Friday, November 13, 2015

HR Compliance: Shooting the Messenger

Sometimes being in human resources is no fun at all.  It’s hard to be the one who has to facilitate a reduction in force.  It’s uncomfortable to be responsible for telling an employee that he needs to shower more often.  It’s challenging when you have to balance what’s legally necessary against what makes employees the happiest.  Perhaps the worst times of all are the ones when you believe your company is out of compliance with the law and nobody wants to hear it.  It can be isolating and frustrating when the powers-that-be dismiss or even resent your compliance concerns.
We get it.  We’ve been there.  It’s tough. Management may not know the risks it’s taking, or may be convinced that if no one has challenged company practices yet, no one will in the future.  It may seem that managers’ approach to the legal risks of non-compliance is to cross their fingers and hope they don’t get caught.  Whether because of ignorance of the law, focus on other things, or a willingness to accept a high degree of risk, it can be an uphill battle to get management’s attention, explain your concerns, and get the go-ahead to make changes. You may end up feeling that you have become a nagging pest instead of a trusted confidante.   
We wish this weren’t part of the job, but it sometimes is.  Here are some strategies that may help:
Pick your battles.  Establish priorities and don’t try to make everything perfect on day one.  There are some aspects of HR compliance that can’t wait, and some that can, and HR professionals are in the best position to know the difference. 
Gather examples.  We like to joke that we can’t make this stuff up, and it’s true that there are lots of amazing stories out there about HR compliance failures and the consequences of those failures.  Whatever your organization is facing, it’s likely that another organization has faced something similar.  Google it!  Look at U.S. Department of Labor Fact Sheets.  Review state government websites.  Read a few employment law blogs.  Talk to peers in other organizations. You may find examples of similar situations that you can use to persuade decision makers that the risk you’re concerned about is real.
Show the cost.  There are a variety of ways to focus decision makers’ attention on a problem, but we’ve found that it’s most effective to demonstrate what it can cost if the problem isn’t corrected. If you can show, for example, that the misclassification of a worker as an independent contractor can result in retroactive payment of unemployment and workers’ compensation, assessment of unpaid taxes (plus interest and penalties), reimbursement of unpaid overtime, and the assessment of fees and penalties, in addition to government scrutiny of all the company’s arrangements with workers, you may be able to persuade your decision makers that proper worker classification matters. 
Be patient.  HR professionals deal with compliance issues all day long.  Business owners and managers don’t.  They may be completely unaware of the risks that you see so clearly.  They may also be very busy doing other things.  You need to be prepared to educate patiently, stand your ground, and keep trying, even if you don’t change minds right away. 
Keep your perspective. Remember that management’s disinterest in or impatience with your compliance concerns is not a personal insult.  Business owners and managers have to juggle multiple priorities, and HR compliance is only one. You can only do your best to explain and advise.  You can model compliance by making sure your own decisions and behavior are consistent with the law and best practice.  Ultimately, however, you are just the messenger, and   responsibility for compliance rests with those who run your organization.

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osted by Judy Langevin and Kate Bischoff