We started HRLawMatters.com because we recognized how important the Labor & Employment laws that Human Resources professionals have to understand and contend with every day really are to their businesses’ success.  We think many of you agree, as do your companies.  I noticed recently one company that looks like it really gets that human resources and the law really matter, and what they did that signals that they “get it” is a bit unusual.

Earlier this year, Molson Coors Brewing Co. announced that its chief legal officer, Samuel Walker, would now also be heading up the company’s human resources function as its “chief people officer.”  While the title is a bit reminiscient of the dot-com era, what struck me was that this major company was recognizing that its top legal officer should also be its top person responsible for all of its nearly 10,000 employees.  That is quite a job.

Mr. Walker’s background might have uniquely enabled Molson Coors to make this decision.  Mr. Walker had not only been chief legal officer for a while (both at Molson Coors and at Coors Brewing Co. prior to its merger with Molson), but he had also been a partner for 10 years with a major law firm, and perhaps most notably, he had been in charge of the largest agency within the U.S. Department of Labor.  So clearly he has HR-related experience and expertise that many other chief legal officers do not.

Regardless, for those of us in the labor and employment world, this combination of leadership roles makes great sense.  While it is a big job to combine both areas, a company cannot do anything without some action by its people.  If a company has a truly comprehensive, thoughtful, prospective (rather than just reactive) human resources function, and a culture that values and empowers its employees to make good decisions, that can head off so many potential legal issues.  If employees know how to be and believe in being respectful of others and to value diversity, won’t that likely reduce discrimination and harassment issues?  If employees understand and think about always working safely and using good common sense, won’t that reduce workers’ compensation injuries, OSHA issues and personal injury claims?  If employees’ honesty and ethical practices are supported and recognized, won’t that minimize financial fraud, theft, and even business deals that end up in disputes — deals which perhaps should have never been entered into by the company at all?

How could combining a company’s legal function with is human resources function not be a good thing?  We will keep an eye on Molson Coors and see how this turns out.  Perhaps companies (like yours) will too.  Maybe we will all see that having greater coordination of legal and HR up front, rather than just in response to crises, problems, claims and litigation, enables a company to be that much more successful.

Either way, their factory in Colorado sure does look like a pretty place to work (at least this time of year).