Welcome to a discussion of HR requirements and strategies for the small to mid-sized business.

You know that your employees are the key to your business success, but being an employer or being “the boss” can get complicated at times. Focusing on your business and your customers is the top priority. It can be a challenge to also make time to develop expertise in improving employee performance and reducing employer risk.

Through my consulting business, First Thing Tomorrow Human Resources Consultants, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside many gifted business leaders.

I welcome your comments and questions. Please feel free to contact me at info@firstthingtomorrow.com.

Monday, November 12, 2007

New California Law Requires Leave for Military Spouses

Effective immediately, all California employers with 25 or more employees are required to provide up to 10 days of unpaid leave to an employee whose spouse has been deployed to a scene of military conflict and is home on leave from the Armed Forces, National Guard or Reserves. Qualified employees are those who work an average of 20 or more hours per week and have provided advance notice to their employer within two business days of having received official notification of their spouse’s leave from deployment.

The full text of the statute, AB 392, may be found here: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/asm/ab_0351-0400/ab_392_bill_20070920_enrolled.pdf

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Cell Phones: Staying in Touch and Staying Safe

As our businesses have become more global and our workforce has become increasingly mobile, cell phones are no longer considered optional tools of the trade in many work environments. Our bosses, customers and co-workers want to get in touch – now! Today, in many circles, email and voicemail are no longer viewed as tools which best support the desire for immediate contact and decisions. Cell phones enable our employees to be better connected, as well as increasing their productivity while away from the office.

As with any technological advance, there are risks if the tool is not always used appropriately. With cell phones, the primary risk comes if an employee uses one while operating a motor vehicle. If an employee is using a cell phone while driving on company business, the potential risk to your business is very real. Should the unthinkable happen – your employee is involved in an automobile accident and was using the cell phone at the time – the employee AND the company may both be found liable for damage or injury which occurs as a result.

There have been many studies regarding the reduced attentiveness of drivers using cell phones. While federal law is silent on the matter, some states (including California) have already passed legislation restricting cell phone usage and other states are currently studying the matter. Effective July 1, 2008, California drivers may be fined for using cell phones without handsfree technology, such as headsets. While there are limited exceptions to this law, including calls requesting emergency assistance, the law will apply to the vast majority of individuals using cell phones while on the road.

To those businesses which are planning to implement a new policy addressing cell phone usage on July 1, 2008 to coincide with the new law, I respectfully suggest that you strongly consider making this change now. To those of you outside of California and therefore not covered by state law in this area (at least, not yet), I offer the same suggestion. With or without a state law mandating such regulations, driving while using cell phones can be dangerous – period. If your employees must use a cell phone while in transit, it should be clear to them what the employer expects in terms of safe driving practices.

Several leading employment law experts are endorsing the adoption of policies regarding cell phone usage now. If such a policy clarifies for employees the expectation for safe practices and can potentially limit the company’s liability should an accident occur, why would you wait? Taking steps now to create and communicate an appropriate policy will serve you and your employees well in the long-run.

A few of the points you may want to consider when drafting a policy include:

¨ Do you want to allow employees to use the phone if they have a handsfree device or require that employees pull off of the road if they need to use the phone?

¨ Should calls be limited to business purposes only or are personal calls allowed?

¨ How do you expect your employees to handle tasks, such as speaking, dialing, searching for a phone number and sending or receiving text messages?

¨ Should employees handle the phone differently if driving in heavy traffic or in inclement weather?

¨ Does it matter if employees are driving company owned vehicles or their own vehicle?

As with any new policy, you may chose to write your own policy or do so with expert guidance. However you choose to proceed, the safety of your employees as well as the safety of others on the road should be at the forefront of your mind. The time to act is now.

Stay in touch and stay safe.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Power Of A Kind Word

People are the greatest asset of any business. We hear this so often, but do we truly place caring for and about the people we work with at the top of our priority list?

How easily we become immersed in the challenges and emergencies of the day – the irate customer, the vendor who didn’t deliver on time, a new competitor, critical financial spreadsheets. We mean to nurture and recognize the people who work for and around us; we really do. When it comes down to it, though, do we really know what it means to take care of our employees?

I’ve heard some say, “Well, I pay them don’t I? Isn’t that enough?” If your only objective is to simply comply with legal requirements, you are on the right track. For most of us, though, this isn’t enough. We would like to have happy, productive and loyal employees. Not only does it make for a more pleasant work environment, it is good for business. Underperformers and employee turnover require extensive management time, while decreasing morale for the other employees.

While we are all busy managing the myriad of daily tasks, we often overlook the simplest motivational tool – a kind word. We’ve all heard the expression, “Catch someone doing something right.” When things go poorly, we “catch” them or take notice right away. This allows employees who are “under the radar” because they are doing well to feel unrecognized. Performance which meets our expectations doesn’t command our immediate attention the way problems do.

There is much good news in this in that this is easily addressed. At least once each week, make it a point to “catch” each person doing something well, even if it is something they do everyday. It can be as simple as a sincere remark: “I really appreciate the way you listen to customers and respond to their needs”, “I know you had to work extra hard to finish that report this week”, “You’ve gone out of your way to help our new employee” or the two most important kind words in our vocabulary – “Thank you.”

No, a kind word will not keep employees motivated if they do not feel treated fairly in other ways, but it is a tool we should all keep handy in our leadership toolbox. As with all new habits, it is work to develop them, but becomes easier with practice. Just remember – be sincere and be timely.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

It’s Almost Summer – Got Interns?

With summer rapidly approaching, many businesses are considering taking on an intern or two for a few weeks or months. What may seem to be a worthy plan designed to provide practical work experience to a young person may, in fact, not be a true internship at all. Many of these businesses, despite having the best intentions, may create risk for themselves by providing internships which are not compliant with applicable law. The Wage and Hour Division of the U.S. Department of Labor has established six specific criteria regarding the type of position which qualifies as a true internship. If the internship does not meet all six criteria, the individual may need to be treated as an employee rather than an intern with regard to pay and benefits. The impact of finding this out after the fact, either during or following the internship, could be substantial.

Establishing an internship program, when done correctly, can bring great long-term benefits to both the business and the intern. Be sure to review the applicable criteria or seek guidance prior to bringing on an intern.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sexual Harassment Prevention Training - Is your trainer qualified?

California Employers - Have you heard about California AB 1825? If you employ 50 or more employees, whether or not they are all in California, this law applies to you. Covered employers must provide very specific training on harassment prevention to their supervisors every two years.

Please also be aware that the law outlines who is qualified to teach this course. When AB 1825 became effective, many trainers and consultants began offering this training, however they may not, in fact, possess the qualifications required by law.

It is extremely important to inquire as to your trainer's qualifications relative to the law. You don't want to risk finding out too late that your training was not compliant with AB 1825.

Finally, to ALL California employers - please consider providing harassment and discrimination training to all of your employees. State law require all employers to take all reasonable steps to prevent harassment at work. Providing the training to all, along with other factors, may go a long way toward providing you with an affirmative defense should any problems or complaints arise at a later date.