E-pinions

“Why do HR managers need to know anything about the law?” No longer even a question!

By BLR Founder and Publisher Bob Brady

Just My Epinion

On Fridays, HR Daily Advisor will often be given over to BLR’s Founder and Publisher Robert L. Brady. Bob has been reporting on HR for 30 years and has developed a unique perspective on where it’s going. In this first column, however, he looks at what HR was like when he started … and how far it’s come.

“Why do HR managers need to know anything about the law?”

No one who knows anything about the profession would ask that today. Yet, way back in 1977, when I launched our first newsletter, the HR Manager’s Legal Reporter,* that was a recurring question.

“Personnel Managers” (the title “HR Manager” was still a decade away) were largely “keepers of records” and “arrangers of picnics”–not the strategic contributors that they need to be today. Changes in the legal relationship of employee and employer had been under way since Roosevelt’s New Deal introduced the minimum wage in the 1930s, but the massive developments we’ve seen since were still just below the surface.

One law had been passed in the mid-60s. It was Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, banning most forms of discrimination. Stupefying ignorance about it, however, was the order of the day. One example: In the late ’60s, my wife was told by a major Connecticut bank that she couldn’t have a job because, “we don’t hire women as trust officers.” Today, anybody would sue. Back then, it wasn’t all that uncommon to face such attitudes.

Today, it’s hard to imagine anyone asking why HR needs to know about the law. That’s why explaining state and federal legal regulation is an important part of the fabric of HR, and it has been my privilege, as president and publisher of Business & Legal Reports, to participate in the changes of the last quarter century.

I’ve seen these developments from two perspectives:

First, as a publisher whose job it has been to research and explain changing state and federal regulations to employers. Second, as a small business owner myself, watching BLR grow from just me to a company of over 200 employees.

Guess what? Our company has HR issues just like everyone else.

So rather than having the luxury of just teaching all of you the theory of HR, I’ve had to put that theory into practice myself, and to practice what I preach. Hiring. Firing. Compensation. Sexual harassment. Wage and hour. Workers’ comp. You name it, I’ve probably faced it too.

Whenever possible, we use BLR materials –kind of like being our own guinea pigs—before we offer them to you. Most of the time we’ve found them very useful, but sometimes not. We’ve learned from those failures, and that has helped us understand what you, our customers, face as you try to help management get the most out of your company’s most valuable asset: your people.

This column is a way for me to give back to the profession that has been so generous to me. My goal is to share some of what I’ve learned over the years (and I know I’ll learn a lot more in the process!).

HR today faces the challenge of being relevant and strategic. Over the next few months, I’ll be writing a lot about what HR has to do to be strategic. Stay tuned! And by the way, I’d love to hear your e-pinions as well.

* The original title of BLR’s first product was the “Personnel Manager’s Legal Reporter.” We changed to the more modern “HR” in the late ’90s.

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