Skilled Employment Practices

The secret to better profits
by William J. Lynott


As every businesswoman knows, running a business these days involves a full plate of challenges, not the least of which is being an employer. How to hire, train, compensate, and maintain employees while observing the maze of legal constraints requires a complex set of skills.

Most large companies handle this problem by hiring a human resources (HR) professional. Owners of businesses too small for that luxury have to learn profitable employment practices on their own. These guidelines will help you to improve profitability by sticking with tried and proven HR practices:

Use Job Descriptions

While written job descriptions aren’t essential, they are a valuable tool in maintaining a healthy work environment. “With a small staff, most employees will have to wear more than one hat, so you can’t necessarily capture everything in a single job description”, says author Karen Young, Stop Knocking on My Door, Drama Free HR to Help Grow Your Business.

“Instead, outline the basic purpose for each job and include one or two sentences about why the position exists. Don’t go overboard by including nonessential functions. Simply add, ‘All other duties as assigned.’ That covers the rest and prevents employees from being able to use the old ‘That’s not in my job description’ excuse.

“With a little forethought and diligence, you’ll find that the work you put into defining job descriptions now will pay off in the months and years to come.”

Clarify Meal and Rest Period Policies

“Meal and rest period violations continue to generate new class action lawsuits every year,” says labor attorney Todd Wulffson, Managing Partner, at Carothers, DiSante & Freudenberger, LLP, Irvine, Calif.

“It’s important to provide employees with a description of their rights to meal and rest periods,” he says. “Post this information on the company site and train supervisors properly.  When the onus is on the employee to inform the company of any missed breaks, the legal risk is dramatically reduced with proper postings.”

Build Emotional Connections

Every human has a powerful need to feel respected, to be accepted, and valued by others. This need touches every aspect of a person’s life, and nowhere more strongly than in a business environment. From brain surgeons to salesclerks, the craving for self-respect and recognition is so strong that it can dominate and control employee behavior and performance regardless of financial considerations.

The work of an employee left with no reason to think that her boss respects and values her contribution is almost certain to fall well below his potential. In extreme cases, negligent or even harmful behavior will be the eventual result.
Unfortunately, it’s easy for an owner to overlook an employee’s need for recognition and self-respect. Consider this actual exchange overheard between a business owner and a passing employee: 

Employee: "Good morning, Mrs. Smith. “Looks like we're going to have a nice day." 
Boss: "Fine, thank you. And how are you?"

That sort of disconnect between an employee and a busy owner or manager is not uncommon -- and a clear message to the employee that he and his work are unimportant. Lack of recognition such as this preys on the susceptibility of many workers at all levels of our workplace hierarchy who are starving for self-respect and the essential dignity that goes along with it. Failing to supply it provides a perfect setting for the loss of initiative and lowered work ethic on the part of the offended employees. 

Fortunately providing the kind of recognition that satisfies this important need is an easy task. One of the simplest and most effective ways to develop and demonstrate sincere interest in your employees is to take a little time to learn something about each one. Include such simple things as the names of spouse and children, employee hobbies, or special interests, and then following through from time-to-time with a little conversation that shows you remember them and are genuinely interested.

Avoid Favoritism

Favoritism, or even the appearance of it, can be a deadly enemy of positive employee attitudes. An employee who feels that he or she is the victim of favoritism is likely to develop an unseen grudge that can silently, but effectively, damage your business.

Make a constant effort to show appreciation to your employees in a fair and equitable manner. Any indication that you regard one employee with more respect or appreciation than any other is a certain path to negative employee morale. While it’s not always possible for you to avoid regarding some employees more highly than others, allowing that feeling to become obvious to others is a serious management failure, one that almost certainly will exact a costly penalty.

Provide Recognition and Other non-cash Incentives

“Cash is too expensive,” says Dave Peer, president of the Incentive Marketing Association. “It costs a lot more to deliver cash awards than non-cash awards,” he says. Peer reports that companies are discovering that cash is not the panacea they thought.

Non-cash awards can include such obvious things as a fruit or flower basket, or dinner out with the boss. The only limit is your imagination. But don’t forget the one often suggested as the most important of all – sincere praise and recognition from the boss.

None of this is to suggest that money in the form of wages isn’t the heart of positive motivation, only that money alone is not likely to inspire the kind of motivation that brings out the best of performance in your employees.

Be Clear About Your Expectations

“Most people want to do good work,” says Young. “If you haven’t defined ‘good work’ your employees are going to use their own definitions.”

Job descriptions are an invaluable tool for defining the nature of what has to be done, but it’s management’s responsibility to clearly define how the work is to be done.

Employees have a right to know precisely what management considers a good job, and they have a right to be kept informed as to how well they are living up to management’s expectations.

LEGAL CONSIDERATIONS

Display All Necessary Postings

“Nearly every U.S. employer must display up to six federal labor law postings,” says Ashley Kaplan, senior employment law attorney with ComplyRight, a provider of HR compliance resources. “They include Equal Employment Opportunity (EEOC), Minimum Wage (FLSA), Military Rights (USERRA), Workplace Safety (OSHA), Employee Polygraph Protection (EPPA) and Family and Medical Leave (FMLA).” Most states will require additional ones.

“Compliance is not optional,” cautions Kaplan, “businesses that fail to display the necessary postings could face heavy penalties. In 2016, all federal agencies with labor law posting requirements bumped up noncompliance fines to account for inflation. Some of these fines have more than doubled under the Civil Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act, such as the EEOC posting fine jumping from $210 to $525.

“Be aware, too, that effective August 1, 2016, the OSHA posting fines have increased from $7,000 to $12,471, and the combined potential penalties for federal posting violations now exceed $32,000.”

Safety Violations Carry Huge Liability

“Lax workplace safety can result in a slew of negative consequences, including expensive workers’ compensation claims and insurance, even orders stopping work at your job sites,” says Wulffson. “Review your policies periodically to ensure compliance with evolving standards, train all supervisors and employees, and strictly enforce workplace and on-site safety rules—before an accident occurs.  Consider having a consultant do a periodic assessment of your policies and job sites.  Being proactive and consistent can go a long way toward reducing claims and fines.”

Essential Recordkeeping

“Another critical component of workplace compliance is employee recordkeeping,” Kaplan says. “Employers should keep three specific files for each employee: a general file, a payroll file, and a medical file.

“The general file covers documentation regarding the employee’s tenure and performance, such as résumés, hiring paperwork, reviews and training verification.

“A payroll file includes records related to wages and other monetary benefits. This includes accurate time records for all hourly/non-exempt employees.

“Last – and perhaps most critical -- employers need to maintain a separate medical file with documentation related to medical conditions (such as FMLA paperwork, health insurance forms and doctor’s notes). These records may be subject to HIPAA regulations and the Americans with Disabilities Act, so they must be kept strictly confidential and apart from other personnel records.”

“Retention timeframes matter, too.” Kaplan says. “For example, personnel records related to wages must be stored for two years, per FLSA requirements, and FMLA paperwork must be saved for at least three years. Also, OSHA requires employers to keep records on employees who become injured or ill due to the job for at least five years.”

There are, of course, many other elements in a complete program of skilled employment practices. Many of these are best learned from your own and your company’s experiences. Most of these will come naturally if you keep in mind the importance of building your own safe and profitable human resources policies.