Why I- And You Should – Love Sponsors

Last week I went to a conference called the Institute for Continuing Legal Education‘s 35th Annual Labor and Employment Law Institute. Given that exasperatingly long name, I don’t think I have to tell you any more about what material the conference covered.  Hundreds of Michigan attorneys and HR pros descend on this conference every year to receive updates, information, and training related to employment and labor law developments.

Even though I have attended this conference several times in the past, this year I paid attention to something totally new.  Something that I either ignored, or, even worse, scoffed at during previous conferences.  This year I paid special attention to THE SPONSORS.

In conferences past, I paid no mind to sponsors.  I always thought that sponsors were money-hungry vultures, looking to make a buck from a captive audience that probably didn’t have a choice about whether or not they really wanted to hear the sponsor’s name or message. Look the other way and walk by fast – that was my motto.

I had a change of heart this year.  Several months ago I was asked to be a part of the planning committee for HRevolution, an unconference of cutting edge, forward-thinking HR topics.  I had been an attendee at the very first HRevolution last November, and I was thoroughly delighted by the experience.  I was humbled when asked to participate, and more than happy to help.

During these past few months of planning, I learned something very critical –  a conference, or even an unconference, costs a lot of money.  There is the facility cost, food costs, programming, signage, badges, perks or prizes (swag), and lots of little things that attendees have come to expect and that good planners want to provide.  The downside is that you can’t charge the full cost to the attendee, or they never would be able to afford to participate.  What can be done?  Ask a sponsor for donations to help defray your costs.

This is why I paid special attention to the sponsors at my employment law seminar last week- they gave money so that I could learn something new.  And this is why I am profusely thanking and loving the HRevolution sponsors.   They are giving money or items or food so that the attendees can gain knowledge and professional development.  They certainly hope for more business, but are not assured in any way of receiving it.  They are believers in the message and goals of HRevolution, and they are opening their hearts and pocket books to prove it.

Sponsors, I have learned, are the angels of the conference world.  The sponsors of HRevolution, shown below, are special angels.   If I ever need the kind of service they provide, I’m calling them first, because I already know they “get it.”   Join me if you can.

Unbridled Talent, LLC

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HR and the LAW (Part 1)

(This blog first appeared as a guest post at Creative Chaos Consultant.  Thanks to VM for giving me the opportunity to post it there and inviting me to cross-post it here.)

Everyone who is a human resources practitioner in the United States has their professional life impacted by employment law.  In fact, the smaller your HR department and company, the larger your direct role in legal compliance probably is. Even VPs of HR, whose entire job may be to determine strategic initiatives, don’t move without considering if those initiatives are legal.

So how does HR learn the law and become the company employment law guru? How can HR use existing employment law – often seen as a liability – as a leveraging tool for positive change?

Each one of those questions require a lot of words to discuss and answer in any meaningful way, so there will be a full blog devoted to each topic.

HR and LAW – Part 1


People just don’t play together nicely sometimes. That’s why laws exist.  Think of your company’s internal “laws” – the rules, policies, and procedures.  Why do you even have them?  You have them because the long history of the human race shows us that people, as a species, can’t always be trusted to behave the way they should.  Laws and rules are based on evidence of bad behavior.  Back in the Industrial Age, when the USA was moving from an agrarian society into an industrial/commercial giant, employers were not playing fair. So state and federal legislators began requiring or prohibiting certain behavior from the employer.  And that legislative push is not stopping anytime soon, because people – and the companies they run – are still not always good sandbox buddies.  So my first rule for the HR practitioner who wants to be legally compliant (and keep their company out of expensive employment law trouble) is:


Change your behavior if you need to; don’t force lawyers to make you treat your employees fairly.

It’s too late to make that your total strategy, though, because there are already tons and tons of laws on the books that you have to adhere to, no matter how nicely you are playing today.  This means that you actually have to KNOW some law, as much as it may hurt.  But how do you get that legal knowledge?

Many HR departments are totally dependent on counsel, either outside or in-house.  I’m not against that strategy (I am, after all, a lawyer), but I don’t recommend an attorney as your exclusive source of legal knowledge unless your company is large enough to have in-house employment/labor counsel. (More on this subject in a minute.) For most HR practitioners, and for those HR Generalists working in a solo environment, I say:


You heard me.  Get a comprehensive manual that is written (1) by lawyers in your state, (2) for an organization that represents businesses, (3) is updated at least every two years, and (4) covers both state and federal laws.  Yes, they are usually a little pricey, but they are far cheaper than calling outside counsel every time you have a question. If you have in-house employment counsel, go borrow theirs, because I guarantee you they have one.

I can’t recommend a specific manual because you need one that covers your own state as well as federal law.  I’m located in Michigan, and I prefer the manuals published by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce (The Employment Law Handbook), and the Institute for Continuing Legal Education (Employment Law in Michigan, An Employer’s Guide). No one paid me to say that.

I don’t recommend doing legal research on the web, because the information is far flung and often informal, and you need to ask a really pointed, specific question to gain anything valuable. It also takes a long time to sift through all of the noise.  Use the manual first, and then supplement the details on the web if you need to. If you insist on using the web, try the official government site for the bureau that monitors the specific law, like the federal Department of Labor.

Unfortunately, a manual is only going to go so far.  It will give you some sound guidelines for your company behavior and requirements, but there may be issues or specific problems that need a more knowledgeable take, because I know you are not going to memorize that entire manual.  So dealing with an attorney is not only inevitable, but often desirable. I have words of caution on this subject, though:


Most people and companies spend far more time agonizing over what type of computer to buy than what type of legal services to buy.   If you have actually used your manual and have some knowledge of the law, buying your legal service will become an easier task.  Repeat that:  YOU are the buyer. Your company pays the attorney, and they provide service to you. If you are not happy with that service – CHANGE IT. It’s a lot easier than changing your HRIS.

Here are some of my feelings about the type of lawyer to hire (both in-house and outside counsel):

  • Find an employment/labor law specialist.  Don’t hire or use your cousin just because they are cheap and available.
  • Find a “can do” attorney.  One of the biggest complaints of HR pros is that the attorney always tells them what they CAN’T do, instead of helping them DO it properly.  It’s an entirely valid complaint.  Yes, there are attorneys who help companies find a solution, instead of always telling them “don’t”, or “you can’t”.  They’re out there – look harder.
  • Have a voice in hiring your labor/employment attorney. This may be the most critical component of all.  If you need someone to help YOU with your human resources legal compliance, why would YOU let someone else decide who that person is going to be? You would not let someone else take away your decision on other HR resources to purchase or use.  Don’t do it with this most valuable of all your resources.
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