A Blockchain Primer for HR

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May 15, 2018

You’ve heard of the blockchain, right?

But, if I asked you to explain it to me, half you would say, “Yeah, dude. Bitcoin.” The other half, well, I’m thinking I’d get something like this…

Don’t worry. In this post, I’m going to turn you into a blockchain expert. Or, at least expert enough to hold a blockchain conversation during a 30-second elevator ride.

Heck, I’ll even share some HR applications to make you the envy of all your friends at the next local SHRM chapter meeting.

First, I need to brag a bit about my firm, FisherBroyles.

Not only do we have a Blockchain/FinTech practice group, but that practice consists of nearly two dozen attorneys across the country, including some of the leading attorneys in the field! When we had our retreat in early May in Park City, Utah, I made damn sure to attend the Blockchain/FinTech breakout session. And while I’m no expert on blockchain yet, I’m starting to work my way up. At least as it relates to human resources and employment law.

A blockchain example

Think of a business transaction where money exchanges hands. For example, I could go to a bank and withdraw money from my account. The bank hands me money and debits my account in a ledger. I keep the money and the bank keeps the ledger.

But, what happens if I withdraw $20 and the bank accidentally keys in a $200 withdrawal into the computer? I lose $180 and there’s little I can do about it because the bank maintains the ledger.

Or what if there’s no accident? Let’s say the bank teller is jealous of my lustrous beard and intentionally keys in a $200 withdrawal. Again, I lose $180 and there’s little I can do about it.

The blockchain prevents that from happening. Here’s how:

The blockchain is a decentralized, public ledger. That is, for each transaction, there are thousands of anonymous nodes (a computer connected to the network) that get a copy of the transaction, recording it in a separate ledger. This is distributed ledger technology. So, changing one ledger is useless. Moreover, once information is entered, it cannot be altered. Each transaction is encrypted and forms a layer. The next encrypted transaction forms another layer. And so on and so forth. This series of transactions form the blockchain.

Got it? No? OK, keep reading.

Blockchain Made Simple

Blockchain (Wikipedia)The Blockchain Explained Simply
What Is Blockchain? (Lifehacker)Understand the Blockchain in Two Minutes
Explainer: What is a blockchain? (MIT Technology Review)The Bitcoin Blockchain Explained – 5 Minutes
Blockchain for Dummies (IBM)Blockchain: Massively Simplified 
A Complete Beginner’s Guide To BlockchainBlockchain Expert Explains One Concept in 5 Levels of Difficulty

What does blockchain have to do with HR?

How about using blockchain technology to background check a candidate and confirm his or her employment history. Like a blockchain resume.

Or maybe create a “smart” employment agreement. Or use blockchain to maintain untampered, encrypted records.

Or imagine paying an employee in cryptocurrency (think: Bitcoin). There are going to be wage and hour implications if the value of the currency fluctuates between the end of the workweek and payday.

Here are some articles to help whet your beaks:

Are you interested in learning more about blockchain? How about the interplay between blockchain and HR? Does your company use blockchain?

I’d love to hear from you, email me.