HR: Knowing the law and how to apply it.
How well does your HR person know the law? ‘But they don’t need to be lawyers’ we hear you say. That’s true, but they do need to know enough to give you timely and accurate advice. That advice could be as much as, ‘this looks complicated, we need legal advice’ or it could be enough sound practical knowledge to manage a case through to conclusion. When we say ‘manage a case’ that’s exactly what we mean. It is not the role of the HR person to undertake the investigation, carry out the disciplinary or hear the grievance, that’s the role of the managers within your organisation. The role of HR is to ensure the correct lawful procedure is followed and that a fair process is undertaken with an outcome that is balanced and appropriate.
Or perhaps not? Sometimes it is about knowing how to circumvent that process to achieve a quick resolution but understanding (and advising you) on any risk and costs associated with this. For example, a HR person who can navigate a without prejudice discussion and reach a settlement would be an asset to most businesses. While legal support would generally always be needed at some point, it is a skill that should be encouraged.
A valuable HR person is also someone who works well and in partnership with its external advisors. If you do need external legal support does your HR person know what to look for, can they spot a good employment lawyer? We suggest they should be looking for someone who makes time to understand your business, can pick up the crux of an issue quickly and can provide a practical and commercial solution. An early conversation around costs is also important and a good lawyer should not shy away from giving options around fixed costs or a potential subscription model.
Hint: build a strong relationship with external advisors who know your business and can give you the appropriate legal advice, not just what the law says