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Components of a Self-Diagnosis

None of us know what we don’t know. For some of us, the gap is fairly large, and for others, we are continually striving to narrow that gap in those areas that affect our lives. I started my business with the premise that the employers with five to sixty employees certainly don’t need a full-time Human Resource or Safety Manager, but do need to comply with many of the rules and regulations that the big businesses have to follow. Many times, the small employer isn’t sure where to go to get the information s/he needs and sometimes doesn’t even know what questions to ask.   Many times when I meet with a new client, I perform a compliance assessment where we review the business’ compliance with over 130 topics. Some basic topics are actually pretty important from a compliance perspective.

A. I-9 compliance. The I-9 system is supposed to ensure that employers don’t give jobs to people who are not legally authorized to work in this country. This law has been on the books since 1986, but the vast number of illegal aliens who work here is testimony to the fact that many employers weren’t complying. Do you have an I-9 form on every employee hired after 1986? Have you been using the new form (that expires in 3/2016) for all new hires after March 2012? Have you done an audit to make sure that the forms have been completed accurately? It is not enough to have the form on file; it needs to be completed in a very specific way to be compliant. Are you maintaining your I-9s in compliance with their record-keeping requirements? If you don’t answer yes to all of these questions, you may want to call us for an I-9 compliance assessment.

B. New Hire Rate of Pay form. Before Cynthia Flynn retired from the NH Dept of Labor, she made it very clear that the DOL had caught many, many employers violating the regulation that is specifically defined on the Protective Legislation poster. The poster says, “Employer must  notify employee in writing when hiring of the rate of pay, or any changes prior to change; make available in writing, or by posted notice, employment practices and policies on vacation pay, sick leave, and other fringe benefits; furnish employee statement of deductions each payday.” Even if you don’t yet have an Employee Handbook or Guide, you can easily define these items on a New Hire Rate of Pay form.  However, without this form signed by your employee, how can you prove you provided this employee with this information? You can’t and, in a pay dispute, it’ll be a “he said, she said” situation. In most cases like this, the Department of Labor & Department of Employment Security take the employee’s side. One client didn’t have this form in place and the ex-employee collected unemployment as if he was a full-time employee when he had been hired as a part-time, 4 hours per day, dishwasher. Protect your company and make sure you have one of these forms on file for each of your current employees. It is also required that you tell an employee when you are going to change their pay. You must do this before they get the new paycheck in hand.

We have a simple form that documents both for our clients.


Summer is a prime time for outdoor work—and for heat stroke. OSHA has created a heat index chart as a guide to employers. If you have outdoor workers, those workers are at risk for heat-related illness. Even though OSHA doesn’t have a specific standard, if a worker suffers a heat-related illness, the employer can be fined under the general duty clause. With all the Smart-phone usage on the job, I strongly recommend installing an app that gives the working foremen the heat index at any given time. With that knowledge, the foreman can take the appropriate protective measures as defined below*:
Heat Index Risk Level Protective Measures
Less than 91◦F           Low (Caution) Basic heat & safety planning
91◦F to 103◦F             Moderate Implement precautions & heighten awareness
103◦F to 115◦F             High Additional precautions to protect workers
Greater than 115◦F     Very High to Extreme Triggers even more aggressive protective measures
*OSHA’s Online Toolkit

Since the heat index is a single value that takes both the temperature and humidity into account, it is a better measure than air temperature alone. For workers in direct sunlight, up to 15 degrees should be added to the heat index.  If your workers are performing strenuous activity, using heavy or non-breathable clothing, or are new to outdoor work, they need extra protection. The newbies are the workers most at risk; they haven’t been acclimated to the working conditions yet. In 25 incidents reported to OSHA, in almost half of the cases, a worker was on his first day and in 80% of the cases, the worker had been on the job for four or fewer days. So for newbies, gradually increase their outdoor workload over their first couple of weeks and/or allow them more frequent breaks until they get acclimated.

All employers know that you must have potable water on site for your workers. For most of my clients, big coolers filled with ice and water bottles are standard equipment. Some tricks that they have taught me:
1. Add some re-fillable water bottles to the cooler after filling them ¾ of the way and freezing them overnight. They will help keep the other bottles of water cold.
2. A solid block of ice, wrapped in newspaper, will last almost all day in the bottom of a cooler.
3. Bandanas can be dipped in the cool water and provide instant relief when applied to the neck or the head.

If you use other methods that benefit your outdoor workers, please share them with me for future blogs. In the meantime, if you need some guidance on providing your employees with a safe and healthy workplace, please reach out to HR Compliance 101 for help.

Problem Customers: When They Aren’t Always Right

Customers that cause problems on your premises may create major embarrassment for you, especially in this age of instant photos and videos. Your staff and other customers may feel threatened. An out-of-control customer may cause physical damage. A disagreement may quickly escalate into a crisis.

Part of your responsibility as a company owner is to handle customers who are not always right. Some of the following guidelines are preventive—which is the best possible response—and some mitigate the effects of difficult customers.

1. Listen. Most people will respond to a listener who seems genuinely concerned about their problem and interested in finding a solution. Some experts on dealing with tension recommend that, if the customer’s voice rises, your own voice lowers. Assuming some mental distance from the situation—this isn’t personal even if the customer makes personal remarks—will help you deal with the issue even if you dislike the customer.
2. Minimize the opportunities for customer aggravation. As the airline industry is finding, when you pack anxious people into too small a space, some of them are bound to act out. Banks found long ago that having assigned approach lines helped people feel they were being treated fairly and helped as quickly as possible.
3. Instill in your employees the willingness to help. Few things annoy customers more than watching a group of employees chat amongst themselves while the customers wait for service. Make sure employees know whom to ask if they are uncertain how to answer a question or handle a situation. Also make sure they know the limits of their power—when they should not intervene. Write this information down and distribute it to all employees when they are hired so that the rules are consistent and everyone understands them.
4. Always approach first from the attitude that something can be done. Sometimes even the most ridiculous demand or unrealistic expectation will disappear with a small concession. For example, if there is a dispute over a minimal amount of change or over the actual price of an item, it might be better to agree with the customer than lose everyone who is impatiently waiting in line. You might defuse anger by ensuring a customer that you will phone after investigating or by giving the customer contact information for the “home office” to ensure that the right people hear the complaint. But if you promise to follow up, follow up!
5. Refuse the customer’s business. In extreme cases, you may need a restraining order to keep a customer off your property. In other cases, it might suffice to politely “fire” the customer. (“I’m sorry but I can’t fit you into my schedule.”) You have no obligation to keep working with someone who creates an intolerable atmosphere for you, your employees and your other customers.

HR Compliance 101 creates guidelines for businesses and their employees in handling customer disputes and issues. Contact us today.

Employee Travel: Questions and Answers

Today’s blog will address some common questions about employee travel. For more information, see the U.S. Department of Labor website or your own state’s Department of Labor website.

Q. I provide a company car for one of my employees that he uses to travel to and from work as well as going on sales calls. Do I need to pay him for all the time he is in the company car, including commuting?

A. Commuting hours are not considered “hours worked” but a personal expense. You do not have to pay for commuting hours, even though the employee is using a company car. However, if the employee is traveling from one job location (sales call, in this case) to another during regular working hours, that travel time must be paid.

Q. A few of my employees are flying to company-sponsored training in another state. Some are currently nonexempt and some are exempt. I know I should pay the nonexempt employees for travel time, but what about the exempt employees?

A. Anytime travel occurs during regular working hours for the company’s benefit, both nonexempt and exempt employees should be paid for travel (except commuting time). However, you do not have to pay for the time it takes the employee to travel to the airport. That can be considered commuting time. If the travel occurs during a weekend or other non-working hours, nonexempt employees should be reimbursed for overtime.

Q. What happens if an accident occurs while an employee is traveling in a company car?

In most case, the employer is considered responsible for any liability that results from an accident involving a company car, as long as the employee was acting within the scope of employment. Under those circumstances, the employer cannot force the employee to pay for damages and cannot fire the employee unless the employee was reckless or violated company rules on operating the vehicle. Even if the employee was using the car for personal business and was clearly at fault, the company can be held responsible if, for example, the employee has been ticketed for driving violations in the past or has a medical problem that would affect their driving ability or if the car wasn’t properly maintained.

HR Compliance 101 can help you develop company policies that align with state and federal law regarding employee travel while protecting you and your employees.

Employee Illnesses: How Does Your Company Respond?

A pregnant project manager suffered mini seizures but was too concerned about deadlines to visit a doctor and didn’t realize how frequent the seizures had become. A newly-widowed engineer, previously a model employee, began coming in late, wandering the halls to chat with the secretaries and leaving early. One day, he invited a secretary to sit on his lap.

As an employer, what would you do? When a valued employee suffers a physical or mental illness, your concern for that employee naturally includes concern for your other employees and your business.

One of the first steps you need to take, before any illness arises, is to have a policy in your Employee Handbook for illnesses and to make sure that managers understand the importance of recognizing and properly addressing physical and mental illnesses. Fortunately, for the pregnant project manager, her boss witnessed one of the seizures and insisted that she go to the doctor. She was diagnosed with mild epilepsy brought on by the pregnancy.

Mental illnesses are often harder to detect than physical illnesses, but an estimated 20% of employees will suffer a mental illness during their careers, including stress, depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorders, and psychosis. Managers should not attempt to diagnose or label mental illnesses any more than they would try to diagnose a physical problem.

Whether physical or mental illnesses are involved, managers should focus on issues that affect job performance, including inability to relate to others professionally, handle workload or arrive on time. They should document changes in behavior, skills (such as decision making) or energy level, so that they have evidence of a work-related issue rather than trusting their “gut instincts.” Managers should also be sensitive to problems that, on the surface, seem to benefit the company, at least in the short-term. For example, an employee might work extremely long hours, both daily and on weekends; eventually the employee may become so stressed that he quits or begins lashing out at others who are working fewer hours.

Employees should feel free to talk to Human Resource representatives and managers about any accommodations that are needed, such as flexible hours (for example, to attend either physical or psychiatric therapy). In the case of a chronic illness, employees may need to discuss emergency procedures; for example, how to deal with seizures. The employee may need guidance in talking with co-workers about an illness; but those co-workers may be the first line of aid in the event of an emergency. The employee needs to be part of a conversation on how to balance the concerns for privacy with concern for the employee’s health (and perhaps everyone’s safety).

For help developing a company policy or handling an employee’s possible physical or mental illness, please contact HR Compliance 101.

Common OSHA Citation: Respiratory Protection

When they are asked to define the term “personal protective equipment” for a job site, most people think of hard-hats for construction workers or protective clothing for firefighters and police officers. Few people think of respiratory protection.

But in 2014, respiratory protection was fourth in an OSHA list of the 10 most frequently cited violations of OSHA standards.

Respirators may be necessary on construction sites (for example, to protect against asbestos) or in manufacturing plants, or in any other location where workers come into contact “with harmful dusts, fogs, fumes, mists, gases, smokes, sprays, or vapors.” Respirators protect workers from occupational diseases caused by breathing contaminated air.

OSHA has very specific requirements for respiratory protection, which includes training employees in how and when to wear respirators; establishing procedures and schedules for cleaning and maintaining respiratory equipment; and medically evaluating employees to be sure they are able to use a respirator.

OSHA also has very specific rules about informing employees about workplace hazards. In June 2016, employers must have an updated workplace labeling and hazard communication program, along with employee training, to reflect revisions to the Hazard Communication Standard (HCS) of OSHA (29 CFR 1910.1200). OSHA stresses that “Workers have the right to know and understand the hazardous chemicals they use and how to work with them safely.”

One way to make sure that you are adequately protecting your employees is with a personal protective equipment (PPE) assessment that evaluates individual tasks in your facility to see what PPE is required for each task. You will also want to establish training to make sure that employees fulfill their responsibility to properly use and maintain their PPE. Do you need to supply respirators for any of your employees? Will your Hazard Communication Program meet 2016 standards? Now is the time to find out.

Stress in the Workplace: Preventive Measures

In a previous blog, I talked about the effects of stress on the workplace and how it was reduced in one company. At HR Compliance 101, our goal is “workplaces that work for everyone.” This blog addresses some ways that HR Compliance 101 helps companies ensure that outcome and prevent stress, with its negative effect on teamwork, productivity and communication.

1. Write job descriptions and an Employee Handbook. When information is available in writing to everyone, stress levels fall. In the case of disputes, the facts are laid out objectively in the job description and Employee Handbook. Make sure your employees sign both after reading to prevent any “nobody told me” excuses. The job descriptions and Employee Handbook also help ensure fairness in handling special requests.
2. Conduct stay interviews. Exit interviews are held when an employee has already determined to leave; stay interviews tell you why your best employees are willing to stay and what would prevent them from leaving. With that information, you can reduce turnover, encourage careers, promote team work, hire individuals with similar attitudes and rectify problems before they lead to stress.
3. Organize your own time as a business owner. Stress for a business owner often comes from the need to be everywhere, doing everything all the time. Personal life disappears, vacations are a myth and everyone’s problems land on the business owner’s desk.
4. Institute training. One of the barriers to delegation is that idea that “no one can do the job as well as I can.” Training enables delegation; and delegation not only reduces stress, it also ensures continuity if an employee, manager or business owner is sidelined.
5. Hire the right people. Few things are more stressful than finding out that the individual you just hired hasn’t the skills you expected, is unable to fit into the company culture, resists training and refuses to communicate. Advertisements, job postings, interview methods and the on-boarding process all need to act in concert to ensure the best applicants for the company are hired.

HR Compliance 101 writes job descriptions, develops Employee Handbooks, conducts stay (and exit) interviews, offers individualized and customized training on time management, prepares managers and business owners to train employees, helps to find the right employees—and offers many other services to create and maintain a stress-free environment. Contact us today.

Stress in the Workplace: Some Causes and Cures

Many years ago, a business owner asked me to intervene when his company lost several employees in a row, costing time, money and the ability to respond to customer demands. His appeal was driven by worry and stress; if the employee drain continued, he didn’t know how his company would survive.

Through exit interviews and some research, I found out about three typical cases, showing that the toxic effects of stress reached from the support staff through management to the business owner. In Case 1, a newly hired secretary met her boss for the first time on her first day of work. The boss explained her job responsibilities. She went to lunch and never returned. In Case 2, the company’s most dedicated exempt employee worked upwards of 90 hours a week to finish a project. About two weeks before the project would end, the employee stopped showing up for work. It took the company a month to find him resting at his parents’ home. He was happy to hand over information on the now long-delayed project, but refused to return. In Case 3, a manager shared some ideas at a meeting where she was the only female. The ideas were uniformly shot down. At the next meeting, a male manager presented the same ideas as his own and they were uniformly accepted. As soon as she landed a new job, she quit.

Facing the stress of unexpected job responsibilities, overwork and lack of respect, all of these employees chose to leave. The company wasted time and money on replacements, was unable to meet deadlines and lost some of its most creative people. Stress in the workplace environment was killing the company. Under my guidance, the company implemented changes in three areas right away:

1. Interviews: Hiding important facts from new (or current) employees always leads to stress. To prevent a recurrence of Case 1, prospective employees now meet their future bosses and are given a written description of their duties during the interview, as developed by HR Compliance 101. They must sign the job description as part of the hiring process, to ensure that everyone is clear about the job requirements.
2. Management training: Managers should be aware when employees are overextending themselves. Case 2 could have been prevented if someone had assigned an additional employee to the project or insisted that the “dedicated” employee take a break. HR Compliance 101 organized management meetings and changed the manager’s job description to clarify the company’s policy about overtime and emphasize the need to communicate with employees.
3. Handbook and diversity training: Allowing discrimination is not only stressful, it is also illegal and could lead to fines and lawsuits. To address Case 3, HR Compliance 101 developed a company handbook to ensure fair treatment of all employees and helped the company institute diversity training.

While the causes of stress in your company may be different, HR Compliance 101 has guided so many companies in so many industries that we have—or can find—a solution that works for you and for your company. Contact us today for a healthier, less stressful workplace environment.

Four Biggest Compliance Mistakes for Small Businesses

For small businesses, the lack of compliance to state and federal regulations can lead to devastating fines, lawsuits, and endangerment of people and property. Over the last decade, I’ve helped small businesses rectify the following four compliance mistakes which many business owners make:

Compliance Mistake 1: Believing that your company doesn’t have to worry about compliance and that noncompliance won’t be caught. One company faced fines when an OSHA inspector just happened to drive by and noticed dangerous behavior by employees erecting a sign. State and federal regulations reach down to the smallest company. If you own a company, you need to worry about compliance.

Compliance Mistake 2: Using out of date forms and posters. Because regulations continually change, you must keep your forms and posters up to date. Posters and most forms are free and downloadable, so there is no excuse for using outdated materials.

Compliance Mistake 3: Not having standard policies and procedures. If your employees do not know what to do, if you haven’t written down the rules (like using protective gear), then you have lost control over compliance, including maintaining consistent documentation to prove your compliance if needed. Compliance should be a habit, continually reinforced with training.

Compliance Mistake 4: Not addressing problems immediately. The longer you allow noncompliant situations to exist, from poor paperwork to sexual harassment, the more likely you are to find yourself in court. An improperly trained manager may open you to a hiring discrimination or wrongful termination suit; a disgruntled employee may send OSHA inspectors into your office, plant, or jobsite.

Small business owners must take compliance seriously. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your business is exempt or “too small” to attract attention. You are vulnerable if your state and federal regulatory information, forms, policies, or procedures are out of date, inconsistent, or nonexistent and if you have made no effort to ensure compliance.

Helping to bring small businesses into regulatory compliance is an important service of HR Compliance 101. If you are not sure whether you are compliant, an HR Compliance 101 confidential assessment, covering more than 100 state and federal regulations, will allow you to fix problems before they attract official attention. There are ways to fix even the longest-running problems. Contact me today.

New Rules for 2015

New OSHA Notifications

If you are already keeping OSHA records but have never had any serious injuries at your company, these new rules won’t make any difference to you. Right now, companies need to report only if there are three or more hospitalizations. There are also no current requirements for reporting amputations or eye losses. Beginning 1/1/15, employers will have to tell OSHA about:

* Fatalities, within 8 hours

* In-patient hospitalization of one or more workers, within 24 hours

* Amputations or losses of an eye, within 24 hours.

For many of my small clients, their Workers’ Compensation insurance carriers will help them with this process. If you need any assistance with your OSHA records, please e-mail me at

New Cell Phone Law

For several years now, I have been educating my clients about providing hands-free devices to their employees who are on the road and likely to be taking or making phone calls during the course of their day. The majority of my clients have added the following language to their job descriptions:

“Unless you are using a hands-free device, using a cell phone or other communication device while operating a motor vehicle on Company business is not allowed.”

We ask employees to stop their vehicles before talking or responding to incoming calls or pages. However, stopping is not permitted on Interstate 495 or 93. Cars can pull into the breakdown lane only for emergencies. Hands-free devices solve this problem.

I truly thought that the federal laws against government employees’ texting while driving would roll out in all states and with all drivers. It hasn’t happened yet, but effective 7/1/15, NH will become one of thirteen states that ban talking while driving and one of 44 that do not allow texting. Drivers won’t be able to use handheld devices while on the road or while temporarily stopped in traffic. People can still make 911 Emergency calls or use hands-free devices such as Bluetooths. They can also still use the one-handed, two-way radio.

If a driver is under 18, the requirements are much stricter. They can be subject to penalties in addition to license suspension or revocation. So, if you have children or know any drivers under 18, let them know they should get in the habit now before it costs them, in more than one way.