Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Direct From the PIHRA Legal Update 2010

As a Breakout session speaker for the 23rd Annual PIHRA Legal Update, I am smack in the middle of Day 2 in what is a three day marathon conference designed to educate and update the human resource professionals of Southern California on recent laws and trends. Today I walked into the Ontario Hilton with my head full of the case law and statutes pertaining to my own presentation: “How HR Can Protect the Company Assets” - an update on unfair competition cases. Suddenly, I was struck by a sense of déjà vu. I realized that I had been in this exact hotel, in this exact foyer thirteen years prior for the exact same conference, at the very beginning of my career but I was younger, less experienced and my business, Katz Consulting & Associates, was in its fledging state. I was brand new to PIHRA and only just meeting the HR professionals that have since become my most faithful clients.

Well, aside from recognizing that my business mission to teach Proactive Lawsuit Prevention Strategies has come to fruition in the past decade, I grasped how much I owed to the PIHRA organization for providing me the access to clientele who (in exchange for one hour legal updates) have enabled me to build a viable, rewarding career as an outsourced investigator, seminar leader and HR consultant. Certainly, I am one of the lucky California attorneys who get to use her law degree in a unique manner.

So, what else has changed in the decade since I last spoke at a PIHRA Legal Update? When I began Katz Consulting & Associates, very few employers advocated sexual harassment prevention training to their employees. AB1825 required training was unfathomable. The common perception was that it would be a huge mistake - telling employees that they had a right to sue their companies or managers. This was to remain a secret -something they would not know intuitively from being groped in a private conference room (or watching “Ally McBeal”.) Employers did not want to risk teaching the employees about harassment and discrimination laws. It was difficult for me to convince potential clients to be proactive about harassment prevention and to train their employees about their grievance procedures in order to prevent revenge litigation. In fact, my “Unlawful Harassment Prevention” seminar was the first “Proactive Strategy” that I recommended to clients – and a tough sell it was. Now, sexual harassment prevention training is mandatory for managers and introducing clients to other awareness raising seminars is welcomed.

Another change that has occurred in the last ten years is that I have competition in the marketplace. When I began my “niche” business to educate and train employers about lawsuit prevention, very few attorneys did the same. Law firms did not want their partners and associates counseling their clients in a way that undermined the likelihood of employment litigation – their bread and butter. Now, almost every employment law firm in the city incorporates some aspect of lawsuit prevention counseling into their client services, especially in the past year when the economy has forced employers to reduce legal fees and law firms are looking to provide alternative services to their clients. Albeit, few lawyers have the “flair” for entertaining while educating that I bring to my programs. (I also do my own PR.) Did I mention that prizes are given out in my training programs too?

The last major upheaval that I have noticed in my own business is the “flip-flop” that has occurred as a result of the recessionary economy. For the majority of the decade, my business was primarily a training company and occasionally, I conducted investigations. Or more often, I taught HR professionals how to do so themselves, in-house. Now, the training budgets and training departments of companies are diminished, but the occasion for an impartial investigator has risen. Terminations are more frequent, terminating for cause requires an investigation (see Blog Post, Dec. 31, 2009) and more executives and contract employees are being held accountable for their misconduct. Moreover, HR has been downsized so the few who remain are overworked and without the time to conduct consuming investigations. My business flip-flopped and now I am focusing primarily on building up the investigations arm of it. I’m not complaining -refocusing my own business strategy has been revitalizing. Certainly, instantly updating my website and blog is far easier than redesigning, reprinting and redistributing a laminated brochure. Times have changed.

And they are still changing. Based on what I have seen and heard at this PIHRA Legal Update, the issue that most of the PIHRA professionals are still intrigued and stumped by is social media, internet policies, performance and misconduct concerns as a result of the misuse or abuse of technologies and usage. PIHRA members are once again paving the way for future “Proactive Lawsuit Prevention” seminars and topics. As I have done for the past decade plus, I will let the PIHRA members lead my business direction. Look for the next post on HR’s Proactive Strategies related to these issues. In the meantime, leave your comments on what changes you've experienced that altered your own perspective in the last decade.

Looking forward to another day at the PIHRA Legal Update in Universal City tomorrow!

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