HR and Legal: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

By BLR Founder and CEO Bob Brady

You know you’ve been there: The legal department is advising you to do something that has no bearing on the real-life world of the workplace. “Just have managers stop inflating their performance ratings.” Sure, that will happen. “Keep employees from clocking in early.” Yeah, right. You know you’re both on the same side, but sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.

I recently spoke with Anthony Amendola and Veronica von Grabow, both attorneys with the Los Angeles office of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, LLP, about this common source of frustration for HR folks.

Bob: What’s at the root of the ongoing friction between HR and legal?

Anthony: Some of the most common areas of conflict between legal and HR arise from an organization’s failure to clearly define roles. Both legal and HR have critical, but very different, roles to play.

Veronica: The easiest thing for a lawyer to say is that a proposed action is risky. But experienced attorneys know that they have to work with HR to identify potential problems and develop practical solutions to resolve them.

Anthony: Yes, it’s important for legal professionals to understand they need to get their head out of the clouds and help HR to come up with practical, workable solutions that effectively manage risk while furthering the business objective.

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Bob: What are the downsides when this doesn’t happen—when the cooperative efforts fail?

Veronica: The complex web of federal, state, and local labor and employment laws can be a trap for the unwary employer, and even for experienced HR folks. Employers must understand when it’s time to contact an attorney rather than handle the situation themselves.

Bob: Many employers feel that they simply can’t afford to hire outside counsel right now.

Anthony: Even in tough economic times, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Knowing when to ask for help is actually even more crucial now because so many companies are being asked to do more with less. This may mean that managers and human resource professionals are being asked to handle situations on their own.

Veronica: Collaboration between HR and legal to educate supervisors on key labor and employment laws is an important way to keep your workplace running smoothly and litigation-free.

Bob: So it sounds like effective communication between HR and legal is more important now than ever before.

Veronica: Absolutely. HR and legal must communicate early and often in order to uncover and address problems while they’re still manageable.

Now’s the time to arm yourself with the tools you need to succeed. Sign up now for BLR’s National Employment Law Update conference and you’ll save $100 off the regular rate.

If you’re looking for more guidance on how to do this, you’re in luck: Both Anthony and Veronica will be speaking at the BLR® National Employment Law Update conference in Las Vegas this fall. They’ll be presenting an optional preconference workshop session on October 19 called “Clash of the Titans: What to Do When HR and Legal Conflict.” You’ll learn:

  • Why legal and HR so often collide, and the most common areas of conflict

  • How to help your in-house or outside counsel understand what you’re dealing with “on the front lines”

  • The times it’s best to call in the lawyers rather than trying to handle a situation yourself

  • How to most effectively collaborate with counsel in the event of an investigation or lawsuit

  • Tips for working together to keep your workplace running smoothly and litigation-free

  • And more!

As an added bonus, you’ll have the opportunity to meet not only Veronica and Anthony, but also yours truly—I’ll be presenting a lunchtime talk on strategic HR on October 20. I’m looking forward to meeting you and finding out more about the concerns and challenges on your mind these days.

Space at the conference is limited, and the clock is winding down on the chance to save $100 off your registration. This is the lowest price we’ll be offering, so what are you waiting for? Sign up now—it will be the best decision you’ve made all year.

Find out more about the National Employment Law Update.