You Expect the HR Director to Do What?

Bea took a seat next to her friend Maria at the monthly SHRM chapter meeting. “Maria how are you? I was hoping I’d run into you. I have an HR question for you.”

Maria smiled. “Always good to see you. How can I help?”

Bea took a breath. “I’ve got the insurance stuff down and my on-boarding process is smooth and easy thanks to the advice you gave me last time. I’m glad to say I don’t have a lot of conflicts to deal with but the Department of Labor rules have got me on the run. It seems there’s always a twist or change and if I mess it up, the company gets fined—which means I get in trouble. How do you deal with it?

Maria leaned in a bit closer. “I’ll let you in on a secret: HR directors are often asked to manage this stuff but nobody understands it unless they specialize in it. It’s complex and constantly changing … and you’re right; the consequences of doing it wrong can be serious … and when you screw up, it’s on you.”

Bea swallowed her sip of coffee. “So how do you manage it?”

“I made a few expensive screw-ups and had this same conversation about a year ago here in this same room. A good friend and mentor referred me to Madison Pension Services and since then, I’ve just let them take care of it.”

Bea took a breath. “But how did you sell that to your boss? Didn’t they think you were trying to hire someone else to do your job?

Maria chuckled and then continued. “It was easy. They know I’m good at managing our employees so they trust me. I explained that there are penalties for messing up … and some of the forms need to be filed by an actuary. How many of us HR professionals have that expertise?

“We used to have our payroll provider manage our 402(k) plan. After all, they do our payroll. But I never spoke to the same person twice and I had no confidence in the answers they gave me. Given the risks and penalties—and the benefits of managing employee retirement plans correctly—it just makes sense to put those tasks in the hands of someone who understands the pension laws, makes sure everyone in the plan is eligible, files the forms correctly the first time, and makes all the deadlines.”

“You mean…?”

“Yes Bea. You can be a perfectly capable HR director and not be an expert on pension law. One hallmark of a real pro is their ability to find the right resources when they’re confronted with a task that’s out of their range. The ones who try to cover up their lack of expertise are the ones who make the expensive mistakes.”

“Got it; that’s good advice.”

“Any time.”