There are many home based online businesses that are made up of an owner/operator and sometimes a partner (usually a spouse). These will typically make up the actual management team. What is discussed between spouses and or partners is private and confidential. That’s fine. However, as soon as you have your first employee HR laws (both local and Federal), dictate what you can and cannot say. These laws also make clear the way a business is operated; specifically the way the employee is treated in the workplace.
As an independent business consultant I see HR laws broken every day! This seems to happen more in the small business environment, though it happens in the larger corporate environment as well.
Here are a few glaring HR ‘miscues’ that I have personally witnessed or overheard:
Counseling an employee in front of others.
This is a big one; one that has affected me personally. Once on a ‘sales floor’ environment, a manager made a comment thinking it was motivating. Wrong! Whether it’s critique or advice, it needs to be done in private. If it’s a regular issue, an action plan with measurable metrics must be implemented. It cannot be done as an afterthought, even if convenient for either party.
A joke or comment containing a sexual innuendo that can be misconstrued as ‘offensive’ (Even if not directed personally at a particular party).
This can come in many different ways or deliveries. The general rule is: If you think it could be offensive, it probably is! I’ve personally witnessed these types of comments. And the consequence of an educated regional manager being dismissed in the corporate world tends to drive the point home.
Let’s be clear that it’s OK to ‘chop it up’ with employees, just keep those types of comments to yourself.
“Oh you can’t finish the project here? That’s okay. Just take it home and work on it”.
Nope. As an employee of a company; whether exempt or nonexempt, you should not work for free, bottom line.
Conducting a phone interview and asking the candidate their age.
Wrong! You cannot ask a perspective employee about their age, sex, or religious affiliations.
Great! However if someone volunteers for your business, it’s incumbent on management to ensure they’re aware of the same rules of conduct that guide full time associates. Volunteers are not exempt.
Discussions with staff members about an HR problem.
These situations can come back to bite you. Conversations with staff not involved with a problem should be kept confidential no matter what! Violate this and you might find yourself out of business, in arbitration, or unemployed.
You shouldn’t, nor are you permitted to discuss any associate’s medical condition. This is a Federal regulation, and health issues cannot be discussed. You may discuss within the HR context with an HR manager, but it needs to be done with discretion neutrality, privacy, regardless of ‘personal opinion’. There are several other HR issues that affect both management and staff, but if you’re in doubt it’s always prudent to call a labor attorney just to be sure. You may even check Google for answers. A large part of the time you’ll get what you need.
Keep in mind that if you think something could have a negative effect on staff, I recommend not going there, period. Be discreet. HR issues can and will follow you all the way to an unemployment claim. This can and may very well go all the way to an ‘administrative law judge’.
If you think it what you’re saying is ‘OK’, check yourself twice. I know that it’s common sense, but HR law doesn’t always translate. Read and re-read your specific policy and procedure manual.
In this case an HR person can be your worst enemy as they have intimate knowledge and idiosyncrasies you may not be privy to. These situations could wind up being a ‘gotcha’ moments. So over all, do your best to exercise good judgment and common sense. There really is no room for carelessness.