by Julie Tuggle-Nguyen
As a small business owner, you wear a lot of hats. Keeping up with employment documentation and records is likely not at the top of your priority list. However, maintaining human resource compliance is essential for your business and does need your attention. Why?
Between 36-53% of small businesses are sued every year, according to the SBA. Many of these cases come from current or former employees. A Hiscox study revealed that U.S.-based small businesses face an almost 12% chance of having an employment charge filed against them. These charges can be catastrophic for any business, especially small ones.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take now to help safeguard your company and ensure you are doing the right things for your employes. Whether you have an HR manager on staff or not, it’s your responsibility as the business owner to ensure the appropriate precautions are taken.
I have worked in HR for over two decades, leading departments in both large and mid-size corporations, and currently serving as the Chief Human Resources Officer at Midwest BankCentre, where we serve thousands of small businesses as their trusted advisors. Based on my experience, I have narrowed down three important human resource items that can help you stay compliant and mitigate risk.
1. A Policy Book or Employee Handbook
An outline of your company’s policies is a must-have. What exactly it looks like is up to you. Your handbook may include your company’s policies about paid time off, leave of absence, code of conduct/ethics, social media, IT security, onboarding and off boarding, at will employment, and so on. These policies not only help protect you and your business, but they also help set the tone for your company and its culture. There are many options when considering a handbook. It can be an actual paper copy, a pdf in an email, or an online file that everyone can access on an internal drive. There is support as well in creating the book. If you’re writing it yourself, there are many online templates and resources to guide you, in addition to services that will compile one for you for a relatively low cost. Once it is complete, distribute it your team, requesting that they read it in its entirety and submit written acknowledgement.
2. Employee Training
With the exception of solo entrepreneurs, all businesses should require employee training and keep a record of employee training participation. This includes safety training, which will look different for every business and industry. Many types of safety training are regulated by the state or specific agencies, so make sure you know what applies to your workforce and that you are providing and tracking it. It is also a wise practice to provide employee conduct training, such as harassment prevention, ethics/code of conduct, etc., which should be required on a regular schedule, often annually. If an incident occurs and legal action is taken, having a record of employee training can be a safeguard. Providing training also bolsters employee morale, showing that you care about their wellbeing and want to ensure that they receive the instruction they need.
3. Employee Records
The glue that holds all of these data points together is the employee file. As a business owner, you need consistent employee records that capture key employee information, including their W-4 IRS forms, application, offer of employment, performance evaluations, job changes, training records, and other necessary documents. Medical records and I-9 forms should be stored separately from the employment file. If a policy isn’t already in place, consider establishing one for how and when to destroy files and forms. You always want to comply with retention guidance, but there are no points for overachievement. When you no longer need the record, shred it. It can become an unnecessary liability to you.
Finally, once you have your practices in place, make sure that you audit your records annually. This can be as simple as a checklist that gets a signature and a date to ensure consistency and demonstrate compliance.
While this can seem a bit overwhelming if it’s new to you, it’s really not complex or expensive. Rather, these are essential items for running a good business; table stakes that protect you as the employer and provide assurance to future buyers or investors. When in doubt, remember: if you don’t have a paper trail, it didn’t happen.
Julie Tuggle-Nguyen is Chief Human Resources Officer at Midwest BankCentre.