So You Think Compliance Knowledge is not Important in HR… Well

by Michael Haberman on September 25, 2009 · 0 comments

In the ongoing debates in the HR blogsphere on the Death of HR ( Laurie Ruettimann, Mike Van Dervort and mine) there were a number of comments about necessary changes in the field to make it viable or more up-to-date. One of the areas mentioned with some regularity was that HR needed to get out of the compliance arena. Leave that to the lawyers the critics say.

My reaction?   BULLS**T!

To me, where the “rubber meets the road” * in HR is in Employee Relations. The interactions between employees and management. That is where great things get done and where major mistakes get made. And these mistakes center on violations of the laws, accidental or meant, it makes no difference. And because of this, in my opinion, HR people in ER need to know the laws. They have to be compliance people. This is different than attorneys knowing the law. No chapter and verse, court case quoting here. Just what is the law and how does it apply to my company. The practical application of the law. And there is alot of it.

And there is more coming. The Obama administration is trying to make its mark in labor and employment law. They have already passed the Lily Ledbetter Act and four presidential Executive Orders have been passed. AND there are THIRTEEN pieces of legislation pending mid-term. The one with the most press coverage is the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) but there are a dozen more. Here is the list of 2009 Mid-Term Federal Legislation pending. Thanks to the folks at World at Work and blog buddy Eric B. Meyer for the heads up.

* To my non-American readers click the link for a definition of this idiom.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Laurie September 25, 2009 at 5:59 pm

If HR is in the compliance business, I need to get out of the business of HR.

John Sumser (paraphrasing) thinks HR is dying because it's caught up in compliance. I wonder if you can get him to share his thoughts on this subject?


Michael D. Haberman, SPHR September 25, 2009 at 8:55 pm

I did not say HR is soley in the compliance business. HR is a multifaceted area. But there is an underlying compliance component in all of it. Even recruiter have to know anti-discrimination law, otherwise they expose the company, their clients and themselves to lawsuits.

Almost all areas of business have a component of compliance to them. You can't be in accounting or finance without an understanding of the laws and practices. You can't be in purchasing without understanding contract law and laws against price fixing and bribery.

My contention is that the HR folks involved with ER, the day to day people interactions, must know the laws that govern employment in this country. That does not mean they need to be any less people oriented or results orinted or less creative. I am all for HR doing things better, more creatively, with better trained managers and employees. But that doesn't negate the fact that there is an underlying legal structure that must be paid attention to and you can't have an attorney standing there everyday.


HRJEFE September 26, 2009 at 12:48 am

I've been working in the HR field for over 25 years (I started when I was 10 ok)and have always felt that being on top of compliance was a sign of a true HR professional.

I no longer feel that way as I keep banging my head against a wall with co-workers and management that won't go in a new direction because their hands are tied by "compliance". Not just legal compliance but the "past practice" compliance that really makes HR impotent.

Today's HR must be fluid and engaged in life outside of HR. The business doesn't run because of HR, people don't join a company because of the great HR staff so why are we so afraid to engage open and honestly with these folks? The fact that we have a debate on the use of social media by businesses is comical to me. Because it is the compliance/legal team on one side and the future on the other side.

The old HR isn't dead yet and unfortunately it will be a long, lingering trip unless we start ROWEing in the another direction.


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