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Ask the HR Expert: Advice for Business Owners without HR Training

Human Resources

Small-business owners are often forced to handle human resource responsibilities, but many lack any type of HR training. We asked several HR experts for their top piece of advice for business owners without any HR expertise. Here’s what they had to say:

Shore Up with a Self-Audit

Jillienne Allgauer, SPHR, HR Services Manager with Paychex

Small-business owners often become a “Renaissance” man or woman — bearing responsibility for various roles in the organization, including HR administrator. But HR isn’t something that should be glossed over or taken lightly. Rather, HR is a critical business function that can either produce fruitful results, such as engaged and productive employees, or can expose the business to serious and often costly liability.

Conducting a thorough self-audit of their employment-related practices can help business owners assess their levels of compliance with applicable laws and government regulations and correct any problems in case of a third-party audit. The results of a compliance audit can help establish policies throughout the business — from the questions asked during interviews and the type of background checks needed, to employee handbook development and workforce training requirements.

Audits can be outsourced to consultants with expertise in HR, or employers may use reference tools available on government websites to conduct the audit themselves. For example, the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services’ M-274 Handbook for Employers references best practices for the completion of the Form I-9 to verify identity and employment eligibility, while newsletters like the Department of Labor’s News Brief address topics like wages and hour regulation.

Create Policies — and Consistently Enforce Them

Dorene Crimi Lerner, SPHR, Human Resources Consultant with Paychex

The best HR counsel I give to my small-business clients is to develop policies, put them in writing (in an employee handbook, for example), communicate them to employees, and then implement them consistently.

Without consistent enforcement of company policies, businesses may expose themselves to the risk of discrimination issues or even potential lawsuits. This means that any time and effort spent developing and communicating policies can be saved tenfold by avoiding even a single fine or lawsuit. I also remind my clients that, regardless of how small a business is, it only takes one employee to cause financial havoc by filing a complaint or lawsuit.

Job Descriptions Really Matter

Jessica Davis, PHR, Senior HR Generalist with Paychex

It’s a common misconception that job descriptions are useful for recruiting, but aren’t important after a hire is made. In truth, specific, well-written job descriptions can not only help companies find the right candidates, but can also assist with managing workers throughout their employment with your company.

A job description is a document that allows employers to set expectations of a position and also serves as a reference for candidates and employees. When writing a job description, employers should include specific, measurable, attainable, and time-bound expectations against which employees will be measured. These expectations are useful for recruiting purposes as well as for evaluating performance once an employee is on the job. Job descriptions can also be vital when it comes to discipline and termination.

Often overlooked, but just as important, is the fact that job descriptions can play a vital role in workers’ compensation and disability claims. An accurate job description identifying the essential functions of a position may allow physicians to see what the expectations of the position are with regard to physical demands. It is considered a best practice to have job descriptions include any potential risks the employee might be exposed to, such as working at heights, electrical shock, or extreme cold or heat.

Find Creative Ways to Reward Employees

Jennifer Benz, PHR, Senior HR Generalist with Paychex

Raises and promotions aren’t the only ways to reward employees. Low-cost alternatives include offering exemplary employees a floating holiday, an employee-of-the-month parking space, company-sponsored lunches, or casual Fridays. I always recommend 1001 Ways to Reward Employees by Bob Nelson, Ph.D., to my clients to help them find low-cost ideas for attracting and retaining talent by boosting employee morale. Creating a culture that makes employees feel valued is a great strategy to consider when creating or reviewing a total compensation package.


This website contains articles posted for informational and educational value. Paychex is not responsible for information contained within any of these materials. Any opinions expressed within materials are not necessarily the opinion of, or supported by, Paychex. The information in these materials should not be considered legal or accounting advice, and it should not substitute for legal, accounting, and other professional advice where the facts and circumstances warrant.
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