HR Should Take on Tough Issues to Elevate Profession

By Allen Smith, J.D. Mar 12, 2018

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

​Be bold and aim for monumental impact, not mere incremental change, urged Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, speaking on March 12 to attendees of the 2018 SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference in Washington, D.C.

SHRM has a new set of guiding principles to set its culture apart, and a bold purpose is central to these tenets, Taylor noted during the conference's opening general session.

HR professionals should elevate the significance of the profession in the workplace and the world, he said. It has a long way to go, though.

He noted that when he asked members of a master of business administration (MBA) program recently what the most important differentiator between businesses was, they all said "people." But when Taylor inquired how many of the MBA candidates were considering a career in HR, not one person raised his or her hand. "That's an opportunity for us," he said.

Courageous HR

Taylor noted that 15 years ago he was chair of the board of directors for SHRM and challenged the profession then to be more courageous. He said that it's time again for courageous HR and that SHRM will not be afraid to tackle tough issues, like sexual harassment, which he described earlier this year before the California Legislature as a problem borne out of poor workplace cultures.

Taylor said that the workplace needs to be free of harassment. But he cautioned that many SHRM members "are concerned about due process. They have husbands, sons and fathers. They want to ensure due process is afforded to them."

[SHRM members-only HR Q&A: What are the different types of sexual harassment?]

More Advocacy

Promising more advocacy on Capitol Hill from SHRM, Taylor said the organization will articulate a voice of nonpartisanship. SHRM won't be bipartisan or always seek a middle ground. Sometimes it will agree with Republicans or Democrats or a third party. It will require courage to take a stand that is the right decision for work, he stated.

"Starting today, you'll see SHRM move forward together as a social force to change the world," he said. And in doing so, SHRM will become not just the voice of HR but the voice on all matters related to work.

SHRM Vice President of Government Affairs Michael P. Aitken said during the opening session that SHRM will be playing more of an advocacy role in encouraging employers to hire workers who have skills needed in their workforces, even if they don't have undergraduate degrees.

He suggested that other untapped pools of workers include:

  • Military veterans.
  • Individuals with disabilities.
  • Individuals who were formerly incarcerated.

Taylor added at a subsequent press conference that seniors are another underused source of talent.

Sexual Harassment Legislation

Giving an overview of workplace-related legislation on Capitol Hill, Aitken noted that there are bills in Congress in the wake of the #MeToo movement that would ban the use of arbitration agreements in sexual harassment cases.

Other bills go further and would ban the use of arbitration agreements in any claims involving allegations of sex discrimination. There is concern about how the legislation would interact with state laws, he observed. SHRM does not support the bills, Aitken said.

Paid-Leave Bills

Many paid-sick-leave proposals are on Capitol Hill.

The Healthy Families Act would mandate seven days of paid sick leave per employee each year at employers with 15 or more workers.

There's also a proposal to provide paid family leave through unemployment insurance, Aitken noted.

Some support is building for a proposal by Senators Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., to pay for leave from future Social Security earnings, Aitken said, though he observed that there may be funding problems with this approach.

Already many states have taken action. Nine states—Arizona, California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington—have adopted statewide paid sick leave laws, joining more than 30 localities. Four states—California, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island—have enacted paid-family-leave insurance programs.

Coordination of leave requirements has become a "mess to navigate," Aitken said.

Workflex Proposal

To provide more uniform standards, SHRM is backing the Workflex in the 21st Century Act.

Under this proposal, employers would voluntarily offer employees a qualified flexible work arrangement plan that would include a federal standard of paid time off and options for flexible work arrangements, such as telecommuting. The plan, which would be covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, would pre-empt state and local paid leave and workflex laws. Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Calif., introduced the bill Nov. 2, 2017.

Aitken said SHRM is hopeful that Congress will hold a hearing about the bill later this year.


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