You’re Hired! Solo or Small Firm Employee Procedures
Ready to take the plunge? Here are some ethical and legal procedures you need to manage employees.
The Department of Labor (DOL) requires that all employers maintain contemporaneous time records for employees that are not exempt from overtime compensation. Your secretary and paralegal are not exempt. Pay them on an hourly basis, every week, if possible, and pay overtime if they work more than 40 hours. (Lunch time, paid holidays, and paid time off are not compensable working time). Require employees to maintain a timesheet and provide them at least 30 minutes for lunch that they record on the timesheet.
Every U.S. employer must have an I–9 for each new employee. I–9s are not filed with the federal government, but employers are required to maintain the I–9 records for three years after the date of hire or one year after the employee is terminated, whichever is later. (See www.uscis.gov/files/form/i-9.pdf.)
The DOL Web site provides a useful quiz that identifies posters an employer is required to post. ( www.dol.gov/elaws/posters.htm) Alternatively, purchase an all–in–one poster tailored to your state from www.allinoneposters.com.
At a minimum, a handbook should contain attendance policy; computer use/e-mail policy; discrimination and sexual harassment policy; simple job objectives; performance and salary review expectations; emergency closing instructions and/or emergency procedures; payroll procedure; holidays or personal time off provided; jury duty policy, if any; description of any benefits offered; and confidentiality and non-solicitation agreement. The handbook should contain an acknowledgement form, signed by the employee and maintained in the employee’s file. Also, the confidentiality and non–solicitation agreement should be reproduced in a separate document, have an employee signature, and be maintained in the personnel file. In light of the ethical requirements in the legal profession, a confidentiality agreement is essential. It is your job to make sure your employees are maintaining the same confidences you are required to maintain. You must explain that obligation to your employees.
In many states, you are not required to have worker’s compensation insurance unless you have a certain minimum number of employees. However, you're still responsible for injury in the workplace, even if you don't have insurance. If you have few employees, and work is generally in the office setting, worker's compensation insurance is inexpensive. Even if a claim is not legitimate, the cost of defense is something to consider.
You must maintain an employee file for each employee. The file should contain an application with all relevant information, the employee handbook acknowledgement and executed confidentiality and non–solicitation agreement, a copy of the I–9, and any performance reviews or reprimands that you create throughout employment. Most importantly, don’t let your secretary maintain these records; you must maintain these records in a secure place. Otherwise, when the secretary leaves, the employee records may leave, too.
Jennifer J. Ator is a small firm practitioner who handles employment matters at Hankins & Ator, PL in Miami Springs, FL. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.