Human resources professionals often have some of the most difficult conversations in the workplace. Whether they need to mediate workplace conflict or craft policies that comply with state and federal laws, the advice HR professionals provide can be an invaluable asset to businesses. Sometimes, however, HR professionals can be perceived as simply wanting to ruin workplace fun.
In this episode of The Workplace podcast, CalChamber Executive Vice President and General Counsel Erika Frank and employment law expert Jennifer Shaw discuss ways HR experts can combat dismissive attitudes from leadership and help the company comply with federal and state laws.
The podcast kicks off by featuring a clip of “The Office” that has branch manager Michael Scott deride a human resource representative, Toby Flenderson, for suggesting that office personnel watch a sexual harassment prevention video and are reminded of the company’s sexual harassment policy. Scott dismisses Flenderson’s concerns that inappropriate jokes should not be emailed at work, saying, “There is no such thing as an appropriate joke. That’s why it’s a joke.”
The clip, Shaw tells Frank, showcases a conversation with which many HR professionals are undoubtedly familiar. HR professionals are responsible for staying up to date with labor laws and applying them to a workplace, but they also need help from the top, she says. Yet, sometimes company leaders push back against concerns of noncompliance or training suggestions and can sometimes dismiss the advice of their HR experts altogether.
Tips to Combat Dismissive Attitudes
If facing resistance from company leadership, Frank suggests that HR professionals find ways to talk to the head of their company and convince them to get onboard. While making employees dedicate an hour to harassment training may seem wasteful, workers are learning to be better employees, thus increasing productivity, Frank points out. Moreover, Shaw adds, educating employees on harassment prevention is better for the overall company bottom line because the company will be saving money by preventing potential litigation.
If a company’s leadership is still pushing back against recommendations given by its HR experts, Shaw outlines three approaches to keep in mind:
- Talk calmly and rationally to the person giving the push back and explain why an action is required. “Plead your best case,” Shaw says.
- Keep in mind that some issues warrant further discussion and others don’t. For example, with harassment prevention training, there is a risk of personal liability, she points out. “Bring it home to the leader: ‘Listen, this is something that is not just an organization issue, this could be something that hits you personally…you don’t have to like it, you don’t have to agree with it, but this is where…I recommend we go,’” she says.
- If there is problem that cannot be resolved, HR professionals should go up the leadership ladder—even if it means going straight to the board of directors. And if a company is in violation of labor laws and refuses to correct its policies, Shaw reminds listeners that there are whistleblower laws which protect HR professionals from reporting a company.
Access to Resources Is Essential
Last, Frank and Shaw stress that HR professionals need to have access to resources and should be comfortable knowing that it’s OK to ask questions. Attending training, reading an employment law newsletter or completing an employment law updates seminar not only provides an HR professional with timely information, but also the data and concrete examples that professionals can show to their company’s leadership to support policy recommendations.
The California Chamber of Commerce offers expert advice on labor law compliance and compliance tools to meet business needs, including required state, federal and local employment posters and pamphlets, sexual harassment prevention training, reference guides, compliance seminars and webinars, and an online employee handbook creator. Visit the CalChamber store for more information.
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