Minor and major HR lessons you don’t need to learn the hard way

As a veteran HR practitioner and consultant, I totally understand when people’s eyes glaze over at the very mention of the words “HR”. Mine do too, to be perfectly honest. I started my career doing Organizational Behavior Management, driving efficiencies and profitability and redesigning workflow processes and later added business and executive coaching to my toolbox and I bring great value when I get to work in that space (if I do say so myself). When it was first suggested to me that I manage an HR department as an extension of my responsibilities, my first response was not ‘no’ but ‘he&& NO’! Like most people, my mind was filled with visions of paperwork, and hard-to-understand laws, and inspections and audits and fines (oh my!). Why on earth would anyone want to touch that?

Well, fast forward many (many) years later and although compliance and labor laws and audits STILL don’t rank up there with whiskers on kittens on my list of favorite things, the fact is that unless all those compliance issues are buttoned down and functioning smoothly, they become at best distractions and at worst major time and money drains that can cripple a business – especially a small business. Based on my experience, and that of the clients I serve, here are some things you can do RIGHT NOW that will save you oh, so much pain and heartache in the event that you are audited and will just in general give you more time with less repetitive scrambling. This is not intended to be a comprehensive list in any way – just the major and minor stumbling blocks I see over and over again, and so what I recommend to each and every person with a business to get ahead of.


I9 Forms: This is one of the most common audits you can expect to face as an employer. The I-9 form is the form that establishes and employee’s legal right to work in the United States, and you have 72 hours from the time the employee starts working for you to complete this form. There are comprehensive resources available on all the rules of the I9 forms and record-keeping as well as the EVerify program, so I won’t review all of that here other than to strongly (strongly) encourage business owners to find out the status of their I9s and do what they need to do to make sure they are inspection-ready at all times.

Wage and Hour Classifications: Most people know that the salary threshold of overtime exemption has risen from 23K a year to 47K with further anticipated increases (and again, there are resources out there that explain all this very well) but have you audited your employee roster lately to make sure that you are paying people correctly? Misclassifying employees as independent contractors and non-exempt as exempt are also extremely common pitfalls for businesses and the sources of heavy duty fines, penalties and headaches if you are out of compliance.

Employee lists with pay: This is just one of those things that I have seen be a minor to major headache for companies and a fairly significant distraction and time-waster. Not everyone is going to want to or need to invest in a HRIS (Human Resources Information System) but I can guarantee you that you are going to want a list of all your employees, their title, hire date, current pay, last raise (amount and date), and term date. You’re going to need this for benefits census, for audits, and to reconcile your wage review process to name just a few things. And if you do use organizational charts, this information will always be required. If you can’t get a simple, excel-exportable report from your payroll then I would suggest maintaining an excel version to save yourself last-minute scrambles over and over and over again.

Onboarding Process: It’s a good idea to document all the steps that go into hiring a person; from placing an ad, to filling out the I9 (of course) to getting the first paycheck processed. Not only will it keep you out of trouble, it will also create a great first impression for your growing staff.

Termination Process: On the flip side, you should also know how to exit someone from your team effectively and legally. Are you sure you’re not committing constructive discharge (no, it’s not a medical condition) without knowing it? Are you positioning yourself as well as possible to reduce unemployment claims? Are you confident you can defend a wrongful termination claim? Having a consistent process and managers who are educated in the process will help you answer yes with confidence.

A solid understanding of your resources: Believe it or not, a large portion of what I do is help my clients figure out how not to pay me! You probably have more access than you know to handbooks, policies, and support from various vendors. If you outsource your payroll, L&I/Workman’s Comp and/or benefits administration you should always make sure you know what services and information you have access to. This is not to say you don’t need an HR consultant – after all, we can help you know how to utilize your resources, but don’t spend money on something you already have.

A list of trusted advisors before you need them: As I mentioned in a previous article, it’s important to be smart in what you do in-house and what you outsource and I highly recommend building your storm shelter before the storm hits. You don’t really want to start looking for an attorney the day you get that horrible letter in the mail informing you a claim has been filed against you or your business. Instead, gather your team of advisers so they’re ready to support you before you need it.

If you are a business owner or leader, you already know to expect curve balls from sunup to sundown, so why not do what you can to simplify life and reduce your anxiety where you can?

Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Limitless HR Solutions, a Seattle-based management consulting firm devoted to helping business owners fall back in love with their businesses. A certified executive coach, seasoned Organizational Behavior Management Practitioner and Senior HR professional, Carrie can be reached for consultation at

By Carrie Maldonado

Carrie Maldonado, is an organizational development consultant, author, and speaker. Carrie's eclectic mix of professional interests include writing, speaking, coaching, and consulting on topics ranging from organizational behavior management to spiritual transformation in and out of the workplace. Carrie lives in the beautiful Pacific Northwest with her patient and long-suffering husband and their three children.

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