United States: 10 Keys To HR Grassroots Advocacy

I am pleased to share my latest post for the SHRM blog.

We all know the importance of grassroots advocacy. How we go about it may make the difference in whether our message is, in fact, heard. Here are ten (10) keys to consider to maximize the value of your efforts:

1. Follow draft legislation

Of course, you should track bills in your jurisdiction. Look to see where they are in the legislative process and the purported level of support.

But you also should be mindful of developments in other jurisdictions too, particularly neighboring jurisdictions. While all politics is local, there are trends that we ignore at our peril.

2. Evaluate bills – think critically

When evaluating a bill, consider not only the short term but also the long term impact. While some bills may have laudable intent, there may be adverse consequences.

For example, mandated sick pay may sound appealing, at least at first blush. But it limits an employer's ability to design a workplace-flexibility program that reflects the needs of its workforce and meets the needs of employers. One size does not fit all.

3. Know your representatives

Whether at the federal or state level, you need to know your representatives. Visit them. And, invite them to meet with you and others.

Of course, there will be times it will be hard for you to have direct contact with them. Develop relationships with their staffers, too. Relationships with them can be the key to success and, in most instances, staff are more accessible than your representative.

4. Build positive relationships

You don't want to be seen as someone simply making an "ask." Make public policy a two way street.

Offer yourself, and your company, as a valuable resource for HR knowledge. Share with your representative's staff research from SHRM (among other sources) as well as non-confidential information on your own organization to help inform their decisions.

This can be particularly helpful in the early stages with proposed legislation. At this point, the representative may have not staked out a view.

5. Get others involved

HR should not go it alone. Consider involving others in your organization, such as your CEO. Also, look at external organizations, such as trade or professional associations, with which you can partner. Look both nationally and locally as well.

6. Legal considerations

Do not forget that whatever you say may be discoverable. So, breathe deeply before responding to a bill that you think could threaten your survival.

Imagine a letter in which someone threatens to close down if a bill is enacted and then the bill is enacted and the employer shuts down. The letter could be the fodder for a legal claim.

One way to counter this is to make sure we discuss issues in a factual, measured terms. Some organizations often use the most bellicose terms to describe what will happen if a bill becomes law.

Stay above that fray and speak in direct, clear, and accurate terms. It gives your advocacy pitch more credibility.

7. Don't forget yourself

Yes, there are personal considerations, too. Check with your employer before taking any public position.

It is possible that your employer may not want you to support or oppose a bill for reasons related to an important client, customer, your organization's brand or other relationship.

You won't know if you don't ask. If you don't ask, you might not keep your job.

8. HR considerations

Assume your workforce will find out what you say. Accordingly, make sure what you have said is defensible in terms of content and tone.

For example, I would avoid loss of profits when it comes to proposed minimum wage increases that are too high. I would talk about what the potential consequences on employees may be: there is only so much money for wages so a large increase in the minimum wage may result a contraction in the wage range, hurting our long-term employees.

9. Be practical

Pick your battles carefully. You may not want to oppose a bill that has almost unanimous bi-partisan support.

You also don't want to give life to an issue that is dead. So be careful of over-reacting by giving a bill that is going nowhere publicity so that goes it somewhere.

10. Meet with your representatives

Under this category, six (6) recommendations:

  • Treat your meeting or interaction with an elected official's office like any other business meeting. Come prepared, bring your business cards and discuss the issues in a professional, business-like way. Make sure you follow-up from the meeting with the staffer.
  • Do not make any assumptions with regard to the representative's position or even knowledge of the bill. In fact, even if the representative's name is on the bill, it does not necessarily follow that he or she supports it or even has read it.
  • Do not attack the motives of the representative. That only invites defensiveness, at the very least.
  • Explain the bill, in succinct terms, so that the representative knows what you are talking about. Discuss how the bill will affect your organization, one of his/her constituents. Even if he or she has read it, it is not likely to be top of mind.
  • Explain your position. In this regard, do not simply explain the pros or cons of the bill. State what you ultimately hope the legislator will do.
  • Don't ask for the impossible. In some cases, it may not be politically possible for the representative to oppose (or support) a bill. However, it may be possible for him or her to remain silent.

Hope these suggestions are of some help. Okay, now let's do it!

Jonathan A. Segal is a managing partner at Duane Morris LLP and a member of the firm's Employment Services Group. He is a routine contributor to SHRM, Fortune, Entrepreneur, and Businessweek as an employment law specialist. You can find him on Twitter @Jonathan_HR_Law .

Disclaimer: This Alert has been prepared and published for informational purposes only and is not offered, nor should be construed, as legal advice. For more information, please see the firm's full disclaimer.

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