Planning to hire? Maybe you should check with Ella

By Jim Kendall

This column originally appeared in the October 6, 2014 Daily Herald

If you haven’t gotten acquainted with Ella yet, Karla Dobbeck can do the introduction.

Dobbeck is president of Human Resource Techniques Inc., Algonquin. She’s a real person. Ella isn’t. ELLA is an acronym for Employment Labor Law Audit, a four-inch binder with 28 sections on federal HR compliance processes.

Chances are you’ll need ELLA along the way: Employment rules affect virtually every business. Although 50 employees is something of a marker – companies with more than 50 employees typically face more stringent requirements – Dobbeck says rules begin to kick in when a one-person business goes to hire its first employee.

For example:

* Federal law requires you to have a Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification for each employee hired after November 6, 1986. Essentially, the I-9 process is to prove that the workers you hire have a legal right to work in the U.S.

First-time employers, Dobbeck says, also must confront payroll classifications, the need to keep accurate records, safety issues and – well, Dobbeck has a list of more than 35 federal laws and executive orders that can affect employers.

* There are state rules, too. Dobbeck’s list of Illinois labor law issues numbers more than two dozen.

Small business hiring currently seems a tad shaky. The National Federation of Independent Business, headquartered in Nashville, TN, reported last month that just 10 percent of business owners plan to increase employment, historically a weak number. Still, if you’re in a hiring mode, the key is to hire without being sidetracked by unnecessary stumbles over hiring and employment rules.

Of course, hiring is just the beginning. Managing a workforce takes time, effort and awareness of the rules.

Training can be an issue. Too often, Dobbeck says, “Businesses promote techs into management with no training on how to manage people. It’s hard to make (people) decisions unless you know the requirements.”

There also are basic HR-related issues that seem to outsiders to be no-brainers but cause problems for many businesses. On Dobbeck’s list of potential problem areas are employee handbooks; recordkeeping; the long roll of potential harassment issues, and payroll classifications.

Dobbeck, who doesn’t administer HR programs but instead trains clients to do that task, essentially divides HR into three phases:

* Hiring. “We begin with the application,” she says. “But we look at the recruitment process, interviewing, I-9 compliance, how any drug tests are handled.”

* Employee management. Depending on a particular employer’s situation, Dobbeck focuses on records management; wage-and-hour rules; that employee handbook; performance management, including job reviews; harassment; ADA and similar federal rules; how the business handles leaves of absence; conflict resolution.

* Termination. Wage and hour laws covering what an employer must pay to a departing employee – vacation pay, for example – are an issue, Dobbeck says. So is COBRA, federal labor legislation that deals with continuation of health insurance coverage for businesses with 20 or more employees.


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