Additional HR Resource
There will be situations and questions that arise (or you may have other needs) that are not adequately addressed in the preceding 9 articles, so where do you go for help? The answer is embedded in the specific question. If you have just been served with a notice from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission of a charge of discrimination against your company, it is probably best to find an HR professional/specialist who has dealt with the EEOC before, or a labor lawyer. The real question is how do you find a "good" (reliable, successful, knowledgeable, skilled, wise, not too expensive, etc.) one?
Ask your Professional/Personal Network
When you need a subject matter expert immediately, the best approach is to heed the advice of a trusted colleague/friend. Dust off your "network" and make phone calls or send e-mails that briefly describe your situation/need and ask your personal/professional network for a recommendation. Don’t bother your network if the issue/question is "cut and dried" (e.g., "What’s the minimum wage for your state vs. the federal minimum wage") - you can find that information online fairly simply. If the issue is as important as "how to best defend yourself against a charge of discrimination," you should probably develop a relationship with a knowledgeable and skilled individual who can work through the complexities of the situation with you. You will need someone who is skilled and experienced, etc. and a referral from a trusted source is the best way to find such a resource. If your personal/professional network doesn’t have a recommendation, then you’ll have to rely on more "public" resources for the assistance you need.
Consult Specialist Organizations of Good Reputation
So who are the specialist organizations with a good reputation? The last thing you want to do is to use your internet search engine to find names of labor or employment lawyers. You will amass a lot of names of individuals and law firms, but with no qualitative information/filter.
There are three public groups/resources you might consider contacting as a second-tier networking endeavor:
- Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)
- Small Business Administration (SBA)
- Local Bar Associations
The Society for Human Resource Management is the world’s largest association devoted to HR management. It was founded in 1948 and has over 500 affiliated chapters in the United States. SHRM has more than 5,000 members and it is highly likely that they have an SHRM Chapter organization in your area and certainly in your state. SHRM may be contacted to ask for a referral of both knowledgeable HR Professionals as well as legal counsel for labor and employment lawyer matters.
The Small Business Administration is a government-sponsored resource that focuses on small business. The SBA might be able to give you names of people who might potentially help you with your specific need or the SBA might provide names of other small business owners in your area who you may wish to contact (either as potential referral agents or to meet your need). The SBA also has a group called SCORE (Service Corps of Retired Executives) who might be able to assist you.
Your local bar association will typically offer an attorney referral service that can connect you with lawyers who have expertise in labor and employment law. Before hiring a lawyer, you can schedule a free or low-cost consultation to get some preliminary advice and find out whether the lawyer has the necessary experience and expertise to assist you with your issue.
Enter a Business Arrangement with a Professional Employer Organization (PEO)
While this alternative might not meet your immediate need, a fourth option is to preemptively enter into a business arrangement with a PEO.
The National Association of Professional Employers Organization is an association that is in business to make its members successful. NAPEO was formed in 1984 and like most professional associations, is the advocate for it members in government affairs, provides education and training programs, has a Code of Ethics and a number of best practices for its member companies. NAPEO has nearly 400 PEO members operating in all 50 states, and represents approximately 91 percent of the revenues of the $68 billion/year PEO industry. Its members are small businesses (in most cases) and their service/product is to "do it for you" when it comes to the management of people (human resources), employee benefits, unemployment claims, payroll, and workers’ compensation. The way PEO’s do this is that they become co-employers of your people, so that both the PEO and you would have an employment relationship with your workers.
Under the co-employer arrangement, you and the PEO share and allocate responsibilities and liabilities for your people. The PEO assumes much of the responsibility and liability for the business of employment, such as risk management, human resource management, and payroll and employee tax compliance. You would retain responsibility for and manage product development and production, business operations, marketing, sales, and service. As a co-employer, the PEO will often provide a complete human resource and benefit package for your "employees" (if this is something you want and can afford). Typically, the PEOs charge for doing payroll and providing HR services, etc., is between two and six percent of your gross payroll costs (not including the cost of the benefits you might choose to offer through the PEO). Your specific business arrangement must be negotiated depending on the type of your business and the level of risk that would be assumed by the PEO as a co-employer.
Under a PEO, there are some advantages that have collateral benefits for a small business owner. In most cases, the PEO provides access to health insurance, retirement savings plans, and other critical employee benefits for the employees of a small business client-features that are usually not affordable from either a cost or an administrative expertise perspective. Collaterally, the PEO would be responsible for the aforementioned EEO claim and would have the expertise to manage the investigation and potential hearing and lawsuit if the claim were to proceed to those levels.
This alternative as a source of "additional HR resources" is a drastic one and may not make sense for some small businesses. The beauty of this alternative, however, is that it relieves the small business owner from a great deal of "administrivia" as well as almost all of the human resource management aspects of having employees. The small business owner remains the leader of the organization and determines who does what, etc., but doesn’t have to be concerned with most HR issues not related to work performance.
There are a number of government agencies that have good information you can access online. The Department of Labor not only has information about laws and regulations, but one of its departments, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has information about prevailing wages for over 400 common occupations.
The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has information and a list of available training for workplace safety.
The Social Security Administration has information not only about social security benefits, but also has a way for you as an employer to verify the social security number of individuals to whom you make an offer of employment-something that helps greatly when meeting your obligation to make certain any prospective employee has the legal right to work in the United States.
One website that is very useful is www.bpubs.com. It is a search engine for business publications and has a category just for human resource related articles. While it is not designed to provide pinpointed answers for specific "at the moment" questions, it is such a thorough compendium of articles that doing a focused sub-search usually gets close to the subject at hand. Further, because each article lists the author(s), it is possible that these authors could be used as sources when trying to find specific human resource experts to assist you in addressing specific situations (assuming your question isn’t answered in the article itself).
General Internet Search
As a last resort, use your search engine and see what you get. You will have to thoroughly "vet" anyone contacted using this method as you will not have the advantage of "inside" information from a neutral (or trusted) source. When "vetting" someone who might be asked to provide you with good consultative advice, here are some questions you should ask:
- Length of time in business
- List of the credentials/biographies of the individuals who will be providing service
- Client references
- Local area presence (must be able to meet and do business face-to-face)
- Provide case histories for similar matters handled giving date, situation/problem, intervention, outcome
- Check for complaints levied by former clients (if legal, bar association)
- Do a search on the firm or individual to see if any legal process/litigation, past fines pop-up
- List of all related publications authored by potential consultant, if any
- Verify claimed degrees/education
- Make sure the firm is financially solvent
- Get a copy of the formal contract or business terms for an engagement and review them carefully, especially if there are advance payments
- Get a specific list of people who will be working on your matter, their hourly rates, and the number of other cases to which they are currently assigned (helps determine how much time you will get)
- Get an estimate of total costs once the provider has been involved in the matter for a couple of weeks
Please don’t underestimate your need for good help and advice when you confronted with a difficult and unique situation. While an ounce of prevention in terms of your HR processes is the least expensive way to semi-insure you don’t find yourself with a potential problem, likewise, getting good help as soon as the gravity of the situation becomes apparent is also wise as the right advocate might be able to stem the tide before it rises to the height of a disaster.