HR Intel – HR Is Dead; Long Live HR

iStock_000021577273_SmallA round up of workplace developments and legal trends to help keep HR ahead of the curve

If you’re in HR, it won’t surprise you that industry observers have called for a transformation of HR as we know it or predicted its outright demise. There’s actually an entire industry that sprouted up around the idea that traditional, corporate-style HR is “dead,” which is, to be sure, quite melodramatic.

The less hyperbolic version of this oft-repeated mantra is that traditional HR may no longer be practical for modern entrepreneurs, but among startups and small businesses, the prevailing sentiment is that HR is dead already or that it deserves to die for some transgression or another. Tell us how you really feel…

What this cottage industry of HR haters fails to address, however, is what the world looks like in the absence of HR.

One way to imagine a world without HR is to use Silicon Valley as a microcosm of what that world could become. Ever since the burst of the Dot-com bubble, Silicon Valley has rejected the idea of traditional HR in favor of either fully reimagined HR, no HR at all or – in some cases – a vastly pared-down version of HR, tasked with filling the administrative role, but ill-equipped to deal with the challenges that modern businesses face on a regular basis.

To be clear, some of the largest and wealthiest companies in Silicon Valley can afford tremendously well-staffed and properly-trained HR departments, but the true “startups” tend to cut corners on what they view as superfluous, bureaucratic, largely administrative corporate departments like HR. And as some of those startups succeed, start to turn a profit and ultimately, go public, their neo-HR rejection grows into more and more of a problem. Then, if they try to retrofit HR into their corporate structure to accommodate the onslaught of complaints and conflicts, they get cultural backlash from existing employees.

Another way that this HR rejectionism manifests into real problems for startups is discrimination against women. Whereas sexual harassment and discrimination can occur anywhere, there seems to be a disproportionate amount of issues and claims concentrated in Silicon Valley.

This isn’t a coincidence.

In the absence of HR, employees with less internal influence or “pull” are more likely to be marginalized by upper management. And despite their best efforts, Silicon Valley remains largely male, with genuine issues regarding gender pay gaps, and with a much higher incidence of sexual harassment than other industries.

In the absence of HR, the human element is removed from corporate decision-making. That leads to ill-advised ideas like “software can replace HR!” and the inevitable disasters that follow.

In the absence of HR, companies are not equipped to deal with conflict or problematic employees, or to foresee legal challenges stemming from personnel policies. That leads to nationwide litigation and a tremendous amount of unwanted attention from government enforcement agencies.

The sad irony here is that the loudest anti-HR voices belong to those who need HR the most. They’re the ones with the great ideas for businesses, but who don’t really know how to run a business.

To be fair, HR isn’t above criticism and can always benefit from innovation. But the other extreme – eliminating HR or reimagining it to fit with startup culture – is neither practical nor revolutionary. Rather, it’s a way to set yourself up for failure in an industry where a lot of the funding is drying up.

Corporate Focus

Turns out, despite the exodus of manufacturing jobs from the US in the last few decades, Americans don’t actually miss those jobs. They miss unions instead. Not only do manufacturing jobs pay less per hour than median pay for all other industries, but they require less education. And nobody is going to college to work in a warehouse.

Oft-maligned Uber and Lyft are actually having some success with “legislation prevention” in California. Whereas every attorney in the country seems to be after the app taxis, some startup-friendly California lawmakers want to see companies like these succeed in Silicon Valley.

File this one under “no kidding.” According to Chief Executive Magazine, California is (again) the worst place to run a business in the US. Rounding out the top five states that hate capitalism are New York, Illinois, New Jersey and Massachusetts, all of which are stalwarts when it comes to employee-friendly regulations. At the other end of the list, employers are blessed with business-friendly regulations in states like Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. And don’t forget Texas, with which nobody can mess when it comes to lack of government oversight, regulation and employee protections!

Workers with Tyson and Perdue, among other poultry producers, allege that they are routinely denied bathroom breaks and thus, made to wear diapers while working in factories and warehouses. The implicated companies were quick to point out that the incidents are anecdotal and violate their internal policies, but it remains to be seen if the industry can shed the reputation it earned with publication of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” in 1906. Over 100 years later, the battle for humane conditions in slaughterhouses is still, apparently, being fought.

Enforcement Endorsement

After much fanfare (and some healthy skepticism), the DOL released the final rule on overtime today. It effectively mandates that anyone paid less than $47,476 annually be eligible for time-and-a-half overtime, which would expand the current pool of overtime-eligible employees by about four million individuals. Suffice to say, many employers will not want to raise their previously exempt employees up to the new threshold. Instead, they may prefer to reclassify the workers as nonexempt and then pay them overtime as needed. This may require some adjustment of job duties, but it will definitely require employers to closely track hours worked by newly reclassified employees.

Lowe’s will pay $8.6 million to settle an EEOC disability discrimination lawsuit. The EEOC alleged that Lowe’s discriminated against individuals with disabilities by firing them or failing to accommodate their disabilities when their medical leaves of absence exceeded Lowe’s internal policies on leave. Not only must Lowe’s pay the piper, but it must also retain an ADA consultant to review and revise company policies that are relevant to the handling of employees with disabilities.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the EEOC and the NLRB are all (gulp) working together and sharing information. Specifically, if the DHS or ICE uncover any incidents of employers using deportation or threat of deportation as a means to discriminate against employees, discourage them from unionization or discourage them from discussing working conditions, they will report regarding their findings to the EEOC and/or the NLRB. That’s a lot of paperwork.

Not to be left out of the enforcement extravaganza, the OFCCP has determined that a Michigan-based federal contractor discriminated against women in the hiring process by requiring a “strength test” for applicants seeking entry-level warehouse laborer jobs. With the test in place, the contractor hired 300 men and only six women for the jobs in question during the period of time the OFCCP audited.

How is this song related to HR?

In the last edition of HR Intel, we asked you how “When Doves Cry” is relevant to HR. This song was Prince’s attempt to describe what the saddest thing in the world sounds like. Of course, there are many tragedies that could elicit such an outpouring of sadness, but within the context of this song, I believe Prince was describing the tragedy of when two people who love each other can’t be together. It was as sad – to him – as the sound of doves crying. For HR purposes, we know that individuals who identify as LGBTQ are still not fully protected under the law in the workplace based on their beliefs, sexual orientation or sexual identity. This means that a lot of people have to stay in the closet in order to preserve their jobs, their reputation and their peace of mind.

We leave you with “Candidate” by Joy Division.

Tell us how you think this song is related to HR in the comments section below.

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