The ‘California Difference’ in HR Practice

Why and how SHRM developed its new micro-credential in California employment law

By Michael Letizia, SHRM-SCP March 8, 2018
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​California is one of the most complex states when it comes to employment laws and legislation. The number of statutes and regulations governing workers and the workplace far exceeds those of other states, as well as the federal government. The impact of this "California difference" on HR professionals in the state is clear. Nonstop legislative and regulatory changes mean that HR must always be prepared to realign employment policies and practices to a moving target. Ensuring compliance means being proactive, not reactive. 

California's legislative and regulatory complexity means that HR professionals who practice in the state, who work for an organization with operations in the state, or who serve clients who do business in the state all have a need for state-specific resources and education. In 2014, when SHRM was developing its certification program, I approached it on behalf of the California State Council (CalSHRM) to find out how the new SHRM credentials would recognize the California difference. Building the expertise of HR professionals across the state was my goal as CalSHRM's state director. 

CalSHRM leadership had been instrumental in developing prior California-specific certifications. Now we felt it was time to move to the next level and build a California-specific body of knowledge. CalSHRM was also developing its state legislative advocacy efforts. We felt it was important to build a strong state knowledge base among HR professionals, which they could use to distinguish themselves in the field. 

SHRM was excited to explore the idea further. It was an honor to become a part of the development process over the subsequent three years, working in conjunction with the SHRM education department. Our result is the new California Employment Law Micro-Credential officially introduced on Feb. 23, 2018

California HR Knowledge and Expertise 

There was a lot of discussion over what a California certification should look like. Based on my three decades of experience as an HR practitioner in the state and as an instructor of HR courses, I felt it was necessary for a micro-credential to focus on technical competence linked to education and knowledge. California employers seek HR professionals who are not only adept in the SHRM-defined behavioral competencies, but who also bring to their work an expertise in and understanding of California employment law. We set about designing the requirements for the micro-credential from this perspective. 

Our goal was to provide HR practitioners with in-depth, state-specific knowledge in each of the functional areas within SHRM's HR Expertise technical competency. Those who successfully earned the micro-credential would be able to demonstrate subject matter expertise in the multiple layers of California employment law, setting them apart from their peers and identifying their true value to employers. 

We developed criteria and information for the micro-credential based on the California employment law education course currently offered by SHRM. By 2017, the e-learning modules were refined, the self-assessment was finalized, and the pilot was tested. The required combination—a two-day SHRM seminar plus four SHRM e-Learning courses—provides HR professionals with a strong foundation of knowledge and expertise. Those who pass the self-assessment show that they have what is needed to lead California organizations in reducing employment risk and building engaged and productive workforces. 

SHRM's State-Specific Micro-Credential 

The SHRM California Employment Law Micro-Credential is valid for five years. A new self-assessment is required to reinstate one's micro-credential. As more California content becomes available, SHRM will offer additional California curriculum. SHRM has always done an outstanding job of putting together state resources; I consider its California resources my bible. I also value SHRM's research because it is unbiased toward labor or business. SHRM is truly looking at realistic, common-sense approaches and solutions for HR—not at whose side you're on. 

Culture, not compliance, drives behavior in business. The foundational knowledge demonstrated by SHRM's new California micro-credential gives the HR practitioner who holds it two key advantages: (1) the ability to develop procedures and programs that help drive organizational effectiveness and reduce risk; and (2) the insight to formulate workforce strategies that help drive engagement and productivity—all within a cultural framework in compliance with the law. 

Collaborating with SHRM on this project has been a true highlight of my career. One of my personal goals as an HR practitioner was to gain professional certification and also to identify myself as a subject matter expert in California employment law. I had gained other HR credentials in the past, but I am most proud to have passed the SHRM-SCP exam and now to be one of the first to have the SHRM California Employment Law Micro-Credential. 

SHRM's efforts have pushed the profession forward so that HR professionals are taken seriously as business partners. My SHRM membership and affiliation continues to be the most powerful alliance in my professional life. If not for SHRM, I would not be the owner and CEO of my own HR business, nor would I have the value and ability to deliver the results I now bring to my clients. 

Being SHRM-certified means the world to me. HR professionals: Take the time to educate yourself. 

Michael Letizia, SHRM-SCP, is president of Letizia HR Solutions Inc., in Stockton, Calif., and the author and developer of the "California Employment Law Essentials for Business" training workshop. He is past state director of the California State Council of SHRM and has held other positions with CalSHRM, including conference director and workforce readiness director. Letizia has been a member of the board of directors for San Joaquin SHRM for more than 15 years, twice as president.


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