I go to a local restaurant for lunch and see a sign on the door “Help wanted – Full-time – Permanent.” Yikes! I overhear conversations as I navigate my day: “I am sick of the till being short so I started taking it out of their pay checks” and “I just pay everyone a salary so I do not have to deal with overtime.” For all too many entrepreneurs, staffing needs are handled organically without a plan or knowledge of employment law. I have seen many employers balloon up to 20-30 employees before realizing that 10-15 people could do the work if there was more structure and guidance from management. And I have seen plenty of employers hand over a few thousand dollars to an exiting employee because they discovered too late they were violating labor laws.
1. I-9 Forms from Homeland Security- RTFD
Every employee needs to fill out an I-9 form and someone in your office needs to read the directions first. Too often these forms are not filled out at all, filled out incorrectly, or are simply stapled to copies of identification cards. Current I-9 trainings in Oregon state that you should not keep copies of identification documents on file. Look at the documents, confirm they are real and have not been tampered with, and fill out the form using the originals.
2. Create Job Descriptions and review them at least annually
Job Descriptions are the recipes your employees need to do a good job. You cannot reprimand and employee for not doing their job if you never told them what their job was. There are lots of resources for creating your Job Descriptions (JDs). The process is not all on you, ask your employees to make a list of what they do.
JD Categories: Job title, Who they report to, Part-time, full-time or casual, Exempt or non-exempt, A statement about your company (the what and why), Position description summary, Essential duties, Non-essential duties, Essential skills, Non-essential skills, Work environment expectations and/or physical requirements. Ensure you note if being physically at the work location (not telecommuting) is an essential duty.
3. Ensure the person doing your bookkeeping and payroll processing has a basic understanding about employment law.
These folks should be waving the red flag about unlawful activities. How do you ensure they know the basics? Check out the Q&A at your state’s labor division website, ask your bookkeeper/payroll processor the same questions, do the answers match? The Bureau of Labor and Industry in Oregon offers some great employment law trainings and they have handbooks you can purchase. If you have employees telecommuting from out of state, you need to process payroll and know about employment laws for that state. In Oregon, you need to be savvy about rules that apply only in Portland; they are applicable to the telecommuters who reside there. Invest in getting yourself or an employee trained in the basics.
4. Document the basic polices about payroll
Yes, I would love to say get an employee handbook right now. The truth is you should set this in motion but it will take a few months to complete even after you get a template from your HR lawyer. In the mean time, sit down and note the following:
A. Work Week – Is it Monday -Sunday, Sunday – Saturday…?
B. Pay Period – Do you pay people for a week, a month, or 1-15th and 16 – end of month?
C. Pay Date – Do everyone a favor and do not make the pay date the last day of the pay period. It allows no time to accurately process time sheets. Keep in mind that weekends and holidays can impact pay dates too. I suggest pay dates that are up to 5 days after the end of the pay period. You have the option to pay earlier but there should be no expectation you will.
D. Do you provide paid time off? Holidays, Vacation, PTO? If not, note it, you would be surprised by the number of employees that think this is the law and not an employer option. Check with your state to find out if any paid time off is mandatory.
E. Rest Breaks – Copy and paste whatever your state says is the law. Do not allow employees to deviate from what is lawful.
F. Overtime – Does it need to be pre-approved? In general the answer should be yes. If they work it, you pay it even if it was not pre-approved. With this policy you can discipline for not getting pre-approval.
G. Signature page – Have all employees sign off that they have received and will follow the policies.