In 2015, Walmart was fighting tooth and nail to save its reputation against negative PR campaigns in the US. A severe backlash from the media and civil society came when Walmart fired a blue collar worker. He was accused of stealing cans and bottles worth two dollars. The corporation was called an inhuman profit-making machine.
How did this single firing turn the PR campaigns that Walmart runs each year into a waste?
While firing the employee, the company did not explain how as less as two dollar theft is a misconduct. The employee did not know or understand the company policies. He wasn’t explained his fault at the time of firing.
You see, a little procedural lapse from the HR department can cost so much to the company. For each day the company does not face such issues, HR departments (HRDs) have to be working very hard and smart. Despite of that, you have probably heard conversations like this:
“HRDs don’t do anything. They just gossip around and shoot well-worded mails”
“All that HRDs do is to organise Holi/ Diwali meetings and decide costumes”
Have you ever heard any of these references in your everyday life?
Of course you have, if you are an HR professional.
Extremely high chances that you have heard these even if you are not an HR professional.
Regardless of how everyone looks at it, the companies which are most sought after by the working population are those with the best HR policies. Human Resources departments play a key role in attracting and retaining talent.
Do you feel that popular culture does not do justice to the profession of Human Resources?
Many HR professionals find it challenging to make their work visible – making them look like replaceable team components. No wonder, during the lockdown, HR professionals were the worst hit by job cuts.
This situation is not the same for the HR Ninjas, though! HR Ninjas are those HR professionals who are well equipped to handle all challenges a company might face.
HR Ninjas not only protect their companies; they also ensure steady and fast career growth for themselves. Only the Ninjas among HR professionals get to become an HR Director or a Chief People Officer.
Why are HR Ninjas crucial for companies?
Well, let me tell you of a recent event which can answer this.
Wistron Infocomm Manufacturing India Pvt Ltd (“Wistron”) has been manufacturing inventories for many electronic giants, including Apple who is their biggest client. It not only brought the manufacturing for Apple in India, it provided employment to many people.
On December 12, 2020, violence erupted in Wistron’s factory in Bengaluru. The company suffered a loss of around 57 Crores in the mayhem. The Labour Department of Karnataka conducted an internal investigation in Wistron. Apple has now put Wistron on probation and it is highly likely that its contract will not be renewed. The Vice President of Wistron Corporation, Wistron’s parent company, had to lose his job because of his inability to prevent such an occurrence.
As it turns out, the third party contractors working with Wistron hadn’t paid salaries to the workers. The workers believed that they were working for Wistron, and not the contractors. As the issue was in its initial stage, the HR department of Wistron failed to establish trust with the workers. They could not even call the relevant authorities to prevent the violence on time.
The news went out that Apples’ contractors are not paying wages to the labourers. The misinformation created tremendous loss to Wistron’s reputation, and caused a dent in Apple’s image too. As a damage control measure, Apple considered pulling out from transactions with Wistron.
Summary of the story is, labour issues can escalate very quickly to any scale. Believe it or not, HRDs stand as the first line of defence against labour disputes.
To live upto that role, it is imperative that the HR professionals evolve into HR Ninjas. Here are some of the qualities of an HR Ninja:
- They are updated about the employee policies and keep upgrading them.
- They follow the “best practices” in the industry while managing the employees.
- They can deal with labour authorities like a Pro.
- They have impeccable drafting skills. They can communicate well with the employers, employees, unions, labour authorities, police and media.
Challenges before the HR departments
It is becoming challenging to avoid labour issues. The government collects more data than ever (see here). It is easier now to catch a compliance gap. We have both civil and criminal penalties for non-compliance with labour laws.
One of the significant setbacks that any HR department may face is being taken by surprise. Regulatory authorities may initiate action against them, and they might not even know why they were subjected to such action! Sometimes they miss filing replies within time, at other times they lose track of the document trail. All of this leads to non-compliance by the company.
The situation is even aggravated when regulatory authorities frame issues which the HRDs are unable to understand. The HRDs end up replying inappropriately. Most of this happens because the HRDs do not have sufficient knowledge of the law.
There are 50+ labour laws in India like the Factories Act,1948, Payment of Wages Act, 1948, Payment of Bonus Act, 1965 etc. You may not know each of them, so you need to understand how the law works. You need relevant skill to understand the working of the procedure and act accordingly.
Need of Drafting Skills
There are three crucial situations where the HR professionals are required to have Grade-A drafting skills:
Filing replies with regulatory or central or state authorities
To correctly submit replies to the authorities, one will need to understand the issue in hand. The official communications from government authorities are highly imbued with legal language and they use legal provisions to make their arguments.
If you can reply to the authorities appropriately, you may satisfy them and prevent penalties from being imposed on the company.
Many times, inappropriate replies lead to admission by silence. E.g. An authority issues a show-cause notice asking for explanation about why the correct dispute resolution process was not followed. If you reply simply that we actually did follow it, and fail to mention the steps you took, you may end up admitting non-performance of necessary steps of the process.
Labour dispute and violence
If you are working in a labour-intensive industry, it is very likely that you will come across labour disputes and even violence. For e.g. the auto industry remains one of the sectors which has experienced the worst of the labour agitations (see here). The latest example of such violence was the Wistron India case, where the company lost around 50 crores to the vandalisation during labour protests (see here).
With appropriate negotiating skills, an HR professional can tackle such situations by explaining the position of the company to the workers and assuring them that their stand is being considered.
You will need to establish written communication with the agitating labourers, trade unions etc. to ensure that there is clarity about the situation and that there is documentary proof of communication. You will also need to correspond with the police to prevent untoward situations.
Supporting due diligence by investors
As a standard process, investors and lenders can undertake a due diligence exercise before extending investments and loans. As an HR professional, you will need to look over the process and contribute to it. If there is any significant non-compliance related to labour laws, the investors and creditors may turn away from the deal.
These are just a few of many important instances where HRDs play a crucial role. In addition to it, HR professionals are required to draft multiple documents.
Top Three Tasks (TTTs)
There are multiple things that you will need to learn and know to become an HR Ninja. We will share a few tips using which you can immediately step up your game. Here are three things you can immediately do:
Draft kickass replies to the authorities
- The key to write kickass replies is to understand what the authority is actually stating. When you understand that, you will be able to know their purpose i.e. their bigger question. Once you get that, you can preemptively answer the questions which they might direct to you later.
E.g. An authority demands that you produce details of your payroll. If the authority is the ESIC (Employees’ State Insurance Corporation) for instance, they want to check if you have been submitting the employer’s contribution to the fund appropriately. So you not only forward your payroll details, but also a record of contributions made by the company as an employer. For this, you will need to know the law.
- Always back up your submissions with some evidence. Pull out data, and present it to the authority. The earlier the details are placed before the inquiring authorities, the better.
- Create the office procedures to ensure that the documents and records reach your table. This way, you won’t lose track of any document moving from a department to another.
- Be cooperative and always offer to provide any information that they may further need.
- If, by any chance, you are unable to respond on time, inform the authorities. Explain to them the challenges you are facing and why it is not possible for you to meet the deadline.
Draft crystal clear employee policies
How employees interact in the office and how they behave towards work can make or break an organisation. It is vital to stay updated about the needs of the company and draft the policies accordingly. Here are some of the policies that employers should have in place in 2021:
- Code of conduct
- Whistleblower policy
- Anti-sexual harassment policy
- Business and travel policy
- Conflict of interest policy
- Customer data policy
- Data security policy
- Dating policy
- Dress code
- Equal opportunity policy
- Health and safety policy
- Leave and attendance
- Media policy
- Physical contact with customers policy
- Probation policy
- Computer equipment and internet usage policy
- Policy for usage of the company’s intellectual property
A lot of these policies are directly related to laws, e.g. equal opportunity policy resonates with the fundamental right to equality under the constitution; anti-sexual harassment policy is required under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 (POSH), etc.
Here is how you can draft them correctly and ensure compliance with them:
- Use simple and clear language in drafting. Remember that the target audiences are not lawyers. Make use of examples, scenarios and illustrations to explain principles of the policy.
- Do not forget to obtain the consent of the employees for adhering to the policies. This can be done at the time of signing of the employment contract. The contract itself may mention that the candidate agrees to abide by all the policies of the workplace.
- While explaining the policy, cover all the possible scenarios to defeat the policy, think about all the possible mischiefs any person can do to get around the policy. Include them in the draft.
- Establish a procedure for dealing with a violation of the policies. Make sure that the actions against the violating employee are proportionate to their violations. You cannot retrench an employee for a small mistake.
- Conducting enquiries is a very serious process. Learn how to conduct inquiries, how to give a hearing to all parties and how to write orders. Such processes must be in accordance with the principles of natural justice (see here).
- Never miss informing the employees about the updates in the policy.
- Employees often need the training to be able to comply under various laws. e.g. listed companies train their employees in insider trading laws, competition laws etc. the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 mandates the training to be conducted on a regular basis (see here).
Draft accurate notices
Many enforcement and disciplinary proceedings begin with the service of a notice. You don’t need a lawyer to draft a notice. Often, the HRDs are required to draft and send notices. Here are some of the notices that the HRDs are required to draft:
- Notice claiming indemnity from a contractor
- Notice of breach to a contractor/consultant/ employee
- Warning notice
- Termination notice
- Notice for renewal
Whatever the notice is, you must ensure its clarity of content and appropriate delivery. Here are some specific points you should keep in mind while drafting a notice:
- It should be clear whom the notice is addressed to.
- Clarify when will it be supposed that the addressee has received the notice. Is it when it is handed over in person or when it is delivered to his or her home. Nowadays, it has become customary to mention that delivery through email shall constitute a valid delivery of notice.
- Specify the contract/ policy and the underlying provision in accordance with which the notice is being served.
- The subject line must summarise the purpose of the notice.
- Details, if any, can be mentioned in tabular form to ensure clarity.
- If you are presenting a fact, substantiate it with documentary evidence. Include annexures in your draft. Substantiate with documents and make a list of annexures.
- Maintain a digital trail with indexation on your file.
What’s in it for me?
Drafting skills enable you to perform complex and challenging tasks. As you perform a more complex task, you will earn more.
You would be able to protect the management from several risks. If you can, they will rely upon you more and give you more responsibilities. This is how you can scale the heights and become an HR Director or a CXO.
You can also start practising independently and have clients. You can start your own consultancy services firm.
Need more help?
Learning drafting skills can easily get you ahead of the curve. When you try to learn and implement the things you have, you might face some challenges. You can always reach out to us if you do.
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