To The Rescue

Intel, Walgreen's, McDonald's, Federated Department Stores, Time Warner and Wal-Mart. These companies have more in common than leading their industries and topping the Fortune 500 list. They're among the growing number of corporations that are responding to increasing business and legal needs by placing lawyers in their human resources departments.

As federal and state governments passed new labor and employment regulations throughout the past few decades, and a determined plaintiffs' bar began suing anyone with deep pockets, companies began to realize that it's not enough anymore to have the legal department advising HR from a separate department.

"The earlier a labor and employment lawyer can get involved, the better the chances of avoiding a full-blown legal battle," says John P. LeCrone, a partner at Davis Wright Tremaine in Los Angeles.

The evolving regulatory environment is only adding to the uptick in employment-related litigation.

"When managers are confronted with certain challenges, such as determining whether to discipline or terminate an employee, the HR lawyers are their first stop," Reid says. And although he didn't comment specifically on the Clevinger case, he says the lawyers in HR remain actively involved in managing any litigation.

"We are very hands-on," he says. "We have outside counsel that actually do the litigating, but we stay very closely involved."

Having a close connection between legal and HR has allowed Grainger to take into account not only the needs of the shareholders and the corporation when making decisions, but also the needs of employees.

"Obviously we are continuing to see the consequences a bad decision can bring," he says. "There is an increased need in human resources to have an in-depth understanding of the obligations one may be faced with, but more importantly, we must know how to get to the appropriate solution."

"There is clearly a need for a marriage between legal and HR." Bulger says. "Companies are just now figuring out what works best for them."

staff Writer

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