At many times in my career, I've needed the advice of a human resources expert. Too many small-business owners don’t ask for help when they should to keep their companies out of future legal trouble.
Calling an HR expert is your insurance plan, not your enemy. “Small-business owners have neither the time nor the resources to stay current with the rapidly changing regulations that directly affect their companies and their employees," says Lorraine Reafsnyder, of HR Advisors. "And yet few challenges affect businesses as significantly today as the mishandling and incorrect disposition of employee-related issues.”
If you can't afford to hire a full-time HR person, ask your payroll service, attorney or accountant to refer you to someone who can do the job on a part-time consulting basis. Whatever you do, don't try to handle these important issues on your own just to save money in the short term.
Here are the 10 scenarios that should prompt you to pick up that phone and call HR.
1. An emotional outbreak. Small businesses definitely bring out the emotions in people. Every time an employee gets very upset in a meeting (screaming or crying), contact HR to document the incident and ask for advice. If the employee becomes physically violent, it's time to call the police.
2. An employee's medical or financial issue. If your employee has a medical or financial issue, direct the employee to HR. Company decisions can never be made based on this information, so the less you know the better.
3. Two employees dating. When you discover two employees are dating each other, report it to HR. Remember, many things can be considered sexual harassment, including the act of a manager dating an employee. What you know (or don't know) can become a serious issue when they break up.
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4. Threats or blackmail. This can be professional (“I will go to a competitor …”) or personal (“I will tell your spouse that …”). In both cases, HR needs to help formulate a plan to fire this employee without any legal repercussions.
5. Discriminatory treatment of an employee. In regards to race, gender, age or ethnic origin, federal guidelines are very strict in this area. HR should be told immediately to help ensure that a small business is in compliance.
6. Objectionable employee information on social media. Laws surrounding this area are still cloudy. However, if you find out something via social media that makes you uneasy, get professional advice on how to proceed.
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7. Benefits questions. Never answer these types of questions, since you don't want to be liable for decisions made by employees based on your advice. HR will probably direct them to your health insurance company.
8. Threats to quit unless pay is increased. While you may end up giving the employee a raise in this situation, it needs to be carefully thought out. HR will help decide how a raise for this one person may affect compensation for other employees.
9. Before hiring an employee. There are many heavily regulated processes to be followed when hiring an employee.
10. Before terminating an employee. While in most states, people are employed “at will,” you still need to be careful that employees aren't fired for anything that can be construed as a discriminatory reason. An HR professional is always needed to ensure laws are not broken where a disgruntled job candidate can hurt the company later.
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