· 4 min read
Valerie Capers Workman has been the chief legal officer at Handshake, a recruiting platform, since February 2022, after serving as an HR leader at Tesla, where she was head of North America HR and later VP of the People team.
In a recent conversation with HR Brew, Workman discussed new regulations around pay transparency and AI, as well as the relationship between legal and HR, and what she thinks the future holds for early-career employees.
How do you feel about the relationship between the HR and legal departments, and how has that relationship evolved?
Pre-Covid, it was reactionary. When HR met with legal, something had occurred, and we were trying to figure things out, or solve an issue that had occurred.
Post-Covid, it’s all about framing how to better serve employees, and it’s been so wonderful to see legal play a key role in helping HR to set policies and programs that help employees navigate their way through the workforce…It’s a much more collaborative, proactive way to work together then it was pre-Covid.
What’s so cool is the employment law is no longer the reactionary team that we used to be. It’s much more inspirational to be an employment lawyer now than it used to be because there’s so much great you can be doing while the employee is there, rather than thinking about the beginning and the end of someone’s career. You’re worried about the middle, which is fantastic.
What are some roadblocks that can occur in the HR–legal partnership?
From the HR side, pay transparency, as we know from our data, is one of the number one aspects of work life that employees are looking for, particularly early talent…so a lot of [regulators] have started to implement laws.
Quite frankly, this is not an easy undertaking for companies that traditionally have not believed in being transparent about pay…Typically, in legal teams, the less you say about anything, the better. Lawyers want to say less; HR wants to say more. These two teams are working together on how to implement pay transparency laws to make sure that we are compliant…and HR wanting to go above and beyond compliance to be transparent…Those are the types of things that HR and legal are now working on in a proactive way that you just wouldn’t see this a couple of years ago.
There are new laws coming up that say, if you are using AI in your recruiting process, you need to make sure that there is no bias there. [It’s] another great project for HR and legal to work together on to ensure that there is a clear path to being hired.
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How do you approach the fact that companies have to deal with different employment standards by state or country, especially as these regulations are changing?
Usually, if it happens in three jurisdictions in three different states, you tell your client, “’You might as well just make your peace with whatever this item is. It’s going to be everywhere soon.”
That conventional wisdom is one of those few types of nuggets that remains true.
[In this situation], two things happen. One, you as a company ask yourself, what is the best practice? Even if it’s just one jurisdiction, is the thing that was made into law something that as a company we should be doing?
Like pay transparency, it’s only in one state, might not affect us as a company yet, but we should be looking at this as a best practice. Once it happens the second time you say, “’Okay, let’s start thinking about policy around this,” because it’s coming…
You don’t want to be the last…especially if you want to be attractive to talent, you should say early and often the things that matter most, and pay is one of them.
What is your best advice for companies making lots of younger generation and early-career hires?
I believe that every career has a STEM component to it, and what I think is so exciting right now is three years ago there were like five companies if you wanted to be in tech. If you couldn’t get into one of those five companies, you thought you couldn’t have a career in tech.
Now, employees—or prospective employees, candidates, recent college graduates—are beginning to understand that tech is at every company. And so if you’re a computer science major, data analysts, there are hundreds of companies that you can work for, have an excellent and outstanding and long career in tech.
While it seems to be a very challenging environment, students are understanding that there’s a lot to choose from now. So I’m very excited that tech is now more open to everyone.