Read My Lips: HR’s Role in Compliance is Strategic

Human Resources compliance is strategic. I’m telling you this because I have lived it and know it to be true.

It seems that everywhere I turn I am reading articles about how HR needs to be more strategic and that many components of the HR role – including compliance training — are purely tactical. In researching the topic, I ran across a 2009 recording of the HR Happy Hour, where several HR thought leaders discuss this very issue.  It’s interesting to me that the argument is still raging five years later.


I don’t believe that the HR role is one to be divided between the tactical and strategic. In fact, many of the tactical aspects of the job can be part of a larger, strategic approach and that then influences the overarching business strategy.

Take employment law compliance, for example. I am frequently asked about the compliance aspect of training managers on employment laws.  Organizations should definitely be training all managers – in fact, all employees — on laws such as FMLA, ADA, HIPAA, FLSA, federal discrimination laws, sexual harassment, etc.  The most commonly accepted practice is to include this in the employee handbook of policies so that every employee has a basic understanding of their rights under these laws. A best practice is to have employees sign acknowledgement and receipt of these policies upon hire as well as annually.

Specific training depends on the size of the organization and possibly the industry the organization serves. There are various vendors that offer a wide array of compliance training courses that can be delivered online or in a classroom setting. It is recommended that managers would go through this type of training upon their promotion and again annually. HR should be tracking this participation.

Depending on the organization size, it may be helpful to hire a provider to aid in administering this training. HR leaders can also implement certificates of completion following training and testing to prove the manager has mastered the topic. Some training, such as HIPAA, is important to specific industries and the HR leader should work with an employment attorney to determine if this type of training is needed and if so, what the organization’s policy will be.

In terms of handling non-compliance, for many of these laws, there should be a no-tolerance practice for non-compliance. Depending on the make-up of the organization, HR can institute some punitive consequences such as suspension (paid and non-paid) and leading up to termination. I recommend that HR leaders work with an employment attorney for specific guidance. Employment attorneys also provide training on many of these laws.

While informing, training and tracking participation and mastery are tactical, the plan that the HR leader creates for the organization is strategic.  It has to ensure that while meeting legal compliance requirements, the business is thinking about how these policies impact acquiring your talented employees. Areas like immigration compliance play into your talent acquisition strategy; OSHA and worker’s compensation compliance play into your benefit strategy. All of these play into your organization’s compensation strategy.

So, is HR’s tactical side incapable of being strategic? I say NO! What do you think?  Tell me I’m right; tell me I’m wrong.


Trish McFarlane, VP of Human Resources Practice and Principal Analyst,

Brandon Hall Group


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Trish McFarlane



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Trish McFarlane