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All posts by Paula Mathews - 3. page

Micromanaging –and What You Can Do about It

Frank’s company thrived and gradually grew from two employees to 20. But as the company grew, Frank felt less and less in charge—he felt out of the loop when decisions were made, friendships were formed, and information was shared.

Frank decided that he had to be in charge of everything; he began micromanaging. Yet, the more he managed, the less his employees delivered. For the first time in his business life, Frank faced rapid turnover and low morale from his team.

Employees respond poorly to someone who resists delegating, disregards their specialized knowledge, gets involved in their work without consulting them, and is always looking over their shoulders. Micromanaging is occasionally necessary but as a full-time management style it has bad effects on the business as well as on the employees. Because of the manager’s resistance to delegation, projects are delayed or not completed—there’s always another crisis to handle first. Because of the manager’s refusal to consult, decisions are made with inadequate knowledge, wasting time and resources. Because of the manager’s absorption with minutiae, the big picture is lost.

Fortunately for Frank, he was able to recognize that his behavior was contributing to the low morale and rampant turnover. So here’s how we stopped the cycle.

First, we talked about better ways to use his time. A 20-person company has regulatory obligations that a 3-person company doesn’t have. In addition it needs an employee guide or handbook, job descriptions, a 5-year plan, regular employee meetings, a defined culture (mission, values), and a clear objective on the types of business to pursue and how to pursue them.  Frank became involved in the big picture, focusing his own talents on what he does best.

Second, he began building trust. We started with an employee that Frank acknowledged had specialized knowledge. Frank agreed to let the employee handle a specific task and not even mention it until the day before the task was due for completion. When the employee delivered on time and with high standards of quality, Frank handed over another task with the same promise. He began to let go, knowing that mistakes might occur but success was never going to occur if he kept micromanaging.

Third, Frank began reading books about management. His company’s growth demanded a new style of leadership, and he realized he had no idea what that style was or how to adapt it. He learned new habits and alternative ways to handle situations.

For any company experiencing huge turnover, low morale, confusion over responsibilities, or lack of communication in any direction, HR Compliance 101 can help determine if a change in management style will help. Together, we can set up the systems and create a culture that benefits the entire company.

Minimum Wage Facts for Florida and New Hampshire

If you pay employees below the minimum wage and they are not a specifically exempted group, you are liable to face fines and you may need to reimburse those employees for lost wages. The problem is that you could violate minimum wage laws without realizing it!

Minimum Wage by State

The minimum wage in New Hampshire is $7.25 (or $15,080 per year), which is the same as the federal minimum wage for nonexempt employees. New Hampshire doesn’t have a minimum wage law of its own, so it follows the federal mandate. New Hampshire also requires a weekly pay check unless you apply for and receive permission to pay other than weekly from NH’s Dept of Labor.

In Florida, the minimum wage is $8.05 per hour as of January 1, 2016. Employees who receive tips must receive a minimum wage of $5.03 per hour. Florida’s minimum wage is tied to a cost of living formula. In fact, Florida is the only southern state with a minimum wage above the federal level. Florida has no requirement as to how often an employee is paid: weekly, bi-weekly, semi-monthly or monthly.

When the state minimum wage is lower than the federal minimum wage, the federal minimum wage must be paid. When the state minimum wage is higher, the state minimum must be paid. Exceptions to the minimum wage might include employees who receive tips, seasonal employees (such as camp counselors), workers under the age of 18 who are in training and workers at some institutions or nonprofits.

Unexpected Ways to Violate Minimum Wage

The wage your employees receive can fall below minimum wage if you charge them for breakage or shortages. If you require employees to return some of their tips to the business, you may also be paying them below minimum wage (workers who receive part of their income as tips are still expected to reach minimum wage). Employees who work solely for tips or commissions may also find themselves with paychecks below the minimum wage.

As an employer, you are responsible for making up the difference if an employee’s wages fall below the minimum wage for any given work week.

To prevent violations of the minimum wage requirement, you should avoid charging employees for  breakage or shortages; forcing them to return tips to the business; or asking them to work for tips or commissions alone.

Please contact HR Compliance 101 if you have any concerns about obeying the minimum wage laws.

Do You “Mother” Your Employees?

Happy Mother’s Day everyone! In honor of the holiday, I am giving you absolution from parenting your employees. As their boss, you are allowed to set expectations, correct mistakes, mentor and motivate your employees but I advise you to:

  • Not ask questions about your employees’ personal lives that have no bearing on their performance at work and to not make unnecessary physical contact. You should maintain your employees’ private emotional and physical space—violating either may open you up to lawsuits and will probably make you vulnerable to federal and state penalties.
  • Not relinquish control of your business because you feel uncomfortable bossing a “friend.” It is easy to fall into the habit of making friends with employees. Sometimes that works out fine. But as many a family business has found, emotional ties complicate business relationships and can jeopardize a business’ finances, customer relationships and future.
  • Not try to fix employees’ problems. You can offer advice about substance abuse problems, eldercare, finding a used car or finding a daycare center. It is not your responsibility to actually drive the employee to the program, select the eldercare professional, shop for the car, or register at the daycare center.
  • Not develop a clear favorite among employees, someone you allow to come in late, take extra vacation or assume other privileges. By showing favoritism, regardless of your justifications, you are undermining morale and the policies set up in your employee handbook. What will you do when other employees start demanding the same privileges?
  • Not allow disrespectful behavior. Again, the fear of confrontation can lead to situations where employees freely challenge and even threaten the employer. While you want your employees to speak up if they have a problem or if they are uncomfortable with a decision you’ve made, you are the employer. They are free to disagree but respectfully and politely.

Many employers, especially in ultra-small companies, have trouble drawing boundaries with their employees. Open communications, signs of appreciation, clear feedback and follow-through on promises all help to establish and maintain good relations with your employee. But violating an employee’s privacy, allowing the employee too many or special privileges, becoming too involved in the employee’s life, and allowing disrespectful behavior are all signs of a problem with boundaries. Let me help put those appropriate boundaries in place.



How to Handle Attendance Problems

One of my clients had an employee who repeatedly showed up late for work, sometimes by as much as an hour but always with an excuse. There were no time clocks, so if the employee claimed to arrive on time—“you were in the back and didn’t notice”—what could the employer say? Finally, the employer lost his temper, threatened to fire the employee and stormed out in frustration. What could he have done differently?

First, the employer should add “arrive on time” to the requirements of the job in the employee handbook and job description. You may think this requirement is obvious but a written policy helps ensure that everyone understands expectations. It also provides proof that the employee knew the expectations, if a lawsuit is threatened.

Second, the employer should consider whether the employee’s lateness is a temporary or permanent problem. Maybe the employee relies on public transportation that is notoriously unreliable. Maybe the employee’s family or medical situation has changed and the employee is under stress. Would some accommodation be appropriate (for example, a change in shift assignment) to prevent future lateness?

Three, the employer should document his conversations with the employee, and those conversations should be professional. The employer may want to ask the employee to sign a document acknowledging the conversation and remediation steps or consequences that were agreed to.

Fourth, the employer should make sure that the employee’s absences are not covered by federal and state regulations such as the Family and Medical Leave Act or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Finally, the employer may want to create an incentive for good attendance by all employees by instituting a reward system for consistent attendance.

If you are facing attendance problems at your workplace, I can help you with creating policies, talking with employees who violate the policies, protecting your business from lawsuits and ensuring that you have met regulatory standards for dealing with the problem.

Your Vacation Policy

In an earlier blog I discussed hiring minors for summer employment. Now let’s talk about your vacation policy.

As a business owner and employer, you have no legal obligation to offer vacation to your employees. However, full-time employees and many part-time employees expect that benefit. When you decide on how much vacation time to offer and how to handle requests, you should think strategically: what are you trying to accomplish by offering this benefit and how will it affect your company?

For example, are you planning to award employees for longevity by increasing the amount of vacation over time (two weeks for the first year, three weeks after five years, etc.)? Or would it suit your business model better if everyone has the same two weeks off at the same (slow) time of year?

Vacation time is part of your company’s overhead; your short- and long-term finances are affected when employees use or don’t use their vacation time. Does unused vacation time roll over from year to year or do employees lose what they don’t use? Is there a limit to the number of days or hours that can be rolled over? What happens to those rollover hours if the employee quits or is fired?

The vacation schedule affects your staffing. You want to choose a method of scheduling that prevents shortages and requires overtime hours to make up the difference. You also want to make sure that staff is available at your busiest times and that conflicts over who gets what dates are minimized.

You may want to involve your current employees in setting up your policy to see what type of vacation schedule/process they would find most rewarding. For example, do they want vacation and sick time to be part of one paid time off package or would they like to keep sick time separate? Would they like an online scheduling tool that all employees can access to schedule their own vacations based on the days still available? You should provide a “don’t care” option in any survey, because that will help increase the number of employees who agree with the final decision.

HR Compliance 101 helps new businesses set up and established businesses revise their vacation policies to fit the needs of the company, the owner and the employees. Call us today.

Interview Mistakes that Interviewers Make

I have heard even in this day and age of interviewers who ask female job applicants if they plan to have a child soon or if having children will interfere with their job performance. I have heard about interviewers who cut an interview short the moment they saw the job applicant was older (or simply different) than expected. And I have heard about interviewers who promised to accommodate an interviewee’s disability, hired the person and then forgot the promise so that the new hire was forced to quit. Those interviewers are setting their companies up for fines and lawsuits.

Interviewing people for jobs requires knowledge of federal and state laws that protect workers and job applicants from discrimination and protects the company against lawsuits.

What about the interviewer who hires a candidate without checking references or job history? Or the interviewer asks questions like “what is your greatest weakness” or “what animal would you be if you were an animal,” yet never asks “can you do the job I’m hiring you for”? Or how about the interviewer who copies an interviewee’s portfolio without permission in order to use the work in house; and only then makes a job offer? Those interviewers are hiring people who might lie on paper, who might be hiding serious flaws in their skills and education, and who seem to have no problem working for a company that steals.

Interviewing people for jobs requires checking backgrounds, asking relevant questions and upholding the values of your company.

Some companies call HR Compliance 101 when a hiring process goes wrong and they end up with an employee they want to dismiss as quickly as possible. Others hire us before the interview process begins. We help them write and post job ads that attract the right people; make sure that the information on resumes is accurate; guide interviewers through the interview process; and alert the company to changes they should make in the employment process that enables the company to fire a new hire without incurring fines and lawsuits. Contact us today.

Hiring Minors in the Summer: New Hampshire & Florida

Summer is coming and so are young people looking for summer employment. The rules in New Hampshire are stricter than those in the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and include the following:

  1. No one under the age of 16 can be employed without getting a New Hampshire Youth Employment Certificate, signed by a parent or legal guardian, unless they are employed by a parent, grandparent or guardian or at work defined as casual or farm labor.
  2. In any case, they cannot work before 7 a.m. or after 9 p.m. or for more than 48 hours a week during vacations.
  3. No one under the age of 12 can be employed (with or without a work permit) unless they are employed by a parent, grandparent or guardian or at work defined as casual or farm labor.
  4. Minors age 16-17 cannot work more than 6 days per week, or more than 30 hours during a school calendar weeks.

Florida law more closely follows the Federal Labor Standards Act and has fewer restrictions on minors 16-17 in some instances. For example, Florida has no restrictions on the hours of work when school is not in session, but still does restrict the number of days to no more than 6 consecutive days in a week.

The laws prohibiting child labor in hazardous jobs are strict on both the federal and state level.  There are 17 prohibited occupations for ALL minors under 18; none can be hired in any way in these occupations.  Additionally, whenever minors have to operate equipment, they should be very well trained to prevent injury and possible fines or lawsuits.

In fact, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health recommends that supervisors and experienced workers develop an injury and illness prevention program. That program would benefit everyone in the company, and HR Compliance 101 can help you set it up. Contact us now before both the summer and the young workers arrive.


Motivating Employees: Theory and Practice

When you consider your own motivations for starting and building your business, you probably list them something like this:

1. Necessity: we all need food, clothing, shelter

2. Interest: you are excited about the field and type of work

3. Challenge: you look forward to days when you can overcome challenges and feel a sense of accomplishment—and in that sense, you look forward to the challenges

Even if your list is different, it contains more items than bare necessity. That’s true for employees, too. Once you’ve offered them the financial carrot—allowed them to take care of the necessities—they need something more to keep them motivated in the job. Beyond a certain point, you can’t keep throwing money at people and expect them to leap for it. In fact, if money is truly your employees’ only motivation, they are going to leave your company as soon as someone waves a higher stack of dollar bills in their direction. To keep and motivate employees, you have to give them more.

What is the more? That varies with each individual. According to psychological research, about 35% of people are motivated by the chance to help others, learn something new and be creative. Another 23% are motivated by accomplishing a task and receiving recognition. About 12% are motivated by status and power.

When motivating employees, you want to take these variations into account; and to do that you have to involve your employees in your own day-to-day deliberations and discussions. Encourage your employees to talk to you, listen to their ideas, implement what you can and keep employees informed. You need to know your employees to know what motivates them. No survey can equal knowing your own team.

If your organization has grown beyond the stage where you know all your employees, then make sure your direct reports follow your lead in involving their teams, so that everyone feels they are contributing to and benefiting from the company’s success.

Part of that involvement requires breaking down silos between departments, sharing knowledge and encouraging creativity. The most boring job in the world (fill in your own blank here) gains interest when it is tied to the overall success and mission of the company. The job holder with a stake in the company is more committed to it.

Part of the mission of HR Compliance 101 is to create a company culture that works for you, the company owner, and for your employees. An unhappy company, with constant turnover and unmotivated employees, is never going to reach the goals you set for it. Contact us and let us help.

Political Discussion at Work: How to Handle Politics in an Election Year

Political discussions in the workplace can become especially heated during an election year and cause tensions that are not healthy for employees or for the success of the business. Is there anything an employer can do to prevent political discussions from interfering with teamwork, productivity and customer relations?

The solution becomes clearer when we turn the question around. What can an employer do when teamwork, productivity, and customer relations are affected by political discussions? Now the issue is not about beliefs—who is right, who is wrong—but about employees fulfilling their responsibilities. Whether a discussion centers on football teams or same-sex marriages, when it interferes with an employee’s ability to do his or her job, it falls under the guidelines set up by the employee’s job description and company policies on work performance.

Employers must be careful not to allow their political beliefs to dictate their own attitudes and behaviors; for example, by giving a poor performance review to someone who votes for a different party. Federal and state laws may restrict an employer’s ability to persuade employees to vote for or against a specific candidate or issue. In addition, while employers may have a dress code that prohibits wearing campaign buttons or a policy against posting political flyers in shared spaces, certain political activities are protected, including running for office, having a bumper sticker on a private car or wearing a union badge.

A CareerBuilder survey found that 36 percent of workers discuss politics at work, while 46 percent stated that they plan to discuss the presidential election with their co-workers. About 23 percent said such discussions have led to a heated work exchange or fight with a work colleague. When political views are persistently expressed even though others have made it clear that those views are unwelcome, then the person expressing those views may be creating an atmosphere of harassment. The employer’s response should fall under the company’s policy for dealing with harrassment.

In general, I recommend creating a culture where tolerance, respect and sheer good manners are held in high esteem. Under those circumstances, political discussions at work should resolve themselves far short of the time when employers need to intervene.

Update on OSHA Rules for Labeling Hazardous Materials

As of June 1, 2016, OSHA expects businesses to update their labeling for workplace hazards to conform with international standards.

Hazardous materials include any substances that pose a health hazard (such as irritation, sensitization, and carcinogenicity) or physical hazard (such as flammability, corrosion, and reactivity). While you may not manufacture or use hazardous materials as your main business, most companies, even those in the service industries, have at least some hazardous materials on site.

There are several important reasons for the move to consistency in labeling hazardous materials. When labeling varies from country to country:

1. Employees become confused about what the various symbols mean and have difficulty figuring out the hazards involved.

2. A chemical may be identified as more (or less) hazardous in its country of origin than in the country where it ends up. Therefore, labels that are accurate in one country may be inaccurate in another.

3. Containers may have so much information that employees are unable to pick out the critical information.

The changes are described in revisions to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) of OSHA (29 CFR 1910.1200). They include the following consistent components for every label on a hazardous material:

* Product identifier

* Signal word—a single word (such as “danger” and “warning”) that indicates the relative level of severity of the hazard.

* Hazard statement –a hazard class and category and the degree of hazard (for example, “acute toxicity”). * Pictograms—a symbol or other graphic element that quickly conveys information about the hazards of the chemical.

* Precautionary statement—the measures that should be taken to minimize the hazard.

* Name, address and telephone number of chemical manufacturer, importer or other responsible party. For examples of pictograms, see the US Department of Labor OSHA Quickcard™.

OSHA stresses that “Workers have the right to know and understand the hazardous chemicals they use and how to work with them safely.” HR Compliance 101 can give your employees the training and information they need to recognize hazardous materials, understand the current labeling and work with chemicals safely.