Theresa Vreeland – HD Supply
Her bosses knew what was going on behind the scenes. Not so for Theresa Vreeland, who, four days after joining the HD Supply legal department in October 2020, learned that her employer was being re-acquired by The Home Depot 13 years after spinning it off to private equity.
“Should I be looking for something else?” Vreeland wondered. But she was assured that instead of worrying about her job, she should brace herself for a heavier workload because, as the only employment attorney, she would oversee policies and procedures now affecting 12,000 workers—twice the number HD Supply had employed.
She’d become the legal go-to for practically every topic in the evolving world of employment law as it pertained to wholesaler HD Supply becoming a wholly owned subsidiary of the world’s largest home-improvement retailer. She’d address critical processes and programs like compensation, benefits, leaves of absence, workplace investigations, severances, employee privacy and unionization efforts. Working in close partnership with her largest client group, the HR department, she’d integrate the parent’s distribution business into HD Supply – a task made more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Three years later, with Vreeland working at the Atlanta headquarters, she can smile about the experience.
“From what I’ve heard, apparently, I did a great job,” the Vreeland says with a laugh. “But, if so, I couldn’t have done it without the HR team. They’ve been fantastic.”
Corporate culture matters
There’s somewhat of a mutual admiration society between Vreeland and the HR Team. Together, she says, they took a progressive stance with vacation, seniority and retirement benefits accrued being honored under the new arrangement.
“Benefits, as you can imagine, are close to the heart of employees,” Vreeland says. “If we didn’t make them transferrable, we wouldn’t have set us off to success.”
She’s doing her part to ensure a positive corporate culture, too. That includes monitoring the labor laws at the federal and state levels. Litigation is inevitable, Vreeland says, given that The Home Depot is one of the nation’s largest employers. California is of particular concern— where HD Supply employs more than 20 percent of its workforce, and the Golden State noted for its employee-friendly leanings.
Vreeland says the best approach everywhere is being receptive to employee or “associate” feedback and dealing with matters before they become issues. She’s sustaining an open-door policy that goes far beyond a suggestion box and lauds how the company has thwarted attempts to unionize without poisoning morale.
Still, she’s monitoring National Labor Relations Board developments, which in August adopted a new standard for assessing the lawfulness of workplace rules that puts the burden on a company to prove that it isn’t infringing on an employee—union or non-union—from exercising their rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
Like employment lawyers across the nation, that had Vreeland analyzing her own company’s handbook, part of her responsibility to ensure labor peace as part of business strategy.
“Our associates are what differentiate us in the market and keep our customers returning to us for our advice and expertise,” she says. “Collaboration with business partners is key to any successful client relationship. I aim to empower our business leaders to make decisions emphasizing our core company values, empathy and sound legal principles.”
Vreeland admits there are times when the stars align to create the perfect cluster of legal quagmires. In these moments, she’s thankful for great outside counsel partnerships like the one she maintains with Todd Scherwin of Fisher Phillips. When she’s treading water, it’s comforting to know that she can rely on sound counsel and support from Scherwin and his team.
Employee law works for her
A Boston-born graduate of Northeastern University and the Chicago-Kent College of Law, Vreeland honed her skills at firms in Chicago and Miami and enjoyed her first in-house role as an associate counsel at Aflac in Columbus, Georgia, from 2016 to 2017. Then she joined her husband in Tampa, handling the legal details as he opened The Basel House real estate brokerage.
By 2020, and after the birth of her third son, Vreeland was ready to resume employment law. Much was happening as she joined HD Supply—it was immersed in negotiations with The Home Depot and divesting from its construction and industrial unit, White Cap. As White Cap left, so did Susan Stucker, who had served as HD Supply’s employment and litigation counsel and took a general counsel post with White Cap.
“It was a very unconventional situation to walk into,” says Vreeland.
If there’s a secret to her success as well as the company’s, she says it’s about being flexible. Vreeland learned that as a triple-jumper on a full track-and-field scholarship at Northeastern, and she’s applied to all pursuits. She recalls how, as a 17-year-old, she failed to reach the sandpit on her first attempt at triple-jumping from a 36-foot board. Rather than switching to a shorter board, she tried again and succeeded.
“That athletic drive dictates how I move in other aspects of my life,” she says. “I don’t think I could do what I did—take four years off from employment law and have a third child—without that athletic framework and mentality. I’m not afraid to fail.”
She’d also like to set an example for other women who might be daunted at the idea of balancing family with a demanding professional life. Vreeland, too, had an example: Her mother.
Both of Vreeland’s parents hailed from Trinidad. Her father became an ironworker in Boston, and her mother, after the youngest of her seven children began school, became a visiting nurse. Her parents are still alive and well, and Vreeland says life is good in Georgia’s Cobb County, where there’s an extended family to help her and her husband raise their sons, ages 4, 7 and 8. With the older boys playing organized baseball, weekends for the parents are often spent in the stands at some field.
But come Monday, it’s back to work, and Vreeland stepping up to a different plate.
“Let me be part of the decision-making process,” she says. “Involve me initially instead of when you run into an issue and need my legal blessing.”
View this feature in the Vanguard Fall II 2023 Edition here.
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