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A Different View of Your Workforce Reduces Risks

By Henry Chajet

In July 2013 our group of safety and health lawyers as well as our administrators left our general corporate law firm to join a 770+-lawyer, 55-office national workplace law firm. We now represent only management, only in labor and employment matters, and only in the United States. We have the luxury of calling on nationally recognized experts in every conceivable type of legal issue that arises at the millions of work sites in every state, territory and town in the nation. We underwent an incredible transition in liability risk management that I want to share because of its potential value to our friends and clients.

Besides learning the meaning of our new firm’s tongue-in-cheek tagline, “All We Do Is Work,” we quickly began integrating our health and safety law expertise with the specialized expertise and experience of our new partners. We also began to understand our new firm’s goal of substituting alternative and predictable billing arrangements for the “billable hour,” a universal concern to both lawyers and clients. Our new partners and management group helped us look at problems differently with client experts, and we reciprocated by offering a safety law view for any type of work place legal issue. The result has been a wonderful, successful experience for us, our clients and our new firm.

In the first week after moving, we learned that highly specialized drug testing expertise can make a positive difference at fracking sites from our new partner – the author of the nation’s encyclopedia of drug testing laws – and from client experts that understood the scheduling and operational challenges of the industry. The next week, we shared our expertise on contractor management enforcement issues, derived from a lifetime of quarry and mining industry representation, with our new fracking industry friends. Later, we shared our deep silica health effects law expertise with a partner who specializes in benefits, pensions and leave issues, and the client’s HR director and occupational health director. That same week, we teamed with a partner with wage and hour law expertise, and a client’s operations vice president, on issues related to personal protective equipment use and DOL regulations.

By the end of our first month, we found ourselves sharing our fall protection regulatory expertise in a tragic incident involving communication towers with our partner whose expertise is drafting corporate employment policies and handbooks. A week later, in a fatality investigation in an OSHA state plan state, we engaged a partner in that state who knew the state plan personnel and program as well as or even better than we know the national program.

The following month, a long-term client whose company has a facility in Puerto Rico asked about discipline and employment termination. A call to one of our Puerto Rico partners provided instant and rather surprising information. The following month, an MSHA client suffered an accident, and an investigation began of a work crew that did not speak English. My new immigration law partners, local partner with state employee liability expertise, and new, former U.S. assistant attorney general partner, teamed up with me and the client’s lead engineer to minimize liability risks in a high risk situation, presenting multiple levels of issues. The same teaming took place for a client faced with union related issues, also associated to safety and health enforcement, employment litigation and DOL “whistleblower” discrimination investigations.

Solving problems starts with identifying them, and then creating integrated solutions. Both require team efforts. Immediate, high liability risk situations, or a preprogramed focus on particular issues, can mask or distract from factors that contribute to increased risks. For workplace issues, it is called the “Department of Labor” for a reason, and the Department enforces dozens of interrelated laws, together with other departments with related missions. Looking back from my one year anniversary at our new firm reinforces the advantages of strategic risk reduction that teams of experts can address to produce better results than any individual working alone. Together, the right team can not only prevent unwarranted enforcement actions, but also reduce civil liability and help structure policies to reduce workplace risks. Moving to a workplace-focused firm has empowered our ability to gain new insights, with and for our clients, as well as to structure solutions from an integrated strategy perspective. That’s the lesson we take home from the first 12 months at our new home and we share with you in the hope of keeping your risk vision broad, even while addressing specific risk items.

Henry Chajet is a shareholder in the Washington, D.C. Region office of Jackson Lewis P.C. who counsels and represents clients in environmental, health and safety (EH&S) matters and antitrust matters, focusing on crisis management, dispute resolution, trial and appellate litigation, standard setting, liability prevention, regulatory and congressional proceedings and “direct purchaser” overcharge recoveries for corporate clients in antitrust price manipulation cases.