What a Small Business Owner Should Know Before Laying Off Employees

Though economists are telling us the recession has come to an end and things are beginning to rebound, the unfortunate result of an economic downturn that has lasted so long and affected so many industries, countries and skillsets is that the recovery is likely to take a very long time to show itself to small businesses.  This being the case, small businesses are still finding themselves having a need to cut costs and layoff employees.

While no business owner likes laying off an employee, those that have been ‘in the trenches’ awhile will typically reach the appropriate conclusion when necessary and begin developing a strategy to do what’s needed. 

However, it’s at this point when many small business owners may find themselves in a difficult situation.  If a layoff has not previously been required, then the small business owner will rarely have knowledge of the laws and issues involved in conducting a layoff with a minimum of risk – to the company and the employees.  The following information should be helpful in guiding you down the path of a worry-free layoff.

WARN Them

One of the most prominent employment statutes is the Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act (WARN) of 1989. The WARN act gives workers and their families time to plan for a transition caused by employment loss. Slightly fewer than half the workers in the United States are covered by the statute, as it only applies if there are 100 or more employees in the company.

According to Heather Gatley, senior partner and vice-chair of the labor and employment practice at the Florida-based law firm of Steel, Hector & Davis, WARN requires employers to give employees and local governments 60 days of advance written notice of plant closings and mass layoffs in the following situations:

  • Plant closing – An employment loss during any 30-day period at the single site of employment for at least 50 full-time employees.
  • Mass layoff – An employment loss at the single site of employment during any 30-day period that must involve at least one of the following circumstances:
    • A reduction that affects at least 50 full-time employees who make up at least 33 percent of the company’s workforce.
    • A reduction that involves at least 500 full-time employees.

So, what does it mean to you? If your company fits any of these criteria you are required to provide the employees notice of a layoff. Therefore, in order to  A) keep the peace and  B) keep things as productive as possible until the layoff takes place, make sure you develop a comprehensive down-sizing program that takes care of the company – and the soon-to-be ex-employees as much as possible.  You should also insure that you have a plan to take care of the company’s remaining employees, who are just as likely to be shell-shocked as those who are out of work, but will also have the added burden of extra work to make up for those who are gone.

Documenting business justification and protected classes

Though employees would likely not consider it, from management’s point of view, deciding whom to lay off is hardly an easy decision. Senior executives must establish a documented, justifiable business reason for the layoff and analyze its effect on various protected classes of employees, typically defined by age, gender, race, and national origin. Unless the company can prove that its actions were genuine, and not a pretext for discrimination or sleight-of-hand (cutting a department only to resurrect it with a new name and new people), it could face lawsuits, according to Gatley. Federal protected class laws apply to companies with 15 or more employees, and while local laws vary, they typically cover companies with smaller numbers.

So how does a company insure they are fulfilling their legal obligations to employees, while still meeting the needs of the company?  The best way is to hire an outplacement consulting firm who specializes in these projects and can guide you thru them.  Another benefit offered by such firms is their ability to provide Job Search services at varying levels to those employees who have been down-sized.  This helps to make both the out-going and remaining staff feel that the company has been as responsible as possible, and provided every assistance they were able to insure the welfare of all involved

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Is Forced Time Off the Right Cost-Savings Solution for Your Company?

As more and more employers are looking for ways to save money in today’s economic crisis, many are reaching a decision to implement an “unpaid time-off” program. There are pros and cons to this decision – from both the employer and employee perspective. If your company is considering such a program, the article below will be worth your time and consideration. The questions asked will help you evaluate if ‘forced time off’ is a viable solution for your firm, or not worth the potential risks.

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Is Forced Time Off Fair?

March 16, 2009 , Tom Davenport, Harvard Business Publishing

One of the common approaches to dealing with this recession is for companies to ask — well, tell — employees to take time off without pay, a day every week or two. This 10 or 20% haircut is supposed to indicate that “we’re all in this together,” and that it’s better for everyone to suffer a little than to lay some people off.

While I have some sympathies with this philosophy, I’m not sure it’s either fair or wise. On the issue of fairness, if such a policy had been instituted in 1969, it might have been very fair. But in 2009 there is much less of a relationship between hours on the clock and work actually done, at least for knowledge workers. How many of you reading this post actually work only 40 hours a week? How many of you only work on official workdays? Today, most people have a continuous mixture of work and non-work activities, and it will be difficult for any knowledge worker to stop working for a day every week or fortnight. I might suggest that this is exactly what the employer wants, but that would be a cynical remark.

There is also the issue of whether the forced haircut is wise. I have problems with its wisdom in two respects. One involves the fundamental principle that all employees are equally valuable. It’s nice to pretend that they are, but we all know they’re not. Giving all employees a haircut may lead the most valuable ones to look elsewhere. There was a column in a recent Boston Globe about treating all employees (at Boston’s Beth Israel hospital) alike with regard to cuts. It’s heartwarming, but if it leads to an across-the-board haircut, might some of the best employees leave for wealthier hospitals across town?

The other potential problem is that employees, given an involuntary time chop, may look elsewhere to fill the void. They’ll freelance, e-lance, or moonlight to replace the lost income. This could lead to a variety of negative scenarios for the employer/barber who originally chopped their time. The employee might find the freelance employer more desirable, and jump ship altogether for full-time employment there. Or he might end up doing a bit of his freelance work while ostensibly on the clock for the 80% or 90% employer. I’m not saying that 10 or 20% haircuts for everyone are necessarily a bad idea. I do think, however, that they are hardly a no-brainer either. The inclination to share the pain is admirable, but it could open the door to a host of problems.

Steps to Downsizing with an Outplacement Progam

Though it may not have occurred to you if your firm is currently experiencing difficult circumstances, making use of an outplacement service can help to strengthen the relationship between your firm and its departing employees.  In spite of the fact that economic or other circumstances may have required that you ask an employee or group of employees to leave your firm, you can show your understanding of the difficult transition they’re about to undertake, and at the same time you can thank them for their previous service to your company.  This can be accomplished by providing outplacement services to ensure they are provided with the tools to move on to the next phase of their careers as quickly as possible.

Historically when most companies downsize, they send employees off with a severance package and little else.  However, companies that want to do right by their former employees enlist the aid of an outplacement firm to help displaced employees transition quickly into new jobs, or advise them on alternate career paths that can lead them to exciting new opportunities.  

And as beneficial as this service may be for the employees, surprising to most employers, it’s also good for the company.  Benefits provided to the firm from an outplacement program can include public enhancement of the company’s image, aiding the company in its reorganization efforts, and reducing the risk of legal liability from downsized employees or government entities who decide that the company did not act in good faith in its downsizing process.

If your company is in a position where it is considering a layoff, I encourage you to consider the following action steps as you finalize your plans.

 

Action Steps

Hire an outplacement service company or consultant – Outplacement firms assist not only in helping employees transition out of the company, but also in helping the company understand the legal issues regarding employee termination. Outplacement firms provide career coaches that work one-on-one with employees by helping them to update their resumes, assess their strengths and weaknesses, and prepare for new career opportunities.  If you’re undertaking a company-wide layoff, outplacement firms can handle the transition process for a single employee, for dozens or even hundreds of employees. And due to their experience, such companies know the type of services and support that former employees need most during this time, as well as ways to make the layoff process easier for both employer and employee.

Make an alumni program part of your outplacement strategy  – Though circumstances may require you to lay off employees in your current situation, you may find your firm needing to rehire them if the company’s financial state improves, the economic climate changes, or if new positions open up for which their skills (and existing company knowledge) would be transferable.   Adding an alumni program to your planned outplacement services allows you stay connected to valued former employees while also providing them with a way to stay in touch with colleagues and friends for support during their transition and beyond.

Even in Today’s Economy, Finding Qualified Job Candidates Can be Difficult; Here are 10 Tips to Increase Your Odds

Employee graphicYou would think with today’s economy that  all you would have to do to attract employees would be to stick a sign in the window of your business that said “Hiring” or place an advertisement in the local newspaper and then pick a new employee out of the hundreds that applied. However, as needs become increasingly more technical and specialized, jobs for businesses small and large are going unfilled – even with today’s surplus of available labor.

However, this situation doesn’t mean you should give up on hiring new staff.  In many ways, small businesses have an advantage in hiring because all things being equal, there are many qualified candidates who would prefer to work for a small business. The following tips for attracting employees will help you increase your company’s chances of finding the specialized staff that you need.

1. Find out what the going rate is for the available position and insure that your company is at least matching it.

One common mistake many small business owners make when creating a position is to base the salary on their budget rather than market realities.  This strategy serves to insure that their employee recruitment efforts will be unsuccessful.  Why should the most qualified prospects work for your company at a lower wage when they can earn more with your competitor?

2. Offer a comprehensive employee benefit program; and remember, not all benefits cost money.

In situations where a prospective employee has the qualifications that allow them to pick and choose, an excellent employee benefit program can move your company into the preferred position. For successful employee recruitment, your company needs to offer employees life, medical and dental coverage at a minimum. If your small business does not have an employee benefits program, it’s time to speak with your insurance company about setting one up. You can often achieve cost efficiencies in the purchase of those benefits by joining business organizations such as the Chamber of Commerce where you can take advantage of their larger group rates for members.  Additionally, don’t forget about the small things that can be of big importance to employees because they add to their quality-of-life; items such as:  flex-time, birthday’s off, personal days, paid time off to perform community service work, bringing pets to work, etc. can provide a nice incentive that set you apart from other companies competing for these highly-qualified employees.

3. Make lifestyle part of your employee recruitment offer.

Since many employees today are just as concerned about quality-of-life as they are about the amount of money a position offers, the area your business is located in can be an added benefit toward luring prime employee talent. If you’re fortunate enough to be located in an area with great skiing, beaches, extensive hiking/biking trails, excellent golf courses, limited traffic issues, great weather or other attractive features, be certain to emphasize those benefits during conversations with prospective employees.

4. Emphasize the benefits your small business offers that many companies do not.

Make your company more attractive to potential employees by offering things such as work-at-home or flex-time options, Adoption Assistance, Education Assistance, On-site Daycare, In-chair Massages, or other benefits that provide the potential employee an added incentive to join your company.

5. Find creative ways to offer perks similar to those of ‘the big guys’.

As a small business, you may not be able to offer the perks large corporate companies are able to offer their employees due to cost – but you may be able to offer a reasonable facsimile. For instance, many large companies offer on-site health facilities such as a fully equipped gym. Chances are good that as a small business, you’re not going to be able to add one of these to your premises, but you might be able to offer employees coupons to use local gym or spa facilities, or a company-paid gym membership.

6. Offer employees opportunities for advancement.

Most employees aren’t looking for jobs where they’ll do the same thing for the next thirty years. Typically they are seeking a position that offers opportunity for advancement, as well as a way to insure they achieve that advancement.  For example, will your company offer the chance to develop new skills?  Do you have an actual career-path designated for new employees which insures their ability to advance?  Do you offer a mentor program in which they can learn the best ways to succeed within the company?  All of these programs provide added incentive for a prospective employee to choose your company.

7. Create an employee incentive program to drive performance.

Employee incentive programs not only reward good employee performance, they also give prospective employees something to look forward to if they select your company. Whether it’s an annual company-paid retreat, a program where employees collect points that they can trade in for cash, or awards that are highly-recognized and coveted within the company and/or your industry, employee incentive programs can increase your chances of attracting the most qualified employees.

8. Institute a profit-sharing program.

There’s possibly no better way to incentivize an employee’s performance and loyalty than to give them a stake in the company’s success. A business that appears to be on an upward trend – and provides profit sharing – can be a powerful inducement to motivate quality recruits to join your firm.

9. Sweeten the pot – up-front!

When competition for the best employees is fierce, a plain old signing bonus may be what’s needed to move the needle in your direction. If you elect to add such a program, there are two things to keep in mind:  1) The signing bonus has to be large enough to matter, and 2) the signing bonus must be contingent upon remaining with the company for “x” amount of time or it will require repayment. (Otherwise you’ll have a revolving door as people sign up, take the money and run.)

10. Broaden the scope of your advertising.

It’s not enough anymore to place an ad in the ‘Help Wanted’ section of the local newspaper. In today’s hiring environment, it’s imperative that you place advertising in online job boards, in trade association publications/online media, and that you post them in a wide variety of social media such as LinkedIN and Twitter.

It also helps to get your current staff involved in the employee recruitment process as they already have knowledge of the company culture and can typically identify those who will ‘fit’ and those who won’t. Signing bonuses can be made available to those who successfully refer a new employee.

There are many qualified people who can do the work you need done, no matter how specialized;  you just need to develop the right incentives for them to select your company over others they may be evaluating.  Make sure you utilize every conversation with an employee as an opportunity to ‘sell’ the advantages of working for your firm to insure that you can build the best-qualified, most highly-motivated team possible.

Top 10 HR Mistakes Made by Businesses – Large & Small

  1. Failure to develop an effective corporate communication strategy; internal and external.
    • Establish specific communication policies
      • internal/external email
      • internet/intranet
      • social media
      • IM
      • media/public communication
      • corporate document sharing
    • Publicize internal communication; open access promotes honesty and trust between management and staff
      • staff meetings
      • town halls
      • newsletters
    • Handle confidential information appropriately
  2. Failure to link individual goals to company goals
    • Short-term and long-term objectives; personal and company
    • Developing action plans
      • corporate > division > department > individual
    • HR planning
      • staff selection & planning
      • training & development
  3. Not utilizing HR metrics to track activity and performance
    • Measure how activity is impacting the bottom line, not just the cost of the activity
    • Needs to objectively demonstrate benefits to the business
  4. Lack of employee motivation and retention strategies
    • What motivates employees?
      • recognition; feeling valued by the organization
      • sense of achievement
      • feeling they are an integral part of the organization
      • opportunity for increased responsibility and advancement
      • compensation package
    • Develop credible reward programs
    • Insure that compensation packages are competitive to the market
  5. Lack of strategic recruitment plan
    • Hire people that fit; effort, expectations, attitude, talent, skills, training, experience
    • HR needs to manage the recruitment process, not department heads or executives
  6. Lack of training
    • Empower front-line management with authority; train them to use it effectively for the organization’s benefit
    • Don’t allow lack of awareness to be an excuse for inappropriate actions
    • Insure managers have training regarding legal issues affecting the manager/employee relationship
    • Ensure there is a clear understanding of corporate values
  7. Not establishing employee performance guidelines
    • Establish a reward system based on performance
    • Insure timely attention to employee performance issues to prevent staff morale issues
  8. Failure to keep up-to-date on legal requirements related to HR
    • Establish a network of experts for guidance
    • Participate in continuing education programs
  9. Lack of documentation
    • Insure proper tracking, measuring, analysis, reporting and follow-up
    • Meet all legal requirements for payroll documentation
  10. Failure to maximize the effectiveness of the HR team
    • HR should be an integral part of the executive team
    • Be pro-active rather than re-active to avoid negative perception amongst staff
    • Allow the HR department to be the catalyst for change management initiatives

Let us help you avoid these mistakes; contact us via our website or email us at info@strategicgrowthconcepts.com for assistance with your HR strategies and structure.

10 Employee Handbook Mistakes Made by Small Businesses

All businesses with employees will benefit from having an employee handbook. Writing your company’s policies and procedures requires you to spend less time answering questions and explaining the rules and regulations of the office. Having a standardized employee manual will also lessen your chances of ending up in court.

To help you prepare an appropriate manual we’ll highlight some common mistakes that typically occur during the creation of employee handbooks, as follows:

Not having the handbook reviewed by a lawyer. There are many ways to state your policies, some of which may be vague or potentially misconstrued and leave you open to potential legal issues. Have an attorney who is well-versed in employment law review your handbook before designating it as complete and distributing to your staff.

Not taking into account federal and state laws. It is imperative that laws such as the Family Medical Leave Act, among others, are not mis-stated in your handbook. You also want to insure that your company policies are not violating personal rights. Both of these items are another reason to have an employment lawyer review your handbook prior to distribution.

Creating the long version. While you want to cover all of the essentials, you also don’t want to go into such great detail that you hand employees a novel that they’re unlikely to read. You want employees to be willing to become familiar with the contents. 

Not providing a means by which employees can complain about harassment or discrimination. The law requires that employers provide an opportunity for employees to voice such complaints as well as having a process in place by which their complaints will be addressed.

Failing to read such a handbook first. There’s no need to re-invent the wheel when you develop your company’s handbook, there are plenty of employee handbooks available to read as well as templates that can be found to help you construct yours. Review employee manuals from other companies and take advantage of available tools to help you in the development of your company’s employee handbook.

Failing to update your handbook. At least once per year, your company should update its employee manual – more often if there have been significant changes in company policies or laws related to employment.  Reasons to update your employee handbook typically include new laws, new technology, and various changes in how you conduct business.

Not having a disclaimer. A disclaimer prevents an employer from being boxed into a corner. Without a disclaimer, the handbook can be construed as a contract. There needs to be some room for the employer to use discretion and work within the general guidelines of the handbook. Therefore, do not make the mistake of neglecting the inclusion of a disclaimer for your company’s protection.

Not using straightforward language. If the handbook is too vague or technical and not clearly understood by employees, then it won’t serve its’ intended purpose. Instead of writing it in ‘legalese’, make sure everything is easy to understand and reader-friendly.

Not tactfully introducing the handbook to current employees. In order to prevent concerns among the staff that their jobs may be in danger, make it clear to employees that the handbook is just a means of clarifying procedures and policies so that everyone is on the same page. Be prepared to answer questions regarding the handbook.

Failing to make sure all employees have a handbook. You should have everyone sign off that they have received the handbook and keep the sign-off sheet in their employee files.

Resources for Developing Your Company’s Employee Handbook:

For more information helpful in preparing an employee handbook, see the Employment Regulations section and the Employment & HR Center of Allbusiness.com. For an employee handbook checklist, see the Employment Policies and Termination section of the AllBusiness.com Forms & Agreements Center.