Blog Post

Why HR Should Be a Business Priority from Day One

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

When you're running a startup, your focus is on the product, the funding and getting the right people on board. You're probably not thinking about a handbook and employee policies—but you should be. And that means getting HR on board at the beginning.

Not just any HR—but good HR. You need an HR manager that has the guts to stand up to a CEO and lay out problems that need fixing, or policies that need implementing. If not, you can end up like one of these case studies in HR nightmares:

Thinx made headlines with its period-proof panties, but now it's in the news because of a sexual harassment claim against the CEO. The charges against her include inappropriate touching, talk and photos.

HubSpot's culture was described by author Dan Lyons as "a mash up of a fraternity house, Montessori school and Scientology cult." That's not what you want your business culture to be.

Uber was accused by a female engineer of ignoring sexual harassment claims. Uber had HR, but HR didn't have the strength, guts or perhaps the knowledge to stand up to the powers that be and say, "No."

How can hiring a good Human Resources manager from the start preempt these problems? And, what's more, how do you find such a person?

Look for 30- to 60-Somethings

Startups are notoriously young. In 2014, The Atlantic estimated that more than half the employees at startups were under 30. Being young isn't bad, but being young can also mean you lack experience.

Being fresh and full of ideas may be good for generating new products, but a lack of experience (and a lack of confidence to stand up for what should be done) can get a company into serious employment law trouble. An HR manager needs to have "been there, done that" before suddenly being put in charge of an entire company's human resources, even if that company only has 30 people. You need someone who knows that you need to shut down the "frat house" culture before someone sues.

Look for Legal Knowledge

An HR manager is never a substitute for an employment attorney—which you should also contract with from day one—but you do need someone with a solid understanding of federal and local laws. A lot of employment law is governed by state law, so if you bring someone in from out of state, make sure you're willing to pay for her training.

An HR manager should understand sexual harassment laws, illegal discrimination (race, gender, religion, age, etc), the specifics of laws for small businesses (i.e., the Americans with Disabilities begins at 15 employees and the Family and Medical Leave Act at 50, for instance) and record-keeping. The most important thing, however, is that he or she knows the limits and has an employment attorney to turn to when in need. Paying for a quick question up front is a lot cheaper than paying for a lawyer to fight a lawsuit for you.

Look for Someone Who Understands Employees

Yes, HR works for the business. An HR manager isn't like a union rep who fights management on behalf of the employees. But good HR people know that good people are critical to a company's success. And good people only stay with good companies.

One of the problems that startups run into is that the founder and her inner circle are willing to devote their whole lives to getting this thing off the ground. That's great! But you can't expect the same thing of your employees—especially if the employees don't have ownership stakes in the company.

HR needs to be there to say, "I know you are willing to work around the clock, and I know that we only have 35 employees, so we don't legally have to provide 12 weeks of maternity leave, but if you want to get good women on board, you will create this policy."

HR needs to be there to say, "Free lunches are awesome, but we need matching funds for a 401(k) instead. Helping our employees prepare for retirement keeps them financially secure, and better able to devote time to work"

HR needs to be there to say, "You shouldn't work all the time. You'll burn out. If you want to do that, fine, but don't expect instant replies when you text employees on the weekends, on vacation or at 11:30 pm."

HR is never the boss, so you have to make the final decisions. But having the right HR person on board from the beginning and listening to what she has to say can save you a fortune on everything from recruiting costs to lawsuit avoidance. And that's good for your business.

Photo: Twenty20

Related Resources

Want to keep learning? Explore our products, customer stories, and the latest industry insights.

Cartoon Coffee Break: Fitness Challenges

Blog Post

Cartoon Coffee Break: Fitness Challenges

Editor's Note: This post is part of our "Cartoon Coffee Break" series. While we take talent management seriously, we also know it's important to have a good laugh. Check back every two weeks for a new ReWork cartoon. +++++ We’re approaching the middle of January, and New Year's resolutions are in full swing. For many, that means being more active and creating a regular gym schedule. But sticking to these goals can be challenging, especially for employees who work at a desk for eight or more hours per day. HR can help employees reach their goals by fostering a culture where workers feel empowered to prioritize their health and by offering benefits like gym memberships or wellness stipends.

Cartoon Coffee Break: Let's Talk About Your Facebook Post

Blog Post

Cartoon Coffee Break: Let's Talk About Your Facebook Post

Editor's Note: This post is part of our "Cartoon Coffee Break" series. While we take talent management seriously, we also know it's important to have a good laugh. Check back every two weeks for a new ReWork cartoon. Header photo: Creative Commons

Ten Dad-Friendly Workplaces

Blog Post

Ten Dad-Friendly Workplaces

When we talk about the quest to "have it all," it's almost always in reference to working women trying to balance a stressful 9-to-5 with the equally difficult demands of family. To be sure, women face distinct challenges in the workplace and high expectations at home. But this Father's Day, let's not forget that dads are increasingly juggling work and home life, too. Single fatherhood is becoming more common in the US—a 2013 Pew report found that a record 8 percent of families with children were headed by a single dad—and 60 percent of households with children are dual-income as of 2014, putting added pressure on both working parents. While policies in the US do not mandate paid family leave of any kind—unlike parent-topia Sweden, which offers 16 months of paid parental leave and three months specifically for paternity leave—many companies are now thinking about how they can help their workers be "Employee of the Year," without sacrificing their "Dad of the Year" trophy. Here are ten excellent companies for working dads, based on a new report from parenting resource website Fatherly. 1. Google Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Mountain View, CA Number Of Employees: 53,600 Paid Paternity Leave: 7 weeks (12 weeks for primary caregiver) Industry: Tech Dad-friendly Policy Highlight: When you work with Google, your family is part of the family—really. If an employee passes away, the company provides his/her spouse with 50 percent of their salary for 10 years and immediately vested stock options, and children receive $1,000 a month until they turn 19 (or 23 if they're a student). 2. Facebook Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Menlo Park, CA Number Of Employees: 10,082 Paid Paternity Leave: 17 weeks Industry: Tech Policy Highlight: Procreating pays off. Facebook gives new parents a $4,000 "new child benefit," along with subsidized day care. Not to mention the $20,000 worth of supplemental insurance coverage for fertility and family planning treatments. 3. Bank of America Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Charlotte, NC Number Of Employees: 220,000 Paid Parental Leave: 12 weeks Industry: Finance Policy Highlight: Bank of America's twelve weeks of paid paternity leave is on par with countries likeIceland. Not too shabby. And, if you can handle the pay break, the company also allows for an additional 14 weeks of unpaid leave. 4. Patagonia Photo: Shutterstock Headquarters: Ventura, CA Number Of Employees: 2,000 Paid Paternity Leave: 8 weeks Industry: Retail Policy Highlight: Working parents don't have to stray far from their kids as Patagonia provides on-site child care for kids up to nine years old. The famously laid-back company will also provide afternoon transportation from local schools back to the office babysitter. 5. State Street Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Boston, MA Number Of Employees: 29,530 Paid Paternity Leave: 4 weeks Industry: Finance Policy Highlight: Flexible work arrangements are a must for the busy working dad (or mom). State Street's program helps take the stress out of setting up some work-from-home time by requiring their managers to approach their employees about flexible work options. 6. Genentech Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: San Francisco, CA Number Of Employees: 14,000 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Biotech Policy Highlight: Along with dedicated paid paternity time, Genentech also offers a sabbatical program for long-term employees. Every six years, you earn six months of time off—perfect for a long summer trip with the kids. 7. LinkedIn Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Mountain View, CA Number Of Employees: 6,800 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Tech Policy Highlight: LinkedIn likes to encourage employees to think outside their cubicle and, in addition to "special projects" time once a month, you will get a $5,000 stipend for job-related education expenses. Maybe "Childcare 101" would qualify? 8. Arnold & Porter LLP Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Washington D.C. Number Of Employees: 1,284 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks (18 for primary caregiver) Industry: Legal Policy Highlights: If your spouse or partner is gainfully employed and you'd like to trade some of those work hours for family time, Arnold and Porter allows employees working at least 25 hours to qualify for benefits. The firm even has an expert panel on hand to help their lawyers make the switch to part-time. 9. Roche Diagnostics Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: Indianapolis, IN (North American HQ) Number Of Employees: 4,500 Paid Paternity Leave: 6 weeks Industry: Healthcare Policy Highlight: Roche employees have plenty of opportunities to teach Junior essential life lessons like how to swing a bat or grow a juicy tomato. The company spends $35,000 annually on sponsored extracurriculars like community sports leagues, and also offers an on-site employee produce garden. 10. PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Photo: Creative Commons Headquarters: New York, NY Number Of Employees: 41,000 (U.S.) Paid Parental Leave: 6 weeks (plus an additional 2 weeks if have or adopt more than one kid) Industry: Professional Services Policy Highlight: Another company that values ad-hoc work schedules, PwC allows employees work-from-home options as well as ""Flex Days." So if you can cram 40 hours of work into less than five days and clear your schedule, you could end up with more frequent three-day weekends and more time with the kids. Photo: Shutterstock

Schedule a personalized 1:1

Talk to a Cornerstone expert about how we can help with your organization’s unique people management needs.

© Cornerstone 2022