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The importance of advocacy for HR professionals and small businesses

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California has earned a reputation as a pioneer in employment laws, with many of its policy initiatives leading to national legislative efforts or similar state laws. But as California businesses struggle to comply with numerous laws Sacramento enacts annually, then navigate the differences between California and federal law, they may wonder if legislators even consulted employers who will actually implement these laws. Businesses and HR professionals constantly wonder if legislators have real world experience operating a business or developing workplace policies to benefit employees and employers.

The unfortunate reality is that most legislators have no such HR experience. While certain professions (e.g., attorneys, former staffers, etc.) are arguably overrepresented, HR professionals are vastly under-represented in legislatures. In fact, only four federal lawmakers of the incoming 114th Congress have an HR background: Sens. Mike Enzi (R-WY) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), and Representatives Brenda Lawrence (D-MI) and Gwen Graham (D-FL); only one member of the 120 members of the California Legislature has a background in HR: Assemblyman Brian Jones (R). While this legislative representation is helpful for HR, note that the remaining elected officials do NOT have HR experience.

Margaret Mead famously observed, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.” As we enter 2015, HR professionals should become more involved in shaping effective workplace policy through:

Workplace Expertise and Balance. Business leaders and HR professionals can provide needed expertise as they have hands-on experience running workplaces and complying with workforce regulations. Furthermore, since Sacramento increasingly appears Balkanized between employee-friendly and business-friendly interest groups, HR professionals provide unique expertise in balancing employee and employer interests. This valuable perspective provides a counterweight against employee groups active in the advocacy process. Also, the fact that HR professionals do not have a dedicated political action committee (PAC) and do not endorse candidates lends a genuine, non-partisan approach to public policy advocacy.

Local Network and Influential Constituent Voice. Establishing and maintaining relationships with lawmakers can make the difference when key workplace issues come before legislators. In fact, ongoing research shows that in-person meetings with constituents have the most influence upon lawmakers. Bottom line: Lawmakers want to hear from their constituents, particularly those who bring an expertise and are not too aligned with the “same actors” who weigh in on every issue.

Effective Outcomes. Recent efforts to mandate California-wide paid sick leave or to stay the San Diego Minimum Wage/Paid Sick Leave Ordinance underscore the ability of employee and business groups to advance their respective agendas. However, HR professionals effectively advocated beyond the standard “zero-sum” political paradigm by using their perspective to affect pending legislation.

For instance, in 2014, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), its California State Council and San Diego Chapters (CalSHRM and SDSHRM), and their members advocated against the Paid Sick Leave bill (AB 1522). These grassroots efforts included drafting position papers, meeting with numerous lawmakers around the state, and communicating with legislative offices (emails, letters, calls, etc.) to educate them from a perspective other than a PAC.

While the legislation was ultimately signed into law, the HR community effectively aligned to educate the bill’s champion, Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez (D), and reduce mandates on employers. For example, local HR advocates successfully encouraged a three-year (rather than the initially proposed five-year) document retention period, thus providing consistency with the three-year payroll record retention period already contained in Labor Code section 1174.

HR advocates also promoted workplace flexibility in California. Recently, SHRM and CalSHRM strongly advocated in favor of the Workplace Flexibility Act of 2014 (AB 2448). Through testifying at a key committee hearing, and a recent SDSHRM- and the San Diego Daily Transcript-convened Executive Roundtable, workplace flexibility was shown as something sought by employees to meet their personal and work lives, rather than something employers seek. Lawmakers learned that flexibility can be provided without undercutting important employee protections.

As a fresh legislative session dawns, SHRM, CalSHRM and SDSHRM continue educating lawmakers on the evolving nature of the workplace and collaborate to address workplace developments in Washington D.C. and Sacramento. SHRM’s Advocacy Team (“A-Team”) program, made up of thousands of HR professionals just like you, is critical to advancing the interests of the HR profession and communicating the HR perspective on workplace issues with lawmakers. Because changes impacting the HR world – particularly in California - are constant and ongoing, we invite you to join the A-Team and raise your voice in support of HR. Local HR professionals and business leaders are also invited to attend SDSHRM’s programs or join its legislative committee.

Submitted by CaVU Consulting Inc.

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