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Human Resource Compliance is for Every Business

by Sally Anne Morris - Copyright © 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc. on 12/31/2003
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It's a familiar scenario. Corporate giants and industrial conglomerates facing government sanctions, huge lawsuits and crippling publicity, all over issues of employment law, sexual harassment, discrimination, drug and alcohol testing, even workplace smoking.

If you're thinking that big business - with its thousands of employees - faces a myriad of rules and regulations about its work force, you're right.

But, if you're thinking those laws apply only to big business - and not to the majority of small companies that comprise Maine's economy - think again.

Human-resource compliance is for every business. The regulatory framework that establishes the rules for employer and employee relationships applies to the local lumber mill, the mom-and-pop hardware store, the family restaurant.

And if you think these are nit-picking rules that work only to the advantage of disgruntled employees, think again. Good HR policies are good business.

All businesses in Maine, no matter their size, have human-resource issues - how to set up personnel files and how long to keep them, information for employees on discrimination and harassment, mechanisms for workers to voice concerns and complaints, and on and on.

Compliance with state and federal laws requires good policies and procedures, good record keeping and good employment practices - but all too many small businesses have failed to adopt them as they establish and grow their companies.

Some small-business owners have the attitude that the regulatory framework applies only to the big guys - "We're too small to worry about that stuff." Others may believe that their relationships with employees make them immune from complaints and lawsuits - "We're all just like family here." Still others may have been "too busy" building and growing their businesses to take time to establish employment policies.

HR compliance, when properly in place, can provide protection for employers. Employment laws require that small businesses ensure regulations are followed. Small businesses need policies about sexual harassment, antidiscrimination, whistle-blowing, military personnel who have been called up to active duty, the use of video display terminals, smoking, drug and alcohol use or testing, rest breaks, assessing performance, discipline and termination. They must post notices to employees about minimum wage, overtime, discrimination, sexual harassment and health and safety.

Employment laws have record-keeping requirements - on collecting immigration files, properly maintaining personnel files and saving employment applications. Should problems arise, regulatory agencies will often look to the business's policies and procedures when they assess the employee's complaint or the culpability of the employer. Having these policies in place allows a business to demonstrate that it treated its employees fairly, followed the rules and did not break the law.

Employers can protect their businesses in other ways by establishing specific policies. They can establish conflict-of-interest rules, and rules to protect business property and the valuable good will of the business. Policies that set clear rules for improper conduct and progressive discipline for rule violations help defend against an unfounded unemployment claim.

Because problems can begin anywhere - employees may feel they are not being treated fairly when they are surprised by a lower bonus, smaller raise or layoff - prevention is the key to saving time and money. Having good policies in place is just the start. Following those practices, being objective, clear and fair with employees is the most important follow-through.

LAWYER Sally Anne Morris has been representing employers in human resource issues since 1992. She founded her own business in 2003, focusing on the unique issues Maine's small businesses face in complying with regulatory demands. She can be reached at sallyannemorris@aol.com.

Categories: 2004, Human Resources

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