Human resources can be somewhat tricky to navigate. There are state and federal regulations that you need to be aware of, keeping abreast of changing tax policies, and understanding best practices. If something goes awry with one or more of your employees, you may find yourself treading in unfamiliar territory.
This is especially true for small business owners whose expertise is more geared toward whatever the company does, be it providing a service, manufacturing a product or implementing technology.
HR simply isn’t in their wheelhouse. And that can make things difficult.
Different professionals come with different knowledge bases. In some instances, getting advice from an HR consultant may be exactly the right approach for solving your problem. But then there are the times you need the expertise of an employment lawyer.
Who you gonna call?
First, let’s get a handle on what you can expect from an HR consultant. An experienced HR professional guides you through the best practices in developing policies and practices, maintaining compliance, and managing your workforce.
They help you with the day-to-day: recruiting, onboarding, benefits administration, performance management, employee relations, and separations. She or he is your go-to person for identifying and mitigating risk through performance management, policy enforcement, and corrective action plans. They will provide recommendations to reduce risk in support of or to refute and/or improve HR recommendations. They follow changing legislation and policy and advise businesses so they can consider any risks involved while making decisions.
Most HR consultants and professionals have a working knowledge of employment law, but they are not licensed legal practitioners and should not be making any recommendations in that area. When employee-related issues start moving in a dicey direction—for instance when an employee initiates legal claims against you or your company or has taken their concerns to a government agency— it’s time to call an attorney.
Just like in any profession, there are HR professionals that may have a stronger focus in one area than another. Many will know when to work with an attorney, versus trying to take on the world. Journey Employer Solutions offers HR technology offerings, but not that one-on-one HR guidance that businesses sometimes need. Luckily, we work with amazing individuals that we trust and have seen first-hand their great results experienced by our mutual clients. We urge our clients to ask our team members at Journey for a recommendation to an HR professional that can help them and their business.
Employment attorneys are experts in labor law and keep up with changing policy and legislation. They will assess potential risks to your company and provide legal recommendations for mitigating it. They understand state and federal statutes and can explain how the court system administers them. Ideally, your attorney has a strong track record of defending cases in court, if that’s where your situation leads you. You also have attorney-client privilege, which is not the case with an HR consultant/professional.
Tina Todd, PHR-CA, SHRM-CP, CHRS, a partner with Simply HR points out that attorneys are brought in to be reactive, whereas an HR professional is proactive—setting up the systems and practices that should prevent legal situations as much as possible. “Once a certain threshold is passed, though, we always recommend seeking legal counsel,” she says. “That is especially true if an employee has filed a complaint with the EEOC, for example, or if they have an attorney involved. That’s when we suggest our clients ‘lawyer up.’ You want a level playing field.”
It’s especially important, Tina says, to seek advice from an attorney who specializes in employment law. Don’t make the mistake of using someone who specializes in a different area. The attorney who drafted your will may not be the best choice for an employment kerfuffle.
And make it a team effort, says Tina. Your HR professional can provide valuable background information to your attorney; explaining how and why you enact certain policies to giving blow-by-blow details of the situation, assuming that accurate and complete records are available.
Cost Shouldn’t be a Factor
Attorneys typically bill significantly higher hourly rates than HR consultants. But that should not be the motivating factor when making a decision about who to reach out to. A meeting with your attorney could end up saving you a lot of money in the long run, but if you can resolve the issue with your HR consultant’s advice and expertise, so much the better. Either way, both have your back and best interests at heart.
“I tell every business owner that asks for my advice on these matters to never chose a critical adviser such an Attorney, HR professional, or CPA because of their bill rate. Sometimes it can seem painful but being steered in the wrong direction can be much, much, more painful. From personal experience, as well as a front row to other situations, having the right people on your side is worth every penny.” – Kevin Welch, CEO of Journey Employer Solutions.