How to Handle HR Situations Without Having an HR Department

If you have even one employee, you may need to deal with human resource issues. How does a small business effectively do that in the absence of a formal HR team? Follow these three steps.


As a small business it is entirely probable that you don’t have a formal HR department. So, how do you best handle complaints of inappropriate behavior without having an HR department to turn to?

Step No. 1: Understanding and learning the best ways to deal with inappropriate behavior in your workplace. Inappropriate behaviors can include harassment, bullying, intimidation, unwanted sexual behaviors and more. If you are a small business do not make the mistake of thinking that you are immune to these issues. In fact, you may be even more susceptible to them due to the fact that your employees work very closely together, often in a casual company culture where workers are friendly. Remember, while it is good to be casual and friendly, it is also very important that everyone understands that the friendly, casual nature does not give them license for bad behaviors. Seemingly acceptable behaviors can easily become an issue if a comment, a joke, or a friendly gesture is misunderstood or unwanted.

Step No. 2: Creating a written policy. When a small business does not have an HR department, often the CEO or President takes responsibility for monitoring workplace behavior, keeping up with changes in the laws, and communicating to their employees. This is in addition to running the business so it is not surprising that often a written policy slips thru the cracks and never happens. Not having a written policy manual in today’s volatile business climate can become a serious issue if there is an incident. Sexual harassment, bullying and other inappropriate behaviors can be costly and destructive to a workplace culture and a company’s bottom line.

Small businesses are as liable for their employees' and their supervisors’ actions as much as large businesses are. For the purpose of this article, let’s focus on sexual or other harassment. It doesn’t matter the size or type of the business, if there is a complaint or incident, appropriate and immediate action must be taken. This means that any claims need to be thoroughly investigated, whether you have an HR department or not.

It is crucial to have a written policy that covers all these issues and includes a basic overview of the law and a strong definition of what constitutes each type of harassment.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits unfair employment practices and discrimination based on sex, in addition to unfair treatment based on other non-job-related factors, such as age, color, national origin, race and religion. The definition of discrimination based on sex includes sexual harassment, which consists of unwelcome conduct and behavior of a sexual nature that creates an uncomfortable and often hostile work environment. If you have at least 15 employees, your company is subject to this federal anti-discrimination law.

Your workplace policy should cover the two types of sexual harassment—quid pro quo and hostile work environment. When an employee, usually a supervisor with the power to make employment-related decisions, demands sexual favors from an employee in exchange for job security, promotion or a raise, this is quid pro quo.  A hostile work environment is when an employee repeatedly makes demeaning sexual comments and engages in offensive behavior and conduct. Be sure to cover both of these in your manual as well as possible punishment for committing each one.

Step No. 3: Offering employee training and a reporting process. Use proactive as well as reactive measures to prevent and address issues. Develop a policy for each type of offense. This is being proactive. Reactive measures include defining who in the company to take complaints to. Usually this is the boss, CEO or the highest-ranking company leader. Both measures should also be included in writing and distributed to all employees, management and staff. 

Small businesses are just as liable as large business when it comes to the law on these issues. Protect yourself and your company.  Don’t skimp on written policies or on employee training.

President, SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Speaker, Trainer, Corporate Security ExpertTimothy A. Dimoff, CPP, president of SACS Consulting & Investigative Services, Inc., is a speaker, trainer and author and a leading authority in high-risk workplace and human resource security and crime issues. He is a Certified Protection Professional; a certified legal expert in corporate security procedures and training; a member of the Ohio and International Narcotic Associations; the Ohio and National Societies for Human Resource Managers; and the American Society for Industrial Security. He holds a B.S. in Sociology, with an emphasis in criminology, from Dennison University. Contact him at info@sacsconsulting.com.


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  • Next up: Digital Roundtable: How to Hire Millennials
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  • Digital Roundtable: How to Hire Millennials

    One-third of the job market today is comprised of millennials, who have leapfrogged past Gen Xers to become the biggest force in today’s labor pool, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Sounds like a potential employee base you should get to know, right? But do you know what it takes to make your business attractive to these young, eager potential employees?

    One-third of the job market today is comprised of millennials, who have leapfrogged past Gen Xers to become the biggest force in today’s labor pool, according to data from the Pew Research Center. Sounds like a potential employee base you should get to know, right? But do you know what it takes to make your business attractive to these young, eager potential employees?

    We (digitally) sat down with four HR experts from our COSE Expert Network to find out what it takes to recruit this generation, how to make your business millennial employee friendly, and how to retain these employees once you have them on board. 

    Taking part in this digital roundtable are:

    • Tim Dimoff, SACS Consulting and Investigative Services Inc.
    • Julie Sumner, Monarch Endeavors LLC
    • Tameka L. Taylor, Compass Consulting Services LLC

    Q: For a business that wants to find millennial staff, does it make sense to turn to social channels?

    Dimoff: Yes, social channels to recruit millennials is very effective. They believe if you are utilizing “Their forms of communication” that it also exists in your company culture and work processes. Secondly, you also have a much greater number of millennials that you will make contact with and therefore have a bigger pool to choose from.

    Sumner: Yes, it makes sense to turn to social media channels because that is where millennials seem to spend most of their time. However, most employers stick to the more professional social media websites, such as LinkedIn. This is recommended as there is a great deal of information that can be garnered from a typical personal social media profile that could put an employer at risk for claims of discrimination. For example, a quick look at a Facebook profile will potentially reveal a candidate's gender, race, age, marital status, whether the candidate has any children, whether the candidate has a disability, veteran status, religion, etc.  These are all protected characteristics that employers cannot use to make hiring decisions, so just by uncovering that information, they may be putting themselves at risk for claims of discrimination or unfair hiring practices.

    Taylor: First, let me just preface this by saying this is not stereotyping millennials, but rather, just thinking about potential patterns. Yes, businesses looking for millennials have to go to where millennials are and not wait for them to come to you. You need to be on the latest social channels because once millennials see other generations on social channels they often turn to other channels.

    Q: How do you make your business “millennial friendly?”

    Taylor: Millennials like other generations want opportunities to grow. It's important to provide them with opportunities for growth and learning.

    They want to be taught new skills so they continue to grow professionally.

     If it's classes or workshops it doesn't have to happen in person for them.  Provide them with opportunities for them to try new things and be in charge of projects.

    They want to make a difference in the business and the world.  Millennials want opportunities to be socially conscious and active.

    It's important for there to be conversations about the communication norms and guidelines within the company.  For example, when is it appropriate to email, text, use social media, etc.

    Also, flexibility is helpful for millennials. That flexibility includes when, where and how they perform their jobs. Sometimes those of us who are not millennials decide that the things need to be done a specific way or our way and that's not necessarily true. As long as the task or job get done timely, effectively and efficiently then it doesn't matter if it's done our way or not.

    Sumner: There are several things a business can do to become more "millennial friendly,” such as using Twitter and other social media accounts to reach the millennial audience. The types of posts do not always have to be related to open positions. Many millennials care if their employer is environmentally conscious, involved in the community, is trying to reduce its carbon footprint, etc. Employers can use social media to show millennials that they do these things. Employers can also post jobs on social media sites; however, given the caveats above, the candidate should then be directed to an application site or process that does not permit the employer to obtain information about protected characteristics.

    Dimoff: You need to have a more in-depth understanding of what attracts, motivates and keeps millennials at your company. They are highly motivated and expect certain criteria in their work environment. If these aspects are truly understood, you can create one very powerful millennial workforce and the opposite also can happen, which is negative. Next, sit down with your current millennials at your worksite and ask them to help create a stronger and more attractive millennial work environment. This rarely takes place in many worksites who need to make these specific transitions. Lastly, there are outside consulting services now that can help you put this total millennial package together.

    Q: When it comes to the retention of millennial staff, what should small businesses keep in mind?

    Dimoff: Once again, you need to have a more in-depth understanding of what motivates and keeps millennials engaged at your company. They are highly motivated and expect certain criteria in their work environment. If these aspects are truly understood and provided you can create a millennial workforce that wants to remain and help themselves and the company both grow and prosper. Millennials feed off having “ownership and input” in each and every aspect of their workplace involvement.

    Taylor: They need to be provided with opportunities to grow and develop. Also, they should be provided with recognition and feedback. They need to understand the value that the small business sees that they bring to the table while contributing to the organization. So, they like all other employees need to be and feel included, valued and respected within the organization.

    Sumner: More than ever, millennials seem to be more concerned about work-life balance than the salary they are making. This can be advantageous to small businesses because, although they may not be in a position to pay the most (or even a competitive rate), they may be able to offer other incentives that will be attractive to millennials, such as telecommuting; flexible work schedules; volunteer opportunities; environmental initiatives; opportunities for leadership, collaboration, and advancement; and one-of-a-kind experiences (such as sky-diving, rope courses, scavenger hunts, etc. and other company-sponsored activities where employees can bound over trying something new and unique). One of the biggest things to remember is that millennials do not just want to punch a timecard and go home at the end of the day. Most want to be passionate and inspired about what they do and feel as though they are making a difference. Fuel that fire and you'll have a better chance of retaining the heat for years to come.

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  • Next up: How to Keep Everyone on the Same Page When Your Business Is Growing
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  • How to Keep Everyone on the Same Page When Your Business Is Growing

    Growing the size of your business can bring about some unintended negative consequences, including making it more difficult for your staff to act as one cohesive unit.

    Your business is growing, which means you’re busy building your team, training new people and forming more defined departments in your business. You’re keeping your company culture in mind. You’re finding the right people who bring a diverse array of experience to your business.

    But growth can be painful. It’s human nature for some personalities to conflict with other personalities. Also, communication can become more strained when you have a larger team. Each new hire brings their own experience and methods with them and folks who have been part of the team longer might feel they have leadership roles that have not actually been assigned. So, how do you bring everyone together?

    Dedicated training

    Before long, you will want to dedicate some training to the topic of communication. Getting everybody on the same page with expectations and standardizing the message to clients or the methods within the organization will result in happier clients and smoother internal operations.

    The training should cover listening skills and approaches to avoid making assumptions. Teaching the importance of actively listening to what co-workers are saying and asking for clarification in a productive manner will prevent time-killing misunderstandings.

    Everyone should be using the same methods to share information and should be instructed on the importance of including the whole team on developments. Using some form of client relationship management software or record keeping system can go a long way towards helping with that.

    Let’s not forget that privacy comes into play with your coworkers’ personal information and with clients’ protected information. Your policies related to protected information must be included in this training.

    Drew Mosley is the senior account manager at BIG-HR, which focuses on HR consulting and outsourcing. You can learn more about the company by clicking here.

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  • Next up: How to Make a Graceful Exit from Your Business
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  • How to Make a Graceful Exit from Your Business

    Devising an exit strategy for the business you worked sat so hard to build from the ground up is not easy. Here are a few resources that will get you started on the best way for you to make a graceful exit from your business.

    Devising an exit strategy for the business you worked sat so hard to build from the ground up is not easy. Here are a few resources that will get you started on the best way for you to make a graceful exit from your business.

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  • Next up: How to Make a Graceful Exit from Your Business
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  • How to Make a Graceful Exit from Your Business

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  • Next up: How to Make the Perfect Job Ad
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  • How to Make the Perfect Job Ad

    Get the most bang for your buck from your next job ad by following these expert tips from CareerBoard President Richard Padgett.

    Hiring and attracting talent can be a big hurdle for small businesses to overcome. And having to compete with bigger companies—that have potentially bigger resources from which to draw—does not make the task any easier.

    But it is possible for small business owners to attract the talent they need to be successful and to help their businesses grow. During a recent COSE WebEd Webinar, CareerBoard President Richard Padgett laid out exactly how a small business owner should go about crafting their job posting. 

    Let’s take a step-by-step look at how to make a job ad that will stand out and bring in the qualified candidates you need.

    The headline

    The headline you choose for your job ad is the most important part of the process, Padgett said. That’s because this is the first thing the job-seeker is going to see and it will be what the job distribution sites (such as Indeed, CareerBoard, and others) will use to deliver your job out to the masses.

    So, what should you keep in mind when you’re trying to write the perfect headline? First, keep things concise. If it’s too long, it might eliminate the ad from being distributed by the various job ad aggregators out there. A good rule of thumb is to keep the headline to 100 characters or less.

    Second, make sure you write the headline to reflect what people are actually looking for. If you have space, include a secondary title. For instance, the job ad headline might read: “Business Development Manager / Inside Sales.” Being specific with the secondary title will attract people who are looking for that exact type of work. And speaking of being specific …

    The job description

    Specificity also applies to the meat of your job ad, the description. Padgett outlined the following tips to help ensure you write a description that clearly explains what it is you’re looking for:

    • Include the job title again at the beginning of your ad, preferably in the first line. Job sites tend to weight the first two lines of your ad the heaviest, so you’ll want to get those keywords in there.
    • Write plainly and cleanly. Avoid jargon. Don’t try to outsmart the candidate.
    • List exactly where this job is located. Don’t say you’re in Cleveland when what you really mean is that your office is in Rocky River.
    • Don’t back away from describing the challenges that someone in this position might face. While that might not seem like the wisest strategy, Padgett said it will pique the interest of overachievers while eliminating those who aren’t that enthused about the position.
    • Include a little bit about your company’s culture. What’s the day-to-day like in your office?
    • Put the salary range in there. Padgett said studies have shown that ads that list salary details receive 70% more applications.
    • Be transparent about the hiring process and what the next steps are in the process.

    Missed out on this webinar? Never fear! View a replay of this webinar, as well as the others in the COSE WebEd series.

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