3 Important Tips to Navigate HR as a Small Business

woman sitting at desk looking at computer

We’ve partnered with our friends at Homebase — which provides employee management software to help save you time and get you off paperwork — to give us the skinny on how to navigate the HR waters without an HR director, from the perspective of Carol Wood, the People Operations Director at Homebase.

One word can strike fear in the hearts of many business owners: lawsuit. As an HR director for small and large companies alike for the past decade, I have seen my fair share of well-meaning managers make small missteps that lead to big EEOC settlements.

What is the EEOC? For those of you not in HR, let me tell you. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is responsible for enforcing federal laws around discrimination in the workplace because of a person’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability, or genetic information. Failing to be up to date on EEOC guidance can result in harm to your employees and your business. In 2016, the EEOC resolved 97,443 charges and secured more than $482.1 million for victims of discrimination.

Laws enforced by the EEOC apply to all types of work situations, including hiring, firing, promotions, harassment, training, wages, and benefits. They also protect those who have been exposed to such discrimination.

You need to be aware of the laws enforced by the EEOC. To that end, I’ve put together three important tips for avoiding common harassment and discrimination charges in your workplace, which I hope save you time, money, and a whole lot of headaches over the long run. Keep in mind that state and city antidiscrimination/antiharassment laws may apply to your business as well.

  1. Avoid requiring “English only” in the workplace.
    We love to celebrate the diverse perspectives that come from working with a multicultural team. Unless there is a business justification, though (such as a requirement to interact with English-speaking customers), the EEOC has issued guidance that mandating that employees use English only in the workplace can be discrimination based on national origin, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

    To help your staff work together and break through any language barriers, we’d suggest you:
    - Use team-building activities to build bridges among your employees. Have employees cross-train each other in their positions.
    - Provide training about courteous team behavior in the workplace.

  2. Don’t dismiss harassment or discrimination as “workplace drama.”
    Say an employee is complaining she doesn’t want to be scheduled with another employee. He’s always asking her out for a date and it is making her uncomfortable — what should you do?

    While it might seem minor, it should be treated as a complaint of sexual harassment and be documented and investigated. Documenting a complaint doesn’t mean it is definitely harassment, it simply enables the manager to track the facts: whether or not harassment occurred or if there is even sufficient evidence to conclude it’s harassment.

    Remember, it’s the manager’s obligation not only to protect the business but also the people involved. So you are better off documenting even the most minor incidents rather than brushing them off.

  3. Resolve potential harassment issues before making schedule changes.
    Changing employee shifts or schedules could be seen as retaliatory action against an employee who has made a complaint. As I mentioned above, the first step is to document the complaint.

    Once this is done, you should work with those involved to address the issue. An example of steps you might take to resolve the issue include:
    - Conducting a prompt and thorough investigation into the complaint that maintains the confidentiality of those involved as much as you can
    - Disciplining the harasser and/or requiring them to participate in training, depending on what you find
    - Reminding the person being investigated that they must not retaliate in any way against the complainant
    - Documenting the investigation and the action taken

Make sure you document each of these steps. Often any one of these steps puts an end to the issue and improves the working environment for your employees. If the harassment continues, more serious action may be required.

Sometimes, what seems like common sense management can get a company into hot water. While there are lots of challenges when you start to manage larger teams of employees, we hope these three tips help you steer around some of the more common pitfalls managers and owners can face with their teams.

Want to learn more about these topics? We have another post coming up to learn what the EEOC is cracking down on in 2017. Stay tuned for more!

As with all our articles, this content contains general information and guidance only, and is not a substitute for legal advice. For advice specific to your business, be sure to consult with a qualified professional.

About Carol Wood

Carol Wood is the People Operations Director at Homebase. At Homebase, Carol focuses on providing thought leadership, tips and tricks, and scalable HR solutions for the 60,000 businesses that Homebase serves. Prior to Homebase, Carol focused on helping small and medium businesses navigate the tricky waters of human resources, working with companies across the retail, food service, oil and gas, and health-care industries through her roles as HR Director at Fuddruckers and Achilles Group, a Houston-based HR consulting firm.

About Homebase

Homebase is for hourly employees and managers who are tired of dealing with paperwork and other day-to-day challenges that compete for their limited time. More than 60,000 businesses rely on Homebase’s scheduling, time tracking, and team communication platform to help simplify their daily work, giving them hours back every week. The team brings local business expertise from Intuit, Square, OpenTable, Yelp, and First Data and are all former hourly employees and managers themselves. Based in San Francisco and Houston, Homebase is backed by leading venture investors Baseline Ventures, Cowboy Ventures, and Khosla Ventures. For more information, please visit www.joinhomebase.com.

Read more in:

Pay your employees with a couple of clicks.

Square Payroll imports your employees’ timecards, calculates overtime, and handles taxes so you can pay your team faster.

Get started

Learn More

Get the latest business tips and advice delivered straight to your inbox.

Each issue will feature articles and advice on how to grow sales, improve your marketing, simplify accounting, and much more.