Life without HR Guidance

During a recent trip I found myself with a few leisurely moments, fired up the in-flight Wi-Fi and read several exchanges taking place on LinkedIn over a reprint on April 9, 2014 of a Wall Street Journal article titled, “Companies Say No to Having an HR Department.” The crux of the article was to spotlight some larger companies who are opting to eliminate their HR departments, thus making front line managers responsible and accountable for those HR functions specific to their employee group. The article cites the benefits of pushing matters to the heart of the organization and one spotlight company cites that their managers only have to spend about 5% of their time on matters directly related to HR. The article itself was balanced by providing reasons why not having HR might not be such a great idea. 

My first question to those trying to make a go of it without any HR support was, “Are you insane?” Let me share a recent episode of Shark Tank I watched as a shining example of why you need some HR support. The young lady was marketing a new product. She noted that she was working for another company, had delivered her child and following her return to work after her maternity leave she asked her direct manager for a break to pump her breast milk. The request was denied and when the employee left her desk to go pump without permission she was promptly fired by that manager. She implied on the show that the request was denied on more than one occasion. She filed a lawsuit and won, which gave her the start-up money for the new business. She was seeking additional funding from the “Sharks” for an expansion opportunity. Unless a company is committed to the provision of regular and on-going training, it’s easy for frontline managers to make these types of mistakes, and they can prove costly.

Before you even think about getting rid of your dedicated HR personnel, I suggest that you consider the following questions and associated information:

  • Voluntary Turnover: Why are your best employees leaving?

    • Do you conduct exit interviews? If so, who is conducting them? Remember, employees don’t want to burn bridges, so they may not be honest about why they are leaving.

    • Do you see patterns? Similar positions, similar bosses, etc. It may warrant a closer look if you notice that the employees are leaving the same department, same boss, or similar position.

    • Monitor levels of employee engagement. Failing to provide development opportunities will result in decreased employee engagement.

  • Was the employee the best selection for the job to begin with? Sometimes we hire in a hurry to fill a position, or we just continue to hire based upon factors that are not specific to the best fit for the job. Predictive analytics may help locate the best fit for a position. Measure your best employees and find similar fits for the jobs you need employees to perform. When choosing your analytics tool be sure to confirm that what you’re using is EEO/ADA compliant and remember that predictive analytics should never be the sole tool when selecting the employee.

  • If your managers are responsible for frontline HR, are they equipped with the proper education and ongoing training to perform in that role? Ask yourself if you know what training they should receive. Ongoing training is important so managers understand if they are breaking rules that could prove costly.

  • Make sure managers and employees understand when to call HR for help.

  • Can managers separate themselves from the situation to make decisions that don’t adversely impact the organization?

  • If managers can’t objectively review a situation because their opinions are biased for some reason, make certain they are in an environment where it’s safe to ask for a peer to step in to assist if there is no HR immediately available. If you do have HR, make sure they are comfortable going there for help before taking any action.

  • Accreditation, grant requirements, and other licensing body reviews: Does the documentation in your personnel records meet requirements? Is required training documented and complete?

  • If personnel files are maintained by multiple people, is the format consistent, and does it meet requirements?

    • Make sure the files do not contain information that would violate HIPAA such as FMLA documentation, doctor’s notes, vaccine records, etc. These should be maintained separately.

    • Make sure access to personnel and employee medical records is restricted. Those without a need to know should not have unfettered access to personal information.

  • Make sure you are meeting all training requirements for your staff.

    • Local, state, and federal training requirements must be completed on time and must be documented.

    • Accreditation requirements may include training requirements.

    • Certain business protection policies may require specific training (e.g. driver training and safety training). Review your policies.

    • When was the last time you had your HR files/department independently audited to ensure compliance? It is a good idea to have your HR files/department independently audited on occasion, and the audit should be conducted in a manner that provides feedback that will be beneficial to all parties and will not be perceived as punitive.

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) provides claims statistics. It is evident that when our economy declines, claims increase. In 2014, nearly 43 percent of all claims were retaliation claims with race, sex, and disability following closely ( If you don’t want to find your organization included in these statistics, it might be prudent to consider some level of HR support. 

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