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

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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 Implement Your Medical Marijuana Policy Without a Full Time HR Team
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  • How to Implement Your Medical Marijuana Policy Without a Full Time HR Team

    In this recap of a recent COSE WebEd Series Webinar, our expert explains the necessary policies and procedures involved in an effective workplace drug policy.


    Last month, COSE hosted a free webinar outlining the five simple steps to implementing your medical marijuana drug policy. Presented by Cheryl Perez, Founder and President of BIGHR, information covered in the webinar included the specifics and details of exactly what you need to do in order to make sure that you have the proper policies and procedures in place as we embark upon a new age in drug workplace policies. Participants left with the practical knowledge of how to implement what they need to keep their business running the way they want it to, even in the absence of an HR team.

    To start off, Cheryl identified the five steps for implementing medical marijuana policies in your workplace.

    Step 1: Just because it’s legal it doesn’t mean you don’t have a choice. Ohio law does not require employers to embrace the medical marijuana law at your workplace. You have the choice to either be a drug-free workplace with accommodations for medical marijuana, or to take a zero-tolerance drug policy. However, if you have federal contractors or have safety-sensitive positions, among other things, you must take a zero-tolerance policy.

    You have the ability as an employer to decide how far you’re going to enforce your drug policy. State of Ohio law does not trump you and your own internal law. This approach is designed to make sure you still have ability to decide what happens at your business.

    Step 2: Your policy does matter. With dispensaries opening, this is a good time for you to go through your drug policies. What you stand for and what you decide to do needs to be explicitly spelled out in your policy. It is important that you have a component that talks about prescription drug use including medical marijuana. You should also consider encompassing other drugs that could impair your workers on the job.

    What does this look like? You can be a drug free workplace but will make accommodations for those who have prescriptions or are in certain positions. However, even if your company does allow for accommodations, there are some reasons why you might need to explicitly forbid it in some cases. If you have positions where people are driving or operating heavy machinery, for instance, you will want to explain that these positions are zero-tolerance. Desk positions and others that are not safety-sensitive might be fine for allowing for accommodations. Make sure this is all spelled out in your documents and that your policy is up to date with appropriate language for prescription drugs.

    Step 3. You need to have the procedures in place to go along with policies. When a situation arises where you have to address a violation of policy, you need to have the process and procedure to turn to. If results are positive and it’s that person’s first offense, maybe you’ll give a warning then termination. If you’re zero tolerance and there’s positive results from testing then you’ll probably be moving forward with termination from the beginning instead of a warning.

    How do you get started? Here are some guidelines:

    • Make sure you have a solid relationship with a good drug testing facility. You can set up an account online with many of these places. If have a suspicion of drug activity or there’s been an on-the-job accident that occurs, you want to make sure you can send the employee right away for a drug test instead of scurrying to figure out what to do.
    • You must involve managers and supervisors on these procedures as well so that everyone is on the same page. Concerns about an employee being under the influence can come from coworkers, clients and others before you as the manager even notices. It’s imperative that you do not rely on hearsay or gossip, so you need a concrete complaint procedure.
    • Decide in advance how you will go about starting an investigative process. Make sure you as the employer can determine if the behavior is new or has happened in the past, and train other managers or supervisors to do the same.
    • Isolate the employee and observe his or her behavior. This is sensitive information so be sure to remove the employee from public areas. If you see any of the signs then you need to send them off for drug testing.
    • Have arrangements in place for transportation to the drug testing facility. You do not want to be liable for anything that could happen to them or someone else while they are on their way.

    Step 4. Take action in the event of an accusation. First-hand observation should be made by two members of your management team; it’s beneficial for you to have two different witnesses immediately upon notice of the concern. The first thing you should do is go to that employee’s office, desk or other area and look through the trash can. Observe from afar as well and document in writing everything you observe.

    A good procedure will proceed as follows:

    1. A complaint is received, you suspect intoxication or an accident has occurred.
    2. Observe the employee and document the observations and assess everything.
    3. Meet with the employee and if you have several signs checked off, proceed to implement sending him or her to drug testing. Make sure you know how far away the testing site is so you know how long it should take for the employee to arrive.
    4. Suspend the employee (with or without pay) while you wait for the drug testing results. It’s good when you have an online account with the testing facility because then you can receive and view everything online.
    5. Implement the discipline or termination procedure included in what your policy says it’s going to do.

    Step 5: Clear communication with your employees and leadership team is crucial. Transparency and consistency are two very important characteristics of an effective plan. You have to actually review with your employees what this policy looks like and how it is documented in your employee handbook. You should also conduct a separate training for your leadership team members so they know what steps are and what is expected from them. The worst thing you could do is be in a reactive position when faced with this type of situation—all of your employees should know upfront what the expectations are, the details of all policies, and the procedures that will be followed. These policies and procedures should be followed in every instance of suspected drug use within your company; no employee should ever be treated differently—consistency is key.

    For more details, including the necessary forms for implementing a drug and alcohol policy and help crafting policies and procedures, listen to the full presentation.

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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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