Excerpted from a Constangy Brooks Smith & Prophete LLP blog by Robin Shea

HR Virtue No. 1: They have “spider sense.” By the time the lawyers get called in, the harm is often done already and all we can do is grab a mop. An HR person doesn’t have to be a legal expert (although that certainly doesn’t hurt), but at least they have the instincts to get a bad feeling when certain actions are proposed, and they know to check in with their employment lawyers. Getting ready to fire an employee who filed a discrimination charge? Hmm, that seems risky. We’re doing a reduction in force, and it looks like almost everyone on the list is 50 or older? Hmm, I wonder if that might be a problem. The non-exempt employees in that department seem to be working 45-hour weeks but are putting only 40 hours a week on their timesheets? Hmm, maybe we should run this by our attorneys.

HR Virtue No. 2: They are not afraid to “push back.” Many times, a manager will want to do something that is . . . how shall we say? . . . inadvisable. My favorite HR people are not afraid to challenge those proposed mistakes. It can be done in a nice way, and if one has to, one can even ask one’s lawyer to write a letter advising against what the manager wants to do. (I’ve written a million of ’em, and they often do the trick. They are also attorney-client privileged.)
What makes me sad is when a manager makes a bad decision, and it turns out that the HR person knew about it in advance but didn’t say a thing. However, sometimes that’s because the HR person is inexperienced or is not empowered to speak up.

HR Virtue No. 3: They have a sense of humor. It’s almost impossible to deal with HR issues or employment law without noting the absurdity that occurs on a regular basis. For example, this guy who choked on a Zoom conference (https://nypost.com/2020/10/20/jeffrey-toobins-career-in-jeopardy-after-zoom-masturbation-incident/) . Or this resignation (https://au.news.yahoo.com/i-quit-supermarket-workers-very-public-resignation-goes-viral-on-tik-tok-044359365.html). If we don’t laugh, we’ll cry.

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