HR Professionals and the Law: The What, Why, and How of Awareness of Laws
Why HR Professionals Must be Aware of the Laws of the Land
Like all entities, corporates are expected to function according to the laws of the land and they must also follow the various rules and regulations that are in vogue in the specific countries and regions in which they operate.
In recent years, noncompliance with the laws of the land have landed many corporates in a soup and especially given the fact that there have been a spate of business ethics scandals and incidents of fraud, the governments worldwide are now following a Zero Tolerance approach towards corporates that flout the laws of the land.
While the laws apply to corporates in total, even the Human Resource (HR) function and the HR professionals who staff them are expected to be aware of the relevant laws and rules and regulations in their everyday routine as otherwise, they would be putting themselves as well as their organisations at risk.
Indeed, given the fact that the various processes such as hiring, firing, downsizing, pay and perks, appraisals, and laws related to harassment and discrimination at work are all regulated and come under the ambit of the laws of the land, more than ever, it is important for HR Professionals to be cognisant of the regulatory aspects of their work.
Knowledge of the Laws is Not a Luxury, but, Necessity for HR Professionals
For instance, many countries worldwide have strict laws against firing and downsizing of employees wherein they specify that HR managers have to show strong reasons for why they are firing and downsizing workers.
Take the case of India where corporates have to explicitly state the reasons if they are downsizing more than 50 or 100 employees and more so, if they are covered under the Shops and Establishments Act.
Moreover, there are laws pertaining to harassment and discrimination against employees and hence, governments around the world take a Dim View if corporates are trying to cover up cases of sexual, gender, racial, and other forms of harassment at work.
In India, the Supreme Court has clearly laid down the guidelines on how such cases of harassment should be dealt with and in case, the corporates are not following them, the HR managers would have to face the punitive actions that can include arrest and detention.
Therefore, it is not a luxury for HR professionals to be aware of the laws and rather, it is a necessity.
What Happens When HR Professionals Flout the Laws?
Having said that, there are many cases and instances in which the HR managers often either flout the laws with full knowledge that they are doing so or are ignorant of some provisions of the laws and hence, they violate the laws.
In our working experience, we have come across HR managers who thought that they were protecting the employees from the law by shielding them only to realise later on that the laws are very strict as far as disclosure is concerned.
In other words, the best thing that HR managers can do when confronted with a possible infringement or violation of the law would be to report the matter to the higher-ups as well as refer to their lawyers for further action.
Believe us when we say that HR managers should never try to take the law into their own hands and behave in a manner that would cause trouble for themselves and their employers down the line.
Transparency is the key here and hence, HR professionals must be aware of the consequences of their actions lest they face more trouble for their actions down the line.
Indeed, this is the reason why many corporates have specific training programs for HR professionals to make them aware of the relevant laws of the land.
How the Shift from Industrial to Service Sector Impacted the HR Professionals
While in the Industrial Era, the Labour Officers who were the predecessors of the modern day HR managers were expected to and indeed, aware of the various laws of the land related to all HR processes, as they were dealing with Unions and shop floor workers, the advent of the services revolution meant that there were no Blue Collar Workers and hence, a cosy feeling emerged wherein the entire workforce made up of White Collar Workers meant no Strikes, no Labour Disputes, and no Violence.
This resulted in corporates becoming somewhat lax as far as ensuring that all employees and in particular, the HR managers are aware of the latest laws and the rules and regulations.
However, with the advent of the Gig Economy and emergence of Part Time work, the Wheel has Come Full Circle, since contract employees and Freelancers often have to be reminded about the Fine Print in their Contracts.
Of course, even in the Service Sector firms, it has become mandatory for HR managers to keep the employees constantly monitored and regulated lest they break the law, knowingly or unknowingly.
Remember, ignorance of the law is not an excuse for breaking it and the courts take a very Dim View of those who claim that they were not aware of the laws.
Therefore, more than ever, it is important for HR professionals to ensure that neither they nor their employees flout the laws.
In case there are instances of such violations, the immediate action must be to keep all the stakeholders in the loop rather than covering it up or maintaining silence.
To conclude, in times when regulators are cracking down hard on corporates, it is in nobodyís interest if HR professionals are ignorant of the laws and rules and regulations.
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