Author: Norma Shirk

My company, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor, helps employers (with up to 50 employees) to create human resources policies and employee benefit programs that are appropriate to the employer’s size and budget. The goal is to help small companies grow by creating the necessary back office administrative structure while avoiding the dead weight of a bureaucracy.  To read my musings on the wacky world of HR, see my weekly blog HR Compliance Jungle (www.hrcompliancejungle.com) which publishes every Wednesday morning. To read my musings on a variety of topics, see my posts on Her Savvy (www.hersavvy.com).

Back to the Office

Becky is actually looking forward to getting back to the office now that the Covid-19 lockdown has eased.  If she reads one more e-book downloaded from the public library or binge watches one more show on Netflix, her head may explode.  Whatever lurks at the office doesn’t seem as dreadful as continuing to stay at home.

Not that she has been living a life of leisure, of course. As the HR manager for the company, she is now an experienced organizer of Zoom meetings with Bob the owner and with employees.  She even visited the office a couple of times to track the progress of the cleaning crew as they deep cleaned the office.

So this morning, Becky awoke to the alarm for the first time in two months.  Then she had to dig an old pair of stretchy slacks out of the bag destined for Goodwill donations.  Who knew that reading books and binge watching TV could be so detrimental to the waistline? A quick look in the mirror revealed limp hair with dark roots. She briefly cursed the government men who thought gun shops were an essential service, but not hair salons. What kind of idiot believes that, she wondered as she wrapped her hair in a scarf and grabbed a homemade mask on her way out the door?   

The commute felt odd after two months at home. She arrived at the parking lot and pulled into a space near Paula’s SUV.  Paula wore a face mask and plastic gloves. She was busy donning a homemade hazmat suit consisting of garbage bags held together with duct tape.

As Becky emerged from her car and waved, Paula shrieked at her to maintain social distance.  Becky lowered her head and trotted toward the building.  In the lobby, a nurse ordered her to stop at the blue tape line for a temperature reading and to answer a couple of questions. After a short delay, the nurse waved her through with a reminder to avoid crowded elevators.

Becky dumped her purse at her desk and strolled around the office.  She had spent hours of Zoom meetings with Bob the owner and the IT guy rejigging the office layout in the hopes of keeping everyone six feet apart.  Every workstation had a box of tissues and hand sanitizer.

A quick check of the bathrooms showed they were well-stocked with toilet paper, soap and hand sanitizers, and paper towels. 

Employees began sidling into the office, like bears emerging from hibernation, unsure what awaited them.  Becky returned to her desk to find several messages from employees who were too afraid to come to the office. Sighing, Becky sat down and started her work day. 

If your company has questions about bringing staff back to the office, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help.  Whether it means reassuring employees that it is safe to return or revising policies to allow continued telecommuting, we’re here as a resource for your staff.

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Beyond Covid-19

At the moment, the covid-19 crisis rages on.  Almost every day there is a new directive telling us to stay at home or extending the length of time to remain at home, but the covid-19 pandemic will eventually recede and a new normal will be established. 

Whatever the new normal brings now is a good time to think about how to cope with the next crisis.  There’s always a next crisis as any HR professional or business owner will attest. To jumpstart your modeling of how to handle a future crisis, here’s a couple of case studies.

 Hershey’s bittersweet chocolate

Many years ago, Hershey decided to upgrade their technology to link their chocolate factories to their suppliers and to the retail locations selling Hershey’s candy.  Here’s how it was supposed to work. When a customer bought a bag of Hershey’s Kisses, an electronic message would be sent to the factory so that more candy could be made. Simultaneously, the factory would electronically notify the suppliers to deliver more sugar and cocoa to the factory.

Hershey decided to flip the switch on their new integrated supply chain system as stores were preparing for Valentine’s Day and Easter chocolate sales.  The system crashed. Store shelves quickly emptied of Hershey’s chocolates without being replenished. Hershey had no backup plan or workarounds because no one expected such a colossal failure.  Hershey’s dominance of U.S. chocolate sales has never fully recovered.

ZFS insurance fail

In the 1990’s, Zurich Financial Services (ZFS) decided to buy an insurance company based in the U.K.  During the due diligence phase of the acquisition, the IT staff noted that the English and Swiss companies used very different computer technology. In plain terms, the two IT systems couldn’t “talk” to each other.  For a variety of reasons, the business leaders plowed ahead anyway, apparently expecting IT to overcome the programming issues by the date of the merger.

The deal closed on time and the management team uncorked champagne to celebrate.  But IT was still nowhere close to finding a technology solution. The system crashed.  English customers received multiple monthly invoices or no invoices or random cancellation notices.  The ZFS bottom line took a huge hit as the company endured regulatory investigations, its English subsidiary lost market share leading to staff reductions, and the company paid for a massive IT upgrade.

The moral of the (case study) story:  Disaster planning depends less on the size of the company than on the willingness to imagine the worst case scenario.  Effective disaster planning begins with the recognition that an epic fail is always an option.

If your company is struggling with all the changes required by the new normal, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you adapt your HR policies for telecommuting workers and to prepare for the next disaster.

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Commuting to the Kitchen  

I’ve worked from a home office for years and enjoyed it.  The business overhead is low and the commute is fantastic. I can be in the office within a minute. 

Of course, the quick commute has its perils. My commute takes me through the kitchen and I love to cook.  It’s too easy to avoid work projects that may take hours to complete in order to begin working on a recipe that will take hours to complete. 

But working from home feels different at the moment.  The internet is slowing to a crawl as more people work from home or binge watch TV while they can still afford subscription fees.  The panic buying at the grocery store feels like a disaster movie.  Buy toilet paper before the shark shows up and the avalanche crashes down the mountain!

If you’re new to telecommuting, take a little break with your favorite beverage to consider a few survival tips.

  1. Do the work that pays the bills first.  That means practicing self-discipline by setting regular work hours.  If you don’t, you’ll be up at 2 am feverishly working on that big project before the boss figures out that you’ve spent the week sprawled on the couch drinking beer and eating nachos while binge watching movies.    
  2. Pretend there’s a timed lock, like on a bank’s vault, on the fridge and the pantry.  Let’s be honest. Self-discipline only works for so long and the kitchen is right there and it’s full of good stuff.  The weighty truth about the freedom of working remotely is that it may take weeks to shed the results of commuting through the kitchen.
  3. Don’t despair parents. The government will eventually take pity on you and reopen the schools.  Show your gratitude with a gift for the little darling’s teacher. 
  4. Turn off the news. Credible news sources are giving us fact-based reports about the coronavirus, but the news biz is a for-profit industry. Even credible news sources engage in sensationalist headlines, like barkers at a circus side show, to attract an audience.  Or to put it another way, too much news will have you reaching for an extra helping of mashed potatoes or another six-pack.   
  5. Telecommuters are darned lucky to have jobs that can be done from home.  Many low wage jobs from hospitality to nursing homes to gas stations and grocery stores can’t be done remotely.  These workers are facing either no income or a higher risk of infection for themselves and their families.

If your company is struggling with all the changes required by our rather scary new world, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you adapt your HR policies for telecommuting workers and continuing work during a disaster. We will be a resource for your staff as the policies are implemented.

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The Sky Is Falling!

Carla dreads going to work these days because her co-workers have gone crazy.  She hears the shark music as she nears the office door.   Everyone is in a tizzy about the coronavirus or the stock market meltdown or both.

Last week, Reba breathlessly announced that everyone was doomed because the coronavirus had invaded America.  Rick claimed the coronavirus is a myth made up by shadowy deep state operators aiming to replace the government with a socialist system that will outlaw fantasy football. Everyone ignored Rick because it’s common knowledge he often forgets to take his meds.    

Last Thursday Reba and Caroline went to lunch and disappeared for half a day.   They triumphantly returned at quitting time to gloat about fighting off other shoppers to nab the last ten packages of toilet paper on the store shelf.  On Friday, Teresa bragged of snagging ten pounds of dried beans and five gallons of milk at the grocery store on the way home the night before.  Teresa’s lactose intolerant and she sheepishly admitted that her husband profanely refuses to drink a gallon a day to avoid spoilage.

A new week has brought fresh hysteria. This morning Reba dashed through the office announcing that Rick had the coronavirus.  Co-workers shrieked and ran away as Rick approached making him wonder if he had forgotten to use deodorant that morning.  Caroline ran into Scott’s office sobbing and demanding to go home because she didn’t want to die. 

That’s when Scott blew a gasket. Scott’s the owner of the company.  He’s been so busy running the company he wasn’t paying attention to what was going on outside his office door.  Scott privately believes he spends too much of his managerial time wondering what the heck is going on. 

He yelled at Caroline to stop being a baby. Then he demanded to know what the heck had happened. The answer left him apoplectic.  It turns out that Rick was eating his usual donuts for breakfast when some of the powdered sugar blew up his nose.  Reba heard him sneezing and coughing and leaped to the conclusion that he had shown up sick with covid-19.

What options are available to Scott to deal with this crisis?

  1. He can brain Reba for starting unfounded rumors that caused a panic.
  2. He can tell everyone to get back to work because if the company shuts down, so do their paychecks.
  3. He can distribute the CDC’s guidelines for reducing the risk of infection.

Covid-19 is a serious public health threat, but hysteria is the enemy of common sense.  Companies can reduce hysteria by providing credible information on safety guidelines and adding flexibility to their paid leave policies for employees who need time away from the office. Company leaders can set an example by remaining calm.    

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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I Need a Change

Brittney is finding her first job since leaving college to be scarier than she expected.  The company has been in perpetual chaos as the senior management team feuds.  Her supervisor, Christy, says the feud started when Weldon got a promotion that should have gone to Randy.  Christy calls Weldon a weasel and encourages her subordinates to push back against any requests from his staff.

Brittney unwittingly supported Christy’s “don’t cooperate” policy a month after she was hired, when she received an email from Weldon’s assistant, Sue, asking for the “bullet point” guide. Brittney searched diligently, but couldn’t find anything labeled as a guide.  She didn’t want to admit her ignorance, so she told Sue that she was unable to find the requested guide.  The following day, Christy congratulated her for being a team player.

A couple of months ago, the board of directors panicked when they saw the downward slope of revenue and announced that they were hiring a new CEO, Tom.  Tom’s first act as CEO was to stop all production so that he could hold a company-wide meeting to introduce himself.

He announced that big changes were coming and only those absolutely loyal to him could expect to keep their jobs.  He blamed falling sales on Weldon’s horrible management skills and announced that Weldon had resigned, even though Weldon was at the meeting.

Tom hired his son to replace Weldon.  Tom junior browbeats the sales staff like a Soviet apparatchik demanding higher wheat production from farm collectives.  The sales staff thinks he’s a dud and the marketable ones are fleeing to competitors.

Next Tom pushed out Trish, the CFO, after she said there was no money in the budget for Tom to hire his wife’s consulting business to redecorate the CEO’s office.  In revenge for Tom’s insulting personal remarks, Trish leaked a few of the choicer details of Tom’s platinum plated compensation package to the largest shareholders who are now suing the board of directors for fiduciary lapses.     

As senior managers whiz out the door to be replaced by Tom’s family and friends, no one feels safe.  Brittney watches as Christy is effectively demoted despite her sycophantic support for Tom.  Christy is still a senior manager but all her decisions must be approved by Tom’s daughter, the new VP.

Brittney is sick of it all. What options are available to her?

  1. She can move home to her parents where their nagging will seem restful after the goings-on at her job.
  2. She can practice acting like Tom since that seems to be the way to the top.
  3. She can send her resume to everyone she knows in hopes of finding a better job quickly.

Companies that fail to create a good work environment for their employees tend to underperform against their competitors. 

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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She’s So Yesterday

Another update from the Jungle….

Shelly owns a small company that is growing rapidly. She’s hired four new employees in the past year, including Anna and Zach.  They are ambitious and full of energy.  Zach is now Shelly’s right hand helper, replacing Shelly’s former right hand, Claudia.

Claudia was the first employee Shelly hired. She’s not ambitious or energetic; she moves at a pace akin to a sloth needing a nap.  But in many ways, Claudia is responsible for Shelly’s success because she did all the tedious, time-consuming administrative work while Shelly was busy beating the bushes looking for clients.  Best of all, Claudia was willing to be flexible about her pay when cash flow nose-dived.

Unfortunately, what worked back then isn’t working now.  Last week Claudia spent hours obsessing over a simple task until Anna told her to shut up because she (Anna) would handle it. Five minutes later, Anna was done and stomped out of the office in search of another double espresso.  Shelly emerged from a client meeting to find Claudia waiting to complain about Anna’s rudeness. 

Claudia also feels threatened by Zach who is now making decisions that she and Shelly used to make together.  Claudia shuffles around with a woebegone smile, feeling unappreciated and scared that she’ll be replaced.   The more she worries about being replaced, the more she gums up everything.

Shelly feels guilty because she knows what she owes to Claudia, but she also sees Claudia’s limitations. Claudia’s sluggardly pace is causing permanent grumpiness.  Zach and Anna are in favor of tossing Claudia out on her ear.  Shelly is also growing tired of the drama.  She no longer has time to spend hours helping Claudia agonize over every decision or listening to her complain about Zach and Anna.

Shelly’s been struggling for months to figure out what to do about Claudia.  What are her options?

  1. She can promise Claudia a huge severance package as an enticement to leave. 
  2. She can hire an HR manager and delegate responsibility to listen to whiny employees, like Claudia. After all, why else hire an HR manager?
  3. She can create a new role for Claudia in recognition of her contribution to the success of the company, but that shunts her aside so that she doesn’t slow down co-workers.

Different skill sets are needed at different times in the development of a company.  Small business owners often struggle with accepting that early hires may no longer have the necessary skills and need to be transitioned into new roles or moved out the door.  Having clearly defined roles and tasks makes it easier to complete these types of transitions.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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What Exactly Are You?

Another update from the Jungle….

Otis feels a bit frazzled lately.  His lawn care business has to speed up preparations for the busy summer season even though it’s only February.  A mild winter fooled Mother Nature into starting spring much too early.  Now his customers look at their scruffy flower beds and patchy lawns and fear being lawn-shamed by the neighbors. Otis’ phone is ringing non-stop.     

Otis isn’t ready for the upsurge in business. His year-round employees, Jose, Angel and Miguel, can’t handle all the appointments. Between customer calls, Otis is speed-dialing his usual summer helpers.  His summer crew is a motley bunch, including college students, a massage therapist and a former professional soccer player with more tattoos than a career felon.

Otis always treated his summer workers as independent contractors or 1099 workers. As 1099’s, these workers are self-employed and responsible for all employment taxes.  Many of his summer workers prefer this arrangement because they are running businesses of their own and besides, they like getting more money now.

Now as Otis begins calling his summer helpers, he hits an unexpected snag with Matt.  Matt is the son of a friend, originally hired as a favor for Matt’s dad.  Matt doesn’t know what he wants to be when he grows up so he is an average worker.   He livens up the place, though, practicing his Spanish with Miguel, flirting with the massage therapist despite her obvious lack of interest, and staging drag races with the mowers. 

But Matt is lukewarm when Otis calls about returning for another summer.  Matt says that he met a girl in a bar who is a pre-law student and she said Otis is breaking the law by not paying him as an employee.  Matt says that he wants to be treated as an employee because he wants overtime pay, health benefits and lots of paid leave.    

What options are available to Otis?

  1. He can let Matt ferment like the compost heap behind the equipment shed and move to the next name on the summer hire list.
  2. He can ignore the issue on the grounds that his company is too small to be noticed by the IRS or the state’s labor department.
  3. He can rummage through the IRS website looking for information on how to tell the difference between a W-2 and a 1099 worker which will take up time that he doesn’t really have at the moment. 

There is no bright line test dividing 1099 from W-2 workers; it depends on the total circumstances. Basically, the more control a company has over how and when the work is done, the more likely the worker is a W-2 employee.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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There’s Got to Be a Better Way

Another update from the Jungle….

Bentley is the operations manager for his company.   He’s also the HR manager thanks to his boss.  Duncan owns the company, but he hates dealing with messy employee problems.  He bribed Bentley with a pay raise when he offloaded the employee problems on Bentley.

Since that fateful day, Bentley has done his best.  At first, HR was fairly easy despite Bentley’s complete ignorance of employment laws.  He fired Tim, a sticky-fingered employee who bragged to a co-worker about padding his expense account with fake receipts.   Firing Cindy for showing up at 9:30 am whenever Bentley and Duncan had morning meetings was also easy.  One of Cindy’s co-workers hated her guts for reasons Bentley didn’t ask and was happy to rat her out for lying on her timesheet. 

However, Bentley began to dread handling HR problems around the time he learned of the Sam, Wendy and Sue love triangle.  Wendy was a department supervisor who began having an affair with Sam, who was already dallying with Sue.  In a workforce of 35 people, it’s impossible to hide such a torrid soap opera.

Bentley learned of it the day he heard an awful screech and ran to the common area to find Wendy and Sue rolling around on the floor biting and clawing.  Bentley acquired a scratched cheek and a dented shin before he dragged them apart.  But trying to sort out the HR repercussions made Bentley realize he needed help.

Bentley asked about HR help during a meeting with their insurance agent. Their agent offered Bentley access to an online HR library provided free by the agency.  Bentley quickly learned that “free” access was costing him hours a week clicking through pages of regulations and guidance.  He had no idea which of them applied to a company of his size.

Bentley would love to off-load the HR responsibilities, but the only person offering to help is Brenda.  Bentley thinks she’s an insinuating weasel who likes power and he’ll be eternally damned before he lets Brenda get her sticky mitts on HR.  

What options does Bentley have?

  1. He can continue going with his “gut” and hope he’s doing the right thing. 
  2. He can ask his best friend who works for a giant corporation how they handle employee issues.    
  3. He can convince Duncan that they need a professional HR person who can help Bentley figure out what he needs to do as the HR manager. 

Small companies face a conundrum. They need a knowledgeable, trained HR person long before they can justify the payroll cost of adding an employee dedicated to HR.  Fortunately, small employers have many options for HR assistance available at varying price points.

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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I’m Going Crazy!

Sondra is good at starting businesses because she knows how to convince people to part with their money.  Her latest venture almost doubled in size during the first year.  But every spare dime went back into the business often leaving her a bit short when it was time to fund the payroll account.

Being short on payday wasn’t a problem with her first hire, her sister Lena.  Younger sisters can be bullied for the sake of family solidarity, but Sondra’s best friend, Marla, demanded payment on time every week.  Marla’s now her ex-BFF and is blocked on Sondra’s personal and business social media sites.

After the bruising fights with Marla, Sondra decided to hire people she didn’t like.  At least when they screwed her, Sondra was prepared to be disappointed.  This clever talent acquisition plan worked until Sondra opened a second retail location.

With two retail locations and a constantly expanding line of products, Sondra can’t keep up with the details.  It seems that the more she sells, the less money she has in the bank. Adding a second store also quadrupled her headaches because she now bounces between the two locations without accomplishing much.

She is constantly bombarded with employee requests for time off from work.  A few employees think that their work schedules are advisories allowing them to come and go as they please.  She’d like to fire the laggards but that would mean the store lacks enough staff to stay open.  Besides, she needs to revise the job descriptions before reposting the jobs in hopes that the next batch of employees has the qualifications she wants.

Sondra’s been delaying taking action because she hates administrative tasks. But she also knows her business is beginning to implode because she’s stuck making up the rules as she goes. 

What are some options for Sondra to regain control of her life and business?

  1. She can sell the business to a competitor and become a management consultant telling other entrepreneurs how they can be successful like her.
  2. She can create an employee handbook that explains time and attendance and leave policies (among many other things) so that employees don’t waste her time asking her about these issues.
  3. She can set aside time each week to do a high level review of what her business needs so that it can grow successfully.

Many small business owners become bogged down in the details of running their business and fail to grow smoothly.  A critical point of failure happens when a business lacks an effective process for hiring and retaining employees.

Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor helps small businesses with up to 50 employees to create HR policies that work for the company and its employees.  Then we integrate the HR policies into the company-wide compliance program for a more seamless, lower risk operation. For more information, contact us at info@complianceriskadvisor.com.

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Holiday Horrors Past

Another update from the Jungle…..

It’s December and Adele is planning the company’s holiday party again. It’s one of her least favorite duties in the whole year.  The company is a manufacturer.  During the Great Recession, the company clawed its way back to profitability by finding new markets and replacing a quarter of the employees with industrial robots.

The original workforce consisted of individuals who abandoned school at the earliest opportunity and who disappear for a week each year when hunting season opens. They remain skeptical of the company’s promise to not replace them with a robot. Supplementing this group is a handful of IT geeks who program the computerized robots.  Adele long ago decided that it is impossible to plan a holiday party to suit both groups.

When Adele joined the company, she discovered that the company’s owner, Emmitt, stocked the break room with gallons of cheap booze and handed out gift cards for a turkey or ham at the local chain grocery store. Adele spent years trying to improve the quality of the holiday party only to see it all go horribly wrong two years ago.  She still shudders when she remembers.

Hearing strange noises from the plant manager’s office, she and Emmitt went to investigate. Opening the door, they found the plant manager and Emmitt’s wife enjoying a much more private party.  Emmitt leaped into the room, clearly intent on murdering someone. Adele tripped him, allowing the plant manager to grab his pants and run for his life. Emmitt’s wife hid behind the desk, shrieking hysterically.

Adele is still in therapy hoping to un-see what she saw. Emmitt is now divorced, a teetotaler, and has gotten religion. Last year, there was no booze and everyone was forced to watch a performance by Emmitt’s daughter’s mime troupe.  Adele circulated through the room discreetly urging co-workers to remember that one of the teen-aged mimes was closely related to the guy signing their weekly paycheck.

What are some options available to Adele this year?

  1. She can give up on the holiday party and suggest they give a paid day off to everyone so they can party on their own.     
  2. She can make reservations at a local entertainment facility for workers and their families and set a drinks limit.       
  3. She can use all her accrued leave to take a long sea voyage until January.

Companies are becoming more creative with their holiday activities, opting for entertainment packages like laser tag or themed parties and volunteering at local non-profits.  Whatever your company does, enjoy the holiday season. 

If your company is struggling with HR issues, Corporate Compliance Risk Advisor can help you create HR policies that are appropriate for your company’s size and then serve as a resource to your staff as the policies are implemented.

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