Maintain structure and organization to trump the confusion.

Human resources management is a complex science. And the rules that govern it generally do not make a distinction based on the size of the business. That creates a significant burden on smaller businesses. While large companies can afford to have dedicated staff to stay current on the dearth of regulations, the small business must often rely on shared management responsibilities that include human resources. There's no way around it - someone in your organization must be responsible for understanding, integrating and monitoring the veritable alphabet-soup of laws and regulations into your operation.

Between FMLA, FLSA, OSHA, COBRA, HIPAA, DOL, the WARN Act, EEOC, ERISA and a variety of harassment and constructive discharge laws, it can be overwhelming as a shared responsibility! We've suggested a number of times this year that structure, organization and consistency are essential in handling personnel matters. In the end, a lack of structure, organization and consistency is a ticking bomb with respect to staying out of trouble with regulatory agencies and staying out of court.

Small business owners who have, perhaps, not kept as current with HR regulatory issues as they should, might begin by assessing their liabilities. First, understand that if confusion or a lack of clarity exists between an employer and employee, it most often draws into question the employer's efforts to clarify matters. For instance, generating specific written job descriptions may seem like a waste of time, until you're asked to prove that a discharged poor performing employee was fully aware of the elements of his job. So, the many things we've covered earlier in the year like job descriptions, structured interviewing questions, hiring and firing procedures, consistent accommodations to employees, performance evaluations and procedures for disciplinary actions take on a critical importance. Frankly, without them, the multi-tasking small business manager is almost sure to fail the alphabet-soup test.

You should also recognize that the greatest risk you have of either mishandling an employee or violating a regulation (or both) is with your front line supervisors. The folks responsible for making business happen every day are often more focused on that goal than staying in compliance with the myriad personnel management rules and regulations. So, that group should be monitored closely, trained and guided by their management.

Throughout most of 2004, this column has attempted to provide insight into personnel management techniques and approaches that can help smaller independent businesses comply with legal and regulatory requirements, while also operating more smoothly and profitably. Few would argue that quality people are the key to business success. And, unfortunately, many business owners say it is getting increasingly difficult to find good people. They are out there - you just have to find them or grow them yourself. But in the end, it takes quality management to have a quality staff. <<

Sidebar: Best Practices

18. Establish a structured, organized and consistent HR management program.

Human resources management forms and procedures may seem boring and unnecessary. However, they are often the precise documentation needed to defend your actions to either a regulatory agency or in a court of law. Go over the best practices provided throughout the year in this column. Most of them deal with the elements that would be needed to structure an organized HR program. For your convenience, all 19 Best Practices have been compiled into a single document that is now available at Please feel free to download the document and use it as a reference. Structure, organization and consistency are your best means of avoiding HR management and regulatory problems later on.

19. Create an active action plan for HR regulation compliance.

Once again, a structured plan … without one, you're trusting your (and your managers' and supervisors') best intentions. “Best intentions” provide a very weak defense! If you are the executive in charge of HR issues you should first train yourself. Take an employment law class once a year to keep current with the ever-changing legal requirements. Schedule managers and supervisors to training classes in vital HR areas - not sporadically - have a strategy. Schedule required safety training throughout the year for all affected employees. Read magazines and newsletters that cover legal issues for employers. And, regularly review some Web sites, such as or the Department of Labor site for current legal news.