compounded because once the human resources professional falls into this trap, the constituents begin to question his/her answers. All it takes is one person who knows more about the law than the human resources professional or for the human resources professional to answer incorrectly or mislead someone and he/she will never be believed or trusted again. The biggest insult usually occurs when the human resources professional touts the law to someone at the senior level of the organization who gives up and calls the lawyer themselves.
What the human resources professional in this trap also does not realize is that in most instances her or she is not a lawyer and lacks any and all credibility giving legal advice. So in conversation after conversation, the human resources professional says something is illegal or says that the lawyer made them do it. Eventually the constituents give up and either stop asking or just call the lawyer themselves.
So how do you get out of this mess?
- Become a lawyer. I did. But, it's really expensive.
- Focus on employee performance and solving real business and employee problems as your source of power.
- Use the law to educate managers and employees. It's not a secret area of knowledge that only you know about.
- When you cite the law, cite the law first. Then, discuss with your fellow managers the possible solutions and outcomes to the problem. Your job is to make sure employees are treated in a manner that is fair and equitable. You can advocate for salvaging an employee or to fire an employee. Use judgment and facts in your arguments once everyone is clear what the law is. For the control freaks among us, this is often the hardest. The human resources professional that touts the law is often using it as a way to control or as a crutch.
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