The History of HR Answers

Told by Our Founder, Judy Clark

It all started on a hard-core door over two empty, but optimistic, file cabinets in my home.  What precipitated this was my layoff after Eastmoreland General Hospital was purchased by American Healthcare Management, a for profit organization.  They started their ownership with a 21% reduction in staff, including me. After I left the hospital, I had three calls by Wednesday of the next week asking if I could help them.  One was from the very hospital I just left.  I offered the following response, “Sure, I would be happy to help you until I find a full-time job.”  I never got around to searching for that full-time position.

One evening as I was preparing some material for the next day’s appointment with a doctor’s office I was assisting, my husband said, “You are working at home in the evenings just like when you worked for the hospital.  Does this mean that this is a full-time job?”   That question was the turning point.  I thought that there were a large number of small employers who didn’t need full-time HR, and would likely encounter situations where they needed HR assistance.  So, the concept of HR Answers, Inc. was born.  As I write this, that was in 1985, thirty-six years ago.

The organization was originally named PC Northwest.  The “PC” stood for Personnel Consulting.  That was a fine name right up until PC meant Personal Computer.  A name change was necessary.  A fair amount of head-scratching finally produced the name HR Answers, Inc.  That allowed us to create a tag line, “Whatever the question.”

While the nature of the organization has evolved, we have always said that “We are a free-standing HR department for hire.”  Our belief was, and still is, that every organization, regardless of size, needs HR knowledge or coaching at some point.  This was the impetus for our Advantage Plan which allowed employers to contact us on an unlimited basis by email or phone for questions or assistance with HR issues.  That program was started in 1986 and it continues today covering hundreds of clients.  That was also the year we started our clients and friends newsletter, Advantage.  The first year it was produced every two months, and then it became monthly.  It was intended to be an update on any HR compliance requirements and include HR articles and best practice information.  The newsletter continues and has a wide circulation.  It has been fun to watch HR professionals take us along as they change jobs.

Over the years, we have embarked on a variety of new services.  We have added Affirmative Action Plan creation which supports employers who are either federal contractors or sub-contractors and required to complete a plan every year.  One of our major additions was a service we nicknamed HR Extras.  It was designed to support the hiring needs of our clients.  We started by just providing HR people primarily for a temporary assignment.  Then we expanded to include administrative jobs, then executive positions, and then any recruiting need a client might have. We now offer staffing services to any organization.  At one point, we were offered the opportunity to purchase an employment poster business from Chevron Oil.  The employment posters were managed by an HR professional in Seattle.    When she was going to move out of the area, she called us to see if we wanted to buy her inventory and service.  The price was right so we said “yes.”    We nicknamed it Poster Plus thinking that is would be reasonably easy to add policy drafting and Employee Handbook to our offerings.  This decision was made in the days of little change to the posters.  Little did we know that every state was going to soon make changes, often every year.  The process of generating stickers to cover expired laws and reprinting federal posters because of major changes soon showed us the error of that decision.  It was a great idea; it just didn’t pencil out.   

The firm has endured through several economic booms and busts, each of which significantly impacted us.  During a boom, we were as large as 27 employees, plus the HR professionals that we had placed at other companies as temporaries.  During busts, we have had to practice what we advised clients to do regarding layoffs.  It is a painful process.  During one of our expansions, we had branch offices in Bellevue and Sunnyside Washington.  We also had branches in Kentucky and Long Island, New York.  We had a contract with Fireman’s Fund Insurance to assist their 1600 insureds with HR issues under their Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) across the US, it was necessary for us to have greater coverage over all the US time zones.  This was one of our biggest efforts.  When we started, there were only four insurance companies offering HR support to the clients.  When we ended that partnership, there were 77 insurance companies offering HR support with the purchase of EPLI coverage.  We take great pride in those 10 years of work on behalf of those organizations, a few of whom have stayed as clients since then.

As time progressed, it became evident that the ownership of HR Answers would have to change.  We made a few attempts to merge with other organizations and considered selling to suitors.  One of the stipulations that went along with those efforts was the nature of HR Answers would need to remain constant.  Few organizations were interested in trying that.  At the last moment, something always got in the way of consummating those deals.  It wasn’t until Laurie Grenya joined our organization that the situation turned in our favor.  She demonstrated that she was very knowledgeable of HR, had a good head for business, was passionate about what HR meant to employers and employees, and was willing to put in the work necessary to manage a small business.  Conversations began, and the outcome was that HR Answers, Inc. was sold to her effective September 1, 2021.  I will stay with the company doing HR Expert Witness work until it no longer makes sense.  I leave the ownership knowing that HR Answers is in good hands and confident much will remain the same; and the things that will change probably need some revision or to be discarded.  The first 36 years were mine to craft.  The next 36 years belong to Laurie and I am anxious to see what positive decisions she will make.

Judy Clark – Founder

“One of the constants is the caliber and customized service we offered clients.”