Tim Cahal Article Learning from rookie mistakes: Tim Cahal, Director of Human Resources, recalls the pitfalls of relying on conventional wisdom It’s normal and advisable for someone new to a job to seek the advice of more experienced people, but trusting the judgment of a so-called expert can result in serious consequences. I learned this the hard way about 15 years ago, when I became Director of Human Resources for Landmark Education, an international personal and professional training and development company with offices in more than 20 countries. One of my first major projects as a new Director of Human Resources was conducting a compliance audit to determine what positions fell under which exemptions under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). An s part of this audit, we were converting a significant number of positions to nonexempt status under the FLSA guidelines. As part of my research prior to implementing this conversion, I consulted a new attorney in employment law. I shared my proposal regarding how to pay overtime, and he confidently advised me that my proposal would be in compliance with FLSA overtime regulations. As a new Human Resources Director, I trusted my attorney’s view without doing the necessary work to ensure that I understood fully the FLSA regulations. Unfortunately, that proved to be a grave error. By blindly following the conventional wisdom (trusting an expert), I had just unknowingly set up a system for my company that violated overtime regulations. Ironically, of course, the implementation of this system had been undertaken with the intent of complying with overtime regulations. It was not until a routine Department of Labor (DOL) audit that I learned the new system I’d implemented was not in compliance with the payment of overtime under the FLSA. It was a shocking and embarrassing incident for me and resulted in an enormous amount of work to ensure all our hourly employees were paid the correct overtime due them, to implement new pay practices, and to train the managers and staff in the correct overtime pay practices. We immediately complied with all the Department of Labor auditors’ dispositions -- subsequently we were audited by the DOL and found to be in full compliance with the FLSA. The powerful lessons I learned from this unfortunate experience apply to all Human Resource professionals – from the individual just starting out, to the most seasoned expert: • Never presume you or anyone else knows what the regulations are. • Do your own research to ensure you understand the regulations and compliance issues. • Get all legal advice in writing, and ask questions until you can own and be responsible for any compliance advice given. • If the solution sounds to be good to be true, it probably is. Never take short cuts when dealing with compliance issues. • Compliance must be a fundamental value of management. • Everyone makes mistakes. It’s what you learn from mistakes that’s important. Finally, one mistake doesn’t necessarily define a Human Resources Director’s career. You will invariably make mistakes – what is vital is that you deal with them openly and honestly and take responsibility for them. If you do, your mistake will not define your career and be a mark against you, but instead will contribute to making you a more wise, thoughtful human resources business professional.
Excellent points, Tim! Thanks for sharing your experiences and POV. I definitely agree - doing your own research allows you to be 100% confident in the results. If you want to consult "expert" opinion, it's always a good idea to verify the answer with your own research or with a 2nd opinion.