Jun 14, 2018

Balancing Time Off

in Business HR

With summer approaching and the kids on a school break, it is a popular time for taking a vacation.  Many employers encourage taking time away from the job to rest and recharge.  However, the best intentions are often met with a struggle. Many small businesses may find it hard to juggle multiple vacation requests at the same time.  A solution could be to have one person oversee the tracking of all approved time off. This helps with the organization of the process, but the burden still lies within your organization. A better option is outsourcing this time-consuming task. Outsourcing the task to HR not only allows your staff to focus on their job, but relieves the burden of PTO documentation from your daily workflow.

Communicate your Vacation/PTO Policy.  Aside from reviewing your policy at the onset of hire, it’s important to remind your employees of your company vacation policy throughout the year, especially as we approach the summer months.  Some employees may even find it helpful to provide them with a balance of how many vacation / PTO days they have left to use.  Make sure your employees know when vacation requests are due.  The earlier the better, especially during peak times of the year.  Send out a staff reminder email, discuss it in your meetings and post it on the office bulletin board.

Be fair.  You can’t make everyone happy.  It is important, however, to be reasonable and strategic when approving PTO.  Create a policy stating how and when time off requests are approved.  Some employers prefer by seniority, while others find that a first come, first served works best.  Whatever approval process you choose, keep it consistent!

Staff Accordingly.  In a small business, if possible, it is helpful to have a backup in place when someone is off.  Ask yourself: Who could cover for this project if that person takes a vacation?  Delegate the work where feasible.  If a project is mission-critical and there isn’t a full-time back up on staff, then having a budget for the hiring of temporary workers may be key.  Creating a backup list may be helpful to identify which employee(s) can take on a few extra tasks while their colleague is out.  Consult with HR and let us help you.

Get Your Employees Excited to Work During the Summer.  When workloads are heavy, sometimes not all PTO requests get approved. Keeping your employees happy and engaged is extremely important to the outcome of their work.  When possible, try to make summer in your office a little more enjoyable.  Now is the time to look at your business, your staff and your policies; see where there’s room for change. Treat your employees to an outdoor lunch, company picnic or a BBQ.  It might be a good idea to keep your office refrigerator and freezer stocked with ice cream, snacks and refreshments for those sweltering days. If your dress code policy allows, try creating a more casual dress down day.  And if flextime is something you’ve considered, adopting a half-day summer Friday policy may help to boost morale.

Summer Office Attire

Jun 2, 2018 in Business HR

Defining your dress code policy….

As temperatures rise, it is important to remind your employees what is appropriate to wear in your workplace.  A thorough and well-written dress code policy may be helpful in preventing employers from exposure to potential liabilities or causing employee embarrassment.  Take some time to review your company’s culture, demographic and internal client traffic, then craft a policy that reflects how you do business.  Clearly explain your policy to your managers and employees.  People have varying degrees of what is considered casual attire.  A defined policy is always a better practice.  If an employee still has questions, tell them, “If you cannot decide whether you should wear an article of clothing to work, leave it on the hanger.”


MD Employers:  Do you have your Sick & Safe Leave Policy in place?  Are you tracking Sick Leave?
Do your screening and selection procedures comply with Federal and State laws?  Local laws?

Are your Managers trained to conduct lawful interviewing, avoiding unlawful questioning?

Do your candidates for hire complete a Job Application?

Are your Handbook policies deployed consistently throughout the company?

Do you offer a vehicle for expressing grievances within the workplace?  What is your policy and procedure for this?

Are you 100% sure you are calculating overtime correctly?  What about off-the-clock work?

When was the last time you sat down with your employee to review their work performance?

Is your company giving problem performers a road map toward improvement? Are you consistent in this practice?

Are your I-9’s complete, and where and how are you filing your I-9’s?

Policies and practices should always align with your company’s goals and even the culture.  Be ready for when the challenges do come your way, because they will.  That famous saying, “It’s never happened in all my years of doing business” should never become a tag line or your promise.  Take preventative measures to protect yourself, the company, and your employees. There’s nothing more satisfying than a peaceful night’s sleep knowing you’ve done your due diligence as a business owner.

Apr 11, 2018

How to Avoid a Data Breach in Your Office

in Business HR

With data breaches showing up daily in the news it’s important to constantly be thinking about your company and your employee’s security no matter how big or small you are.  A few small steps may help to prevent your data from being leaked.

With technology being the largest way in which we share and store our employee’s information today, it is important to take certain measures to ensure your sensitive information remains sensitive.  On your computer, setting up an automatic log-out while your away from your desk is a great way to avoid certain information from being visible to those around you.  Another simple step is to update your email and various account passwords several times throughout the year.  It is also important as a company to assign ownership to one person (or a very limited number of people) all confidential employee documents to ensure that access is restricted and that all records are disposed of in a timely matter according to federal/state law.

Many companies tend to keep their employee’s information in one online folder/portal.  It’s important to review the legal requirements on how to store Employee Records. I-9 forms and all of the accompanying documentation should always be kept separately from the personnel file.  Medical and other confidential information should also be removed and stored in a separate file with limited access.  Physical personnel files should always be locked away in a secure cabinet with restricted access.  It’s okay to have multiple ways of filing employee records as long as everything is stored securely.

Many times, we find that we need to share sensitive information from person to person whether it’s internally or with a vendor.   If you’re not using a system built for it, how else will you get your employee signed up for benefits?  Sharing sensitive information though, especially via email, creates opportunities for data leaks.  It’s important to set up secure measures when it comes to passing information along.  Using automatic encryption, password protecting files and secure servers are good resources to help prevent your data from being stolen.

Having to collect personal information from your employees may be unavoidable but it presents many challenges.  Being cautious with your employee’s data is important to help prevent their sensitive information from being exposed.


Aug 25, 2017

Employee Hate Group Participation – Employer’s Know Your Rights

in Business HR

The recent white nationalist rally that occurred on August 12th, in Charlottesville, Virginia caused a job termination for a rally participant, after pictures of him marching in the rally were posted on social media.  Recent hate group activities have raised the question, “Should an employer terminate an employee who participates in such activities?”

Unfortunately, the answer to that question isn’t clear.  Attorneys are recommending a case-by-case analysis.  There are mitigating factors that determine how to proceed.  For example, it depends in which state the worker is employed, what risk, if any, has this participation affected the company, and whether workplace policies have been violated.

The First Amendment’s protections of freedom of speech apply only to government, not to private employers.  Private-sector employers do not have to allow employees to voice beliefs in which other workers may find offensive.  However, employers must be certain that this is not in violation of the employee’s civil rights.  Government employers, however, may not be able to fire employees who participate in protests.  This can become extremely complicated as the individual state laws must also be considered. In some states, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees for engaging in lawful conduct when they are off duty. Some employers will fire a worker anyway, even if it poses risks to do so, claiming that the employee’s off-duty activities breaches with the employer’s workplace policies. This can be further upsetting and disruptive to the workplace if pictures of an employee participating in such a rally begin to circulate around the office.  Tensions and problems are certain to arise, as a result.

An employer has the right to expect its employees to contribute to an environment of mutual respect. By contrast, when dealing with an employee who has extreme political and radical views, that other employees and your customers oppose, it may be best to terminate the employee.  As an employer, you must examine what are your risks of being sued for not firing this employee with the extremist views? And what impact will this situation have upon your business?

This is a tough call and each situation must be handled on a case-by-case basis.  It is wise to seek the guidance of those who are well-versed in difficult workplace situations.  It is also a good time to review your company policies in your handbook.  Your Workplace Violence Policy must be specific regarding firearm possession on company premises, include information about bullying and have concrete employee safety guidelines.  In addition, your Communications Policy must go beyond Internet and email monitoring and include all facets of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and blogging). A cell phone policy is also necessary.  Employee safety policies must be reviewed and revised often, especially in our ever changing world.  What safeguards do you have in place for your business?


Jul 18, 2017

Resumes are Only Skin Deep

in Business HR

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” I’m sure everyone has heard of this phrase or has been told it once in their life. This applies to more than just your personal life with friends, but with your professional life as well. When hiring for a certain position for your company, don’t rely solely on the resumes laying in front of you. If they meet your basic qualifications, reach out and see what their character is like.

Candidate A could have a 4.0 and went to an Ivy League school but could have the character of a wall. Candidate B may have a 3.5 or less but could be the most driven employee you’d ever have. What lies on a piece of paper shouldn’t determine what a person is really like.

An article on SHRM talked about how companies should hire people instead of resumes. They mentioned how some people could be considered “scrappers”; people who grew up in less than ideal circumstances. I can relate to this concept. My parents divorced when I was young and ever since my life has been constantly changing. I had two homes and new siblings in under 2 years. I was the eldest so I was always required to take care of all the children, which made me grow up fast and made me reliable, driven, and quick on my feet. I wanted to leave a good example for my siblings to follow, so I made sure to do well in school but also take care of them. I thank this experience because it made me the determined and reliable young woman that I am today.
I also grew up where money was tight and I couldn’t go to an expensive college once I graduated like I dreamed. I worked hard and made my studies a number one priority, but I also had to watch over my siblings and deal with parental drama. I didn’t receive a 4.0 but I did get almost a full ride to the college I am currently attending.

Just because someone may have a well written resume and has more experience or higher grades then other candidates, it doesn’t mean they are the perfect fit for your company. Get to know the person behind the resume and see of their character shines through. They do need some experience and knowledge for what the job entails, but they also need the right character traits to make the job blossom to its full potential.

May 9, 2017

What Does the ADA Have to Do with Your Company?

in Business HR

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) states that it is unlawful when hiring employees to discriminate against a qualified individual with a disability.  If you employ 15 or more people in the private sector, or if you work in state and local governments or employment and labor organizations, you must comply with the ADA rules.

These rules include providing a reasonable accommodation to a qualified applicant or employee with a disability, unless the employer can prove the accommodation would pose an undue hardship to the employer.   Often, the word, “accommodation,” strikes fear in the hearts of managers and employers.  In reality, it is a common courtesy that may be easier than you think to implement, like:

    • Moving someone to part-time or a modified work schedule
    • Providing hearing aids on equipment, readers, interpreters or other devices that modify equipment to the employee’s benefit
    • Accessibilities in the workplace such as the lobby or a lounge
    • Restructuring of someone’s job
    • Better training materials

Keep in mind that it is always unlawful to discriminate in all areas of employment, including terminations; lay-offs; leaves of absence or other leaves, pay and benefits, job assignments or promotions and other job activities.   If you’re befuddled by the ADA, call HR Strategies.  We are experienced in handling these types of matters, allowing you to get back to doing what you do best – running your business.

Apr 25, 2017

Be Ready When the Overtime Law Injunction Is Lifted

in Business HR

While the new Overtime Law is still in limbo – that is, it is still under an injunction and appeals have not been heard — it does not mean that you don’t have to comply with the FLSA.  Don’t fall short so that you’re scrambling when the injunction is lifted.  Continue doing employee evaluations, create new or updated job descriptions and review all job classifications to make sure they are correct.  That means making sure that job descriptions are comprehensive and clearly reflect whether a person should be classified as either exempt (salaried) or non-exempt (hourly), and are paid accordingly. A few things that may help you organize your thoughts and your tasks:

  • Know your staff members. Be familiar with their roles and duties, work hours and physical job requirements.  Make sure these are included in your job descriptions, and have a written job description for each job in the company.
  • Understand the difference between exempt and non-exempt and how this impacts pay, especially when it comes to overtime.
  • Require time sheets for all non-exempt employees and keep careful records.
  • Pay any and all overtime beyond 40 hours physically worked for non-exempt employees; make sure you have a policy regarding overtime.
  • Train your managers on HR and Employment Law so they know what is expected.
  • Be consistent with pay practices.
  • Establish written policies that clearly explain how your company defines work hours. This should encompass hours open for business, employees who work on-site or telecommute, time and attendance, and leave policies.  Once these are written and satisfactory to you and they meet all HR Law requirements, communicate the policies to your employees.

If these actions sound like daunting tasks that you aren’t compelled to do, either because there is no immediate deadline or because you just don’t have the knowledge or skill, contact us at HR Strategies.  We can help make a painful process a little easier.  We can’t change the requirements or the timeline, but we can make sure you’re ready, whatever the result.

Apr 20, 2017

Is Paid Sick Leave Really a Disadvantage for Businesses?

in Business HR

A bill requiring employers to include paid sick leave for employees recently passed in the Maryland House of Representatives. Many feel this will negatively impact small business, but my take on it is the opposite. Here’s why:

Sickness is real. People are anxious about taking time off because they don’t want to lose pay. In today’s workforce, which is made up of many dual-income families, when people get sick, they still go to work. They infect their co-workers and they are unproductive. The question is: “How does this benefit anyone, especially the employer?” It doesn’t. It only causes more sickness, decreased productivity and low morale.

Providing paid leave, capped annually or monthly, can be a stress-reliever for the employee who is feeling ill, has the flu, simply cannot get out of bed, yet feels intense pressure to show up knowing that he or she cannot afford to lose a day’s pay. Paid sick leave is a contemporary, forward-thinking policy, relevant to 2017 and beyond. It offers flexibility for a family where both parents are working. It keeps the sicknesses/illnesses out of the workplace — which we know from experience is a huge bone of contention for business owners and co-workers who are often “plagued” by the person in the next cubicle who is coughing all day long. Going to work sick is unproductive to the entire team, and it affects the employer. Employees are not on their A-game when sick, and this can be costly. Mistakes are made, revenue can be lost, and more people calling out sick after being exposed to an illness stretches the entire team.

Opponents would argue that paid sick leave is an opportunity for employees to take advantage of days off from work. Paid sick leave isn’t a free-for-all, nor was it meant to encourage irresponsible absenteeism. Businesses need to have attendance policies, with sick leave included. The policies should have a cap on time allotted and be managed for proper payroll practices, especially for hourly personnel. There should be options for these employees, as well as those exempt employees who run out of time. If absenteeism becomes a problem, it needs to be addressed by the employer according to the policies that have been written and communicated to all employees.

Don’t discount the price of paid sick leave – not having it can be sickening.

Mar 15, 2017

One Last Snow Day! Communicate the Right Way.

in Business HR

It’s March and you thought you were escaping the winter unscathed by a major snow storm, right? As an employer, you have two things to do on the snow day or PRIOR TO the snow day should a big storm be imminent:

1. Communicate the company’s status and severe weather policy to employees;
2. Know how your staff is compensated for snow days because you will likely be asked.

The first one should be in place already. If it’s not, here are some quick options:

  • Communicate via a website, intranet, or in a “robo-message;”
  • Text, e-mail or post on your Company Facebook page.

No matter which method you choose, be sure employees know where to look for the information.

Questions about compensation will surely arise: “Will I get paid if the office is closed for a snow day?” Don’t get caught in a situation where you don’t know the answer. Wage and Hour is one of the most critical, yet confusing areas of HR. Here are some common questions about bad weather days and some reliable answers.

Q: We were closed for a day because of the weather. Do I have to pay hourly (non-exempt) employees for that day? What about early closing or late opening due to weather?

A: If non-exempt employees miss an entire day’s work because you are closed and you didn’t require them to report to work, you are generally under no obligation to pay them, unless you have promised otherwise. Non-exempt employees are paid only for “hours worked.” Missed time because the company closed during a weather emergency isn’t considered hours worked. The same is true for early closings or delayed openings. Federal law does not require payment to non-exempt employees for missed time. However, you must pay for any time they worked at home, or had to stay at work while a decision was made.

Q: Can I require employees to use their accrued leave when the company closes due to inclement weather?

A: Under federal law, employers may generally require both non-exempt and exempt employees to use accrued paid time off for the time missed due to inclement weather. However, if exempt employees do not have accrued paid leave available, they generally still must receive their full salary as long as they have performed any work within that workweek. Note: Some states do not permit employers to require the substitution of paid leave in these situations. Check with HR on this.

Q: We remained open during bad weather but some employees stayed home and others left the office early. Do I have to pay them for the missed time?

A: You do not have to pay non-exempt employees for the time they miss when they choose to stay home or when they leave early.

Q: A non-exempt employee stayed home even though we remained open during bad weather. The next day, the employee indicated that they had worked on email for two hours (unbeknownst to us). Do I still have to pay the employee for this time?

A: Yes. If the employee is non-exempt, he or she must receive pay for any time actually spent working, including checking and replying to email, regardless of whether it was authorized in advance.

Q: Do I have to pay my exempt (salaried) employees when we close because of the weather?

A: Exempt employees must generally receive their full salary in any workweek in which they perform work, regardless of the number of hours worked. Therefore, if your company closes for less than a full workweek due to inclement weather, you must generally pay an exempt employee his or her full salary, as long as the employee worked any part of the workweek.

Check your policies on Inclement Weather, Time Off, Personal Leave, and PTO. If you still have unanswered questions, please call The HR Lady – even if it is a snow day.

Any information received in this Alert is not legal advice and should not be misconstrued as such.

New I-9 Form for 2017

Sep 21, 2016 in Business HR


New I-9 Form for 2017
Current Form Valid Only until January 21, 2017

Effective January 21, 2017, it will be required that all employers use the latest I-9 Form. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that the latest version of the I-9 Form will be available November 22, 2016.  At that time, you may begin using the new form or continue to use the current I-9 (with a revision date of 3/8/2013) but only until January 21, 2017. The new form will have an expiration date of 8/31/2019.

This new form will be a welcome change to employers.  There will be lesser points of confusion using the revised form. The newly revised I-9 also features several new structural changes and instructions which will be important for all employers to know and learn. This new I-9 is not an electronic one; employers will need use Adobe Reader to obtain this new smart form. The form is designed to help eliminate technical errors, for which an employer may be fined.

The new form requires that workers provide only other last names used in Section 1, rather than all other names used. This is to avoid possible discrimination issues and to protect the privacy of transgender and other individuals who have changed their first names. It also will contain validations on certain fields to ensure information is entered correctly. The form will validate the correct number of digits for a Social Security number or an expiration date on an identity document, for example. By using this new smart form via Adobe Reader it will allow employers to access the instructions electronically, print the form and clear the form to start over.  There are several other new features as well, all contributing to the efficiency of the new form.

Employers will still need to print the form, obtain handwritten signatures, store in a secured place, monitor reverifications and updates with a calendaring system, and retype information into E-Verify if required. Staying compliant in all HR areas is critical but especially in regards to I-9 compliance as the fines can be quite steep otherwise.