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Make sure your voice is heard, but not at the expense of your career.
Illustration by Dale Glasgow for HR Magazine
Federal grassroots advocacy for HR is just as important as ever in 2017. The issues may change, but the need to support and represent the profession surely won’t.
Plus, as former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill famously said, "All politics is local."
For example, many ruby red states over the past two elections have raised minimum wages materially by way of the ballot box.
And let’s not forget municipalities. Expect the growing trend of local regulation to increase when it comes to matters such as "ban-the-box" ordinances, mandatory sick pay and predictable schedules.
Regardless of their political leanings, HR professionals must continue to be involved so that their voice is heard on workplace public-policy issues. Here are 10 suggestions to make grassroots advocacy more effective without annoying employers.
1. Follow proposed legislation. First, track bills at the federal, state and local level.
Be careful not to focus only on developments in the states in which you operate. To the contrary, be mindful of developments in other jurisdictions, particularly neighboring ones. Legislation spreads.
2. Evaluate bills critically. Avoid knee-jerk responses. Make sure you read the language of a bill before jumping to conclusions.
In evaluating proposed legislation, focus not only on the intent but also on the foreseeable consequences. Many a bill with laudable intent may produce adverse consequences for the employees it is designed to protect.
3. Know your representatives. The first time you need help should not be the first time you meet your representatives, either at the federal or state level. Get to know them and their staffs before issues arise.
Staff members are key gatekeepers for elected representatives. Treat them with respect—not only because they deserve it but also because if you don’t, you will not get access to their bosses.
4. Educate your elected officials. Advocacy is all about relationships, including with your representatives.
Meredith Nethercutt, senior associate for member advocacy at the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), explains it well: "There are only a handful of federal members of Congress who have any kind of background in human resources. That is why sharing your personal stories and testimonials as HR professionals with those elected to represent you in office is so critical. After all, if you don’t speak up to those who are crafting and voting on workplace legislation on behalf of your organization and employees, no one else will do it for you."
5. Get others involved. Usually, it is not enough for HR professionals to advocate on HR issues. It is important to get others to make the case for you, too.
Consider educating members of your C-suite on why a proposed bill might be helpful or hurtful to HR. See if they want to join in the advocacy efforts.
6. Consider legal issues. Do not forget that whatever you say to a representative is discoverable in a trial. This includes communication that occurs via letter, e-mail and social media as well as verbally.
I think of a letter I once saw that said something to the effect of "There is no way we could comply with this bill if it became law."
In the hands of a plaintiff’s lawyer, a statement like that could be dynamite.
7. Assess personal dynamics. SHRM needs and appreciates the volunteer work of those engaged in HR advocacy, but you should check with a member of your executive team before getting involved. There may be reasons your employer does not want you to oppose a bill, even though the effects on HR could be negative.
For example, it is possible that the sponsor of the bill is also supporting legislation that would be helpful to the company’s business interests. The last thing you want to hear from your boss is that you have alienated the legislation’s sponsor.
8. Consider the impact on the workforce. When communicating with representatives, remember that what you say could find its way back to the workforce.
Sometimes proposed bills and regulations can cause you to become incredibly frustrated. Feeling aggravated is one thing; saying something that devalues your employees is another.
For example, in opposing the overtime rule, an employer might have been frustrated by the regulation but shouldn’t have said something like, "Our employees will just have to deal with it if we hire more workers to avoid unnecessary overtime."
Be thoughtful in how you oppose suggested legislation that, on its face, would appear to benefit employees. Focus on the unintended adverse consequences that might apply to the workforce.
[SHRM resource: SHRM Policy Action Center]
9. Be practical. Pick your battles. There may be political reasons not to oppose a bill—if there is virtually unanimous support for it, for example.
Conversely, do not inadvertently give publicity to a bill that is going nowhere.
10. Engage in business meetings. Have a business focus in your meetings with your representatives or their staffs.
Acknowledge the pros and cons of the bill at issue to establish your credibility. Then explain clearly your position and ask for support.
Be prepared with bullet points, be sensitive to the representative’s time, be ready to shorten your pitch, and always be respectful and ethical. Last but not least, make sure to thank the representative for his or her time and always follow up with an e-mail reiterating your gratitude for the meeting and your key points.
"Remember, the crux of your engagement, and of these ongoing interactions with elected officials, is to build solid relationships," says Mike Aitken, SHRM’s vice president of government affairs.
"While you may differ in perspective and opinion on various issues with your lawmakers, your ability to serve as a trusted and reliable resource to those in public office will be invaluable—now and in the busy months ahead."
Jonathan A. Segal, J.D., is a partner at Duane Morris in Philadelphia and New York City. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law.
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