Have you been tasked with managing the entire HR function for your organization? You may be feeling overwhelmed by the workload or uncertain that you have all the essential bases covered. Whether you are an HR professional with little or no additional support or in a non-HR role juggling HR tasks with other responsibilities, managing HR on your own can be challenging. However, if you understand the primary areas that need to be addressed, have the right resources in place, and know where to go when you need help for anything outside your expertise, you can confidently manage your organization’s HR. Let’s start with the basics.

HR Fundamentals

It’s easy for your focus to be divided among the many projects competing for your attention when building out or expanding upon an HR program. Choosing suitable options for your organization can be daunting, but it helps to start with the basics and move up from there. Here are the critical areas of HR that every organization needs to address.

Compliance with federal, state, and local employment laws

Compliance is threaded throughout the HR function. Employment laws are complex and vary by company size, industry, and even from state to state; it is crucial to identify and address any compliance gaps in the organization. Take time to review federal and state leave requirements, wage and hour laws, sick time requirements, pay equity laws, and other applicable state or federal regulations for the regions where your employees work. Employment laws are constantly changing, and it’s best to stay up to date on new legislation and continuously update company policies. Failure to comply with employment law is one of the costliest HR missteps for employers with minimal HR staff. It may be helpful to subscribe to a service that notifies you of employment law updates or outsource compliance to ensure that your organization’s policies and employee handbook remain current.

Talent acquisition, hiring, and onboarding

Over the last decade, several federal, state, and regional laws have gone into effect that significantly impact the recruiting and hiring process. If your applications have not been updated for many years, they may include criminal history or salary history questions that are no longer legal in some regions. When it’s time to recruit new talent, assess the entire recruiting, hiring, and onboarding process to ensure it aligns with current best practices.

    • Implement an equal opportunity statement with reasonable accommodation instructions on all job postings.
    • Train any employee involved in the hiring process about best practices, including what can and cannot be asked during interviews. A good rule of thumb is to avoid small talk or any personal questions and only make inquiries directly related to the candidate’s ability to perform the job functions.
    • Understand and adhere to any state regulations, such as the aforementioned “ban-the-box” laws, marijuana laws, or questions about salary history.
    • Collect all the new hire paperwork within the required time limit. Pay special attention to those that require submission to an external agency, including I-9, W-4, and state employer, unemployment tax, and workers compensation registries. It is critical to complete Form I-9 and verify the employee within three days of employment to avoid substantial fines.

Learn more about recruiting strategies and avoiding hiring missteps

Compensation management and payroll processing

Take time to understand federal and state wage and hour laws. Ensure employees are correctly classified according to FLSA requirements, paying close attention to wage, salary, and overtime provisions. Employees must be compensated according to unique state and local pay equity laws, sick time laws, overtime requirements, and minimum wage laws. Ensure non-exempt employees receive meal and rest periods according to state and local legal requirements.

When processing payroll, follow state laws for wage payments and carefully follow pay frequency and lag time regulations. Most payroll providers keep up-to-date with these requirements. Still, it is vital to ensure they have current status information for each employee and that you understand the requirements and timelines of any new laws being implemented. Final paycheck requirements vary from state to state and are often very specific; be sure to provide payment in the time and manner prescribed by the state where the employee has worked.

Learn more about compensation strategies and FLSA requirements

Employee health and welfare benefit management

Find a technology solution that works best for your organization to make managing employee benefits more straightforward. Automated solutions enable online, paperless benefit enrollments that automatically feed into payroll systems and benefit carriers.

    • Provide employees with required notification of COBRA rights under federal law and consider state “mini-COBRA” laws that provide additional provisions.
    • File the required annual Affordable Care Act report with the IRS
    • Report Medicare Part D disclosure to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services annually.

Check out our helpful open enrollment checklist

Employee relations and performance management

Aim to prevent employee relation issues by implementing policies that establish behavioral expectations and providing the appropriate workplace harassment prevention training. Fostering a respectful workplace helps reduce both risk and liability. Many states require annual anti-harassment and anti-discrimination training, but it is best practice for all employers to implement training to create a culture of respect.

Establish reporting channels for employees to voice complaints. If an employee makes a complaint, ensure it is addressed right away. Some complaints will warrant a workplace investigation. We recommend that employees who conduct investigations undergo training to ensure they are impartial and legally sound. For serious allegations, it is advantageous to have an unbiased third-party conduct the investigations and address other employee relations issues.

Download our Workplace Harassment Prevention Guide

Create meaningful performance management practices

Performance management is a critical component of an effective HR program. Employees that receive regular feedback and clearly understand performance expectations have been shown to have greater productivity and engagement. There are many approaches to providing employee feedback. We recommend establishing a frequent feedback cycle appropriate to the level of guidance required for the position, such as weekly or monthly check-ins with quarterly, semi-annual, or annual reviews. Avoid approaches that limit feedback to an annual performance evaluation only. Such an approach often enables performance issues to get out of hand, and managers may base feedback only on the employee’s most recent performance.

Learn more about implementing an effective performance management system

Keep the employee handbook and company policies relevant and up to date

Employee handbooks are an essential communication tool between an employer and employees to set workplace standards and behavioral expectations as well as helping to prevent employee lawsuits. Review your current employee handbook and policies for accuracy or, if a handbook does not already exist, take the time to create one that accurately represents your existing policies, practices, and procedures. Avoid generic templates; there are unique requirements based on your industry, location, and company size. Take the time to craft a handbook tailored to your organization or contract with an HR specialist to ensure it is accurate and covers all the bases.

Learn more about writing an effective employee handbook

Download our HR Fundamentals Checklist

HR Support Options

The good news is you don’t have to go it alone! There are so many resources available to provide additional HR expertise and support. Whether you prefer a “research and do it yourself approach” or choose to rely on external specialists, there are many tools to keep you informed and on track. The options that work best for you will depend upon your bandwidth, expertise, budget, and personal preferences.

Free resources

There are several free resources available on federal and state government sites to assist with understanding and complying with employment laws. Reputable HR organizations and law offices offer helpful webinars, blogs, checklists, guides, and downloads to help with specific HR topics. Subscribe to those you find helpful or visit them regularly for valuable tools and information.

HR libraries and subscriptions

Subscribing to an HR library is an excellent option for those with a good foundation and who enjoy researching and taking a do-it-yourself approach. You gain access to comprehensive HR libraries to explore critical HR topics and get the information you need regarding compliance and HR best practices. Similarly, you can join employment law subscriptions that send regular emails with important employment law updates and reminders. These services are only helpful if you use them; you will need to be diligent about following and implementing what you discover or the recommendations that are provided.

HR consulting

When you find you are uncertain about an HR project or compliance issue or that you just don’t have the capacity to address it, engage an HR consultant or legal professional specializing in the topic of concern. A good consultant will provide the expertise you need and peace of mind, knowing that your HR project is being handled in an efficient and compliant manner.

HR outsourcing

If you find that you lack expertise with any critical areas of your HR program or don’t have the internal resources to cover all the bases, consider outsourcing some or all your HR functions. Outsourcing enables you to offload critical HR activities to a team of experienced professionals on an ongoing basis and often costs less than hiring additional staff. Outsourcing isn’t an all-or-nothing solution. You can keep much of your HR responsibility in-house while outsourcing the areas where you need additional support. You can easily peel off time-consuming or compliance-heavy layers to free up your time to focus on other critical responsibilities. Consider offloading payroll, benefits, or leave administration. Perhaps you’d benefit from outsourcing compensation or employee relations. Outsourcing areas that are a resource drain will enable you to level up your HR program and spend your time more efficiently.

You can do this!

Being successful as an HR department of one is well within reach. Few obstacles cannot be overcome with the right resources in place. Half the battle is recognizing your limitations and exploring the solutions that work best for your organization and its budget and culture. Once you’ve assessed your HR program and implemented options that ensure all the HR fundamentals are covered, you’ll be able to confidently manage HR and keep your organization compliant with employment law.

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