Working in human resources means wearing a number of hats. HR is involved in recruiting and hiring – and yes, firing.
They might be responsible for managing benefits. They’re definitely involved in creating and enforcing policies and generally making sure that everything related to the employment of workers is handled correctly and within the bounds of the law.
In fact, just about everything that an HR professional does is approached through the lens of employment law.
From the moment a position is posted to the moment that an employee leaves the company, virtually everything related to that person’s employment is governed and/or protected by some type of law.
Without an expert with an in-depth understanding of employment law on your team, your company risks running afoul of any number of government agencies, not to mention opening yourself up to lawsuits from employees themselves.
The Influence of Employment Law
U.S. employers are bound by the regulations of any number of federal acts and rules.
Among them include such rules as:
- the Fair Labor Standards Act, which regulates employee pay and child labor,
- the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) which ensures that employees work in safe and healthy environments
- the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) which enforces laws related to discrimination, including sexual harassment laws.
Throw in laws related to retirement, unpaid leave, citizenship, right to work, employment at law and more, and it’s enough to make even the most experienced HR person want to throw in the towel.
The sheer number of laws related to employment and the potential impact of fines and sanctions makes it imperative that a company of any size with employees have at least one expert in employment law on staff.
For example, employers who violate immigration laws when hiring, including failing to have valid I-9 forms on file for every employee, potentially face civil penalties of close to $11,000 per incident and could lose the ability to apply for future government contracts.
In other cases, companies have had to pay out millions of dollars to employees and former employees as the result of improper handling of employment issues.
In fact, some sexual harassment case verdicts have neared $100 million or more and stemmed in large part from employer mishandling of complaints.
Having an employment law expert on staff does more than ensure that your company complies with laws and respond to complaints properly, though.
Some of the other areas in which a legal expert is necessary include:
Employee handbook development.
One of the most important documents in any organization, the employee handbook should clearly outline the expectations for behavior and performance and the consequences for failing to meet those expectations.
Handbooks must be developed in compliance with the most recent regulations and used in both employee onboarding and as a point of reference during any disciplinary issues.
Involving a legal expert ensures that the handbook is developed appropriately and does not create any conflicts with the law.
In some cases, an organization may be facing risk in terms of employee relations or management and not even realize it.
When HR has experience in employment law, risk analysis takes place from a legal standpoint, allowing for a more accurate assessment and risk mitigation.
A more supportive and professional organizational culture.
When policies are developed with a thorough understanding of the law, it’s easier for leaders to create a more supportive and professional culture.
Employees receive better training in key issues and how to respond, and complaints and reports are more likely to be handled appropriately and effectively.
But We Can’t Afford a Staff Attorney…
For many companies, it’s not a matter of not recognizing that an employment law specialist is necessary but rather that they simply cannot afford to hire a staff attorney.
However, a staff attorney is not the only option.
Smaller companies can gain the same benefits by hiring HR professionals with experience and education in employment law. It is possible, for example, to earn a master’s in employment law and gain the knowledge and insight required to effectively manage today’s complex human resources and employment landscape.
Although such a program could lead to law school and a career as an attorney, it’s also ideal for those who wish to stand out in the HR field. For small companies and entrepreneurs, the expertise that such a professional can bring to the table is invaluable.
The world of employment law is too complex, and too important, to attempt to manage on your own. If you don’t already have an employment law expert on your team, it’s important to find one today.