Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI): What Small Businesses Should Know

27. May 2016 07:50

man putting his hand on a coworker's shoulder

If you’re a small-business owner with employees, chances are getting Workers’ Compensations Insurance was a pretty easy call. It saves you the financial worry when work accidents waylay your staff. Plus, most state laws require employers to carry Workers’ Comp, so sometimes you don’t have the option.

You do, however, have an option when it comes to Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI). It can cover legal expenses if you don't uphold your responsibility to be fair in your employer-employee relationships.

Unfortunately, many small-business owners opt out of EPLI coverage because they mistakenly think…

  1. Workers’ Comp can cover employment practices lawsuits.
  2. Employees would never sue them.

Both myths can end up costing your business a lot of money. Let’s dig into each to set the record straight.

What’s the Difference Between EPLI and Workers’ Comp?

Many small-business owners assume Workers’ Compensation can cover all employee issues. But for the record, that's not the case.

The confusion probably stems from the fact that Workers’ Comp has two parts. The first typically pays for an employee’s medical bills and lost wages after a work injury or illness. The second can help pay for legal expenses when employees sue the business over work injuries that were either ineligible for benefits or that were caused by the employer's negligence.

It’s the name of this second part that causes confusion: Employer’s Liability Insurance.

By contrast, Employment Practices Liability Insurance is actually a type of Professional Liability Insurance. It can cover lawsuits over employee allegations of:

  • Sexual harassment.
  • Discrimination.
  • Defamation.
  • Retaliation.
  • Wrongful termination or demotion.
  • Mismanagement of benefits.

What SBOs Need to Know: In general, Workers’ Compensation covers physical injuries and illnesses. EPLI is for claims that you violated an employee’s rights.

Why Your Business Might Face an EPLI Claim

This second myth is a little tougher to dispel because so many small-business owners want to see their staff members as friends or even family. Unfortunately, that attitude can get them in trouble.

Some behavior may be totally acceptable between friends but is problematic in a professional setting – especially when it comes from the head honcho. According to Dr. Steven Lindner (@CEOWPG), talent acquisition expert and executive partner with The WorkPlace Group (@WorkPlaceGroup), “Discrimination, whether intentional or not, is still discrimination.”

Remember that you don’t necessarily have to be guilty to face an accusation. Lindner tells the story of a recent case where he served as an expert witness for a defendant accused of negligent supervision by 29 plaintiffs. The judge dismissed every claim, finding them to be unsubstantiated, but reaching that point took years and significant resources.

What SBOs Need to Know: According to Lindner, employment practices lawsuits can be emotionally draining and costly to resolve. EPLI helps ease the burden by covering legal fees, investigation costs, and judgements or settlements.

How to Protect Your Business from EPLI Claims

Employment practices lawsuits can spring up any time during the employer-employee relationship, including…

  • Hiring
  • Employment.
  • Promotions.
  • Terminations.

According to Lindner, any practices that don’t align with applicable laws can spell trouble. He recommends protecting your business by:

  • Ensuring current policies and procedures comply with applicable federal, state, and local laws.
  • Writing job descriptions and advertisements that only list job-relevant requirements. 
  • Evaluating candidates with a consistent and standardized methodology that focuses on successful job performance.
  • Treating all employees professionally.
  • Consistently applying your company's policies and procedures.

What SBOs Need to Know: Being consistent in your treatment of employees helps minimize your risk, but it doesn’t negate the need for insurance. Consider protecting your business with EPLI, too.

Hiring is an employment practice rife with pitfalls. Learn how to avoid them in "5 Interview Questions that Could Get You Sued."

Living and Working the Dream: The Papapietro Perry Winery Story

25. May 2016 07:42

Papapietro Perry Winery owners

Owning a winery seems like the dream job: you get to kick back beside the vineyards and sip a pinot from your private label. The perfect marriage of work and relaxation, right?

But Renae Perry, an owner of Papapietro Perry Winery (@papapietroperry) in Sonoma County, California, knows it's not all wine tastings and blue skies. She, her husband, and the Papapietros worked hard to take their love of wine and turn it into a profitable business. In honor of National Wine Day, let’s take a look at their success story.

Papapietro Perry Winery building

From the Garage to the Vineyards

The Papapietro Perry Winery started with two guys making wine in their garages. Humble beginnings, sure, but Ben Papapietro and Bruce Perry had some aces up their sleeves. Both have winemaking in their blood – they grew up with grandparents who made wine for their families’ dinner tables. They also knew winemaker Burt Williams, described as "pinot’s patron saint" by The Wall Street Journal. His approval of their wines inspired them to turn their hobby into a commercial endeavor.

But perhaps their biggest advantage was their naiveté.

“We actually didn’t know what we were getting into,” says Perry. “I worked in high tech as a product manager. Bruce and Ben were both still driving trucks, and I said, ‘Sure. How hard could it be?’”

The couples’ inexperience made them conservative. Perry says they limited their initial investment to just 75 cases of wine and a pallet jack. “We said if things didn’t go well, we’d just have a party and sell the pallet jack,” she reminisces.  

Over the years, Papapietro Perry Winery grew organically, slowly increasing its production to match customer demand. “We never had a lot of money out or a big lot of wine left over. We were just always able to sell everything we made,” says Perry.

The takeaway: Dream big, but be realistic when you're turning a hobby into a full-time business, especially if you're diving into a new industry.

Pup with wine barrels

What You Learn in a Drought

Perry also credits some of Papapietro Perry’s success to the couples’ down-to-earth view of the industry. “It’s a very romantic business,” she says. “But it’s a lot of work.”

Part of that work means knowing your clientele. Perry says whether you make wine or thingamabobs, you still have to know your customer and market to them. Moreover, that product needs to meet customer demands. For Papapietro Perry, that means focusing on handcrafted pinot noir and zinfandel.

“Our customers are pinot lovers, and they know the quality of our wine is consistent and delicious," she says. "They become evangelists for us.”

wine glasses

Another reason the work is so hard? Mother Nature.

“All sorts of things can happen with nature,” says Perry. “So we’re not really relaxed until the wine is in our barrels.”

For an example, she points to the recent droughts that reduced production by 30 percent. Even then, she counts herself among the lucky. Some wineries dropped by as much as 70 percent, depending on the type of grapes and the location of their vineyards. And she says their winery is particularly well insured – after all, owner Yolanda Papapietro used to work in insurance.

The takeaway: Even a dream business is still a business, right down to all the hard work and risk. Put your past skills to work to increase your odds of success.

Want more small business success stories? Check out our Small Business Spotlight series.

How to Profit from Graduates

23. May 2016 08:10

graduates

US students are graduating from high school at a greater rate than ever before, according to the US Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics. The nation's high school graduation rate hit 82 percent in 2013-14. The statistics for college graduates are also impressive. From associate to doctorate level, degrees are up – and that means opportunities for entrepreneurs.

Grad season can be a small-business owner’s best friend if you know how to position yourself and cater to the market of graduates and their families. If you’ve recently graduated yourself, you know this market better than most, but you’ll be surprised at how fast your knowledge about what’s important to graduates becomes obsolete.

If high school and college are a distant memory, here are five tips to help you reach this market of enthusiastic consumers ready to celebrate their achievements.

  1. Celebrate the occasion. Graduates are excited and want to mark the “end of an era” with a celebration. How can your business be part of the celebration? If you provide event-planning services, catering, photography, or DJ services, think about how you can market to new grads’ parents.
  2. Gifts that keep on giving. Do you sell something that could conceivably be a grad gift? Retailers can market to new grads and their families by selling greeting cards, gift wrap, and gifts tailored to grads. But think outside the box: everything from a new car, briefcase for that new job, or a spa day or health-club membership could conceivably be marketed as a gift for a grad embarking on adult life.
  3. Offer savings. College students often put themselves through school by working, which means they’re on a budget or may have student loans to pay. Help them save money and stay within budget by offering new-grad discounts or allowing them to postpone payments. This tactic can work well with high-ticket products or services.
  4. Act your age. Don’t try to talk the graduate’s language if you’re not the same age. Trying to use a bunch of catchphrases you don’t really understand will just make you sound old. Plus using trendy language dates your business, and graduates will turn away faster than you can say, “It’s Hammer Time.” A better idea is to hire or contract with a copywriter who can speak the language of graduates without sounding condescending. Once you’ve developed your age-appropriate marketing messages, make sure you’re spreading them on the right social media platforms (for recent graduates, that’s most likely Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat).
  5. Segment your markets. High school graduates have completely different needs and desires than college graduates. Make sure you know your specific market and how to reach them with the right message. Segment your product and service offerings, your marketing messages, and your website to attract these two different markets.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website SmallBizDaily.com to get the scoop on business trends and to sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

Why Bike to Work Day Is Great for Small Businesses

20. May 2016 09:27

cyclist in the street

It’s National Bike to Work Day, and there's no better time to look at the connection between small businesses and biking.

A new wave of research shows bike-friendly cities may be the friendliest for small businesses, too. City planners have been tracking who spends the most money at local establishments, and it turns out those guys and gals with the helmets and messenger bags are opening their wallets the widest at local businesses:

  • Cyclists spent 17 percent more than drivers at local businesses, according to a study of New York’s East Village.
  • Bikers in Portland spent 24 percent more at bars, restaurants, and convenience stores than motorists.
  • Pedestrians and cyclists visit stores more often and spend the most money each month, according to a study of Toronto’s Bloor Street.

To get to the bottom of these numbers, we talked with Steve Taylor at the League of American Bicyclists (@BikeLeague) about what small-business owners can do to make their company more bike-friendly for their customers and their employees.

The Key to Being a Bike-Friendly Business: Rock Star Parking

Being “bike friendly” means it's easy for a cyclist to visit your business. And if you want to make it easy for cyclists to visit your store or restaurant, Steve Taylor says parking is key.

A bike rack near your business offers convenience, but it also helps you attract “walk up” customers who lock their bike to the rack, see your business, and decide to scope it out.

Road tip: Many cities will provide bike racks for you. For instance, in Chicago, you can request a bike rack through the Department of Transportation.

Do a little homework to see if you can request a bike rack from your local municipality. 

bike parked outside a local shop

Why Being a Bike Friendly Business Is Awesome for Workplace Productivity

You're probably used to seeing your blurry-eyed employees stumbling into the break room for coffee each morning. There’s nothing wrong with a jolt of caffeine, but according to Taylor, people who bike in often feel better when they get to work and are more productive.

Science backs him up, too. A study in the Journal of Clinical and Diagnostic Research, as reported in the online magazine Bicycling, showed subjects who pedaled for 30 minutes scored higher on memory, reasoning, and planning tests.

But a bike ride is also good for your employees’ spirits. “We love to talk about how biking is great for health and great for the environment, but the most important reason that most people bike is because it makes them happy,” says Taylor. “That has benefits across the board.”

Road tip: Happier people tend to get along better with the people around them, which can translate into a less stressful and more collaborative workplace.

Know the Risks of the Road and Your Workers’ Comp Insurance

Bicycling is good for the brain and body, but cyclists also face dangers. And if your employees bike for work errands, their cycling injuries can cost you.

Sprains and strains can lay an employee low for a bit, especially if they’re new to riding. More disconcerting, however, is the possibility of a collision causing serious injury. The clear answer, says Taylor: "Wear a helmet."

Your employees are responsible for getting themselves to and from work, which means Workers’ Compensation Insurance usually doesn’t cover injuries from their commute. However, an injured employee may be covered if they’re hurt…

  • Traveling between work sites.
  • Running work-related errands.
  • Making deliveries for the business.

Get more details in “Does Workers’ Compensation Pay for Bike-to-Work Injuries?

Road tip: If your employees ride their bike for work-related travel, you may want to make it a policy that they wear proper safety gear and maintain their bike. But you can also encourage workers to be smart on their commutes. Take a look at the League of American Bicyclists’ Smart Cycle Tips for ideas.

bicyclist in downtown Chicago

How to Get Your Employees to Bike to Work

Taylor says that getting your employees on their bikes starts with identifying their barriers. Here are his responses to some of the more common complaints:

  • I can’t find a place to park. If installing a bike rack isn’t realistic, Taylor says designating a storage room or other safe area might do the trick.
  • I’ll be too sweaty for work. Taylor points out, “You don’t have to get sweaty biking to work. You can bike slow and take your time.”
  • I might not want to bike home. A bike might seem like a burden if starts to rain or your employees want to hit happy hour. But Taylor says a bike might actually be more convenient: “You can’t put your car on the front of a bus, but you can do that with your bike.” Check out your city's transit options and give your employees the information.
  • I don’t know how long the ride will take. Taylor recommends first trying the ride on a Saturday or Sunday. “The traffic may be worse in some areas on a weekend, but there’s less pressure. Don’t try it on Monday to get there for your 9 a.m. meeting.”

Road tip: For many, biking to work means moving out of their comfort zone. Fight the instinct to resist change with information and opportunity.

4 Important Things Most Small Businesses Forget When Training Employees

19. May 2016 08:05

business people in a meeting

There's no way around it: new hires need training. Without it, your employees may be more than unprepared for their role. They might be more prone to work accidents and mistakes, too.

Make sure your business doesn't forget these four important (and often overlooked) training essentials.

1. Employee Safety

When your business is construction or manufacturing, thinking about employee safety is usually top of mind. But according to Dr. Sy Islam (@IOSyIslam), an assistant professor of industrial organizational psychology at Farmingdale State College (@FarmingdaleSC) and a consultant with Talent Metrics, that may not be the case for office workers.

“Safety training that is considered unessential is easier to forget because it doesn't affect the core business,” says Dr. Islam.

Unfortunately, even a seemingly "safe" office has…

  • Tripping hazards (e.g., cartons of paper stored by the copier).
  • Slick surfaces (e.g., water spills in the break room).
  • Repetitive motion risks (e.g., typing that causes carpal tunnel syndrome).

These risks might not impact your core business, but they can affect your employees’ health.

Training tip: Teach new employees what to do when they find potential hazards in the workplace. Be sure you have sufficient Workers’ Compensation Insurance, which can help pay for medical expenses when employees are hurt on the job.

2. Customer Safety

Businesses with a lot of foot traffic, such as retail stores, have to consider customer safety, too. That means making public spaces safe, but it also encompasses the products you sell.

Brandon Leopoldus (@LeopoldusEsq), president of The Leopoldus Professional Corporation, says, “Avoid handing customers potentially dangerous products to limit the liability of the company.” Leopoldus also recommends small-business owners place warnings of possible dangers where potentially hazardous products are displayed.

Training tip: Salespeople like to put products in customers’ hands, but that can lead to bodily injuries and General Liability Insurance claims. If your products are inherently hazardous, make sure your salespeople follow established safety and warning protocol before they hand anything to customers.

3. Discrimination Issues

Leopoldus notes no one likes talking about discrimination and harassment, but “with the modern employment landscape, it is vital for small-business owners to provide training on these topics and to educate their entire workplace on discrimination and harassment issues.” He says employers can limit their liability by providing substantive training in these areas.

Training tip: If the topics seem too hot button for you, Dr. Islam suggests purchasing general compliance training.

Keep in mind that protecting your business from discrimination claims begins with the hiring process. Get tips in “5 Interview Questions that Can Get You Sued.”

4. Learning

Let’s face it: a lot training goes in one ear and out the other. And while it’s tempting to assume your adult employees can take care of themselves, as their employer, you're responsible for them.

When you look at it that way, new employee training is a risk management strategy. Donna Meek (@dgmeek), vice president of business development at Staff One (@staffonehr), says you can make the information stick with these tips:

  • Provide an agenda. A plan reduces trainee anxiety and may get them excited for upcoming topics.
  • Keep it fun and interactive. Breakout activities keep people energized. Meeks says starting off with an icebreaker gets trainees out of their comfort zone.
  • Use visuals. Visual presentations keep trainees engaged and appeal to visual learners.
  • Use quizzes, Q&As, and interactive discussions. These reinforce learning.
  • Give frequent breaks. Schedule short intermissions to avoid information overload.

At the end of training, Meeks suggests getting feedback. Find out what employees found most helpful so you can fine-tune your training.

Employees can be your biggest assets, but they also expose your business to risk. Learn more in “How to Fight Your 4 Big Employee Risks with Business Insurance.”

Small Business Spotlight: Combat to Career with VetLaunch

18. May 2016 08:36

VetLaunch logo

Robert Armbruster is founder of New Orleans-based VetLaunch (@VetLaunchNola) and Landing Zone (@LZNOLA). VetLaunch is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization devoted to providing veterans with the resources to effectively make the change from military to civilian life.

We talked with Robert Armbruster about VetLaunch’s mission to provide job training and job placement assistance for veterans in various industries. Learn how VetLaunch helps veterans develop the skills they need to become successful small-business owners. The transcript below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

How did VetLaunch get its start?

I graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1997, and I medically retired as a Marine Corps captain in 2004 after being injured conducting combat operations in Iraq.

I decided to start my own home renovation business while I was still on active duty. After I retired from service, my wife Nicole and I gave real estate and construction development a go. We’ve successfully run several businesses in multiple industries in New Orleans.

Then we started working with a local group of veteran-owned businesses to help combat veterans that were transitioning out of the Marine Corps. That’s when I got the idea for a business program that is managed by, supported by, and for veterans.

How does VetLaunch help veterans transition from service to a career?

VetLaunch offers business startup help and job training and placement. We have a large facility with a gym, conference rooms, and a resource center. We help any veterans that come to us; we won’t turn anyone away. We’re creating a private network of vets helping other vets.

We take job descriptions from companies and put a vet that’s a good fit into a reintegration program for open positions. Depending on the job, we’ll help them get the right certifications, such as OSHA compliance in construction or a ServSafe certification in food services or hospitality.

We’ll also sit down with vets and go through financial literacy training. When you’re a young, junior service member, a lot of things are taken care of for you while you’re active – housing, balancing a budget, dealing with life skills. You can’t make the decisions for yourself. It’s always an adjustment. We teach them to alter their mindset and learn how to deal with people differently when they're no longer wearing a uniform.

How does the business accelerator program work?

This is our second year running the Business Accelerator program in New Orleans. It’s an 11-week program that ends with a pitch event at New Orleans Entrepreneur Week. Vets come in once a week to meet with our entrepreneur residents. One of our residents, Lisa Lloyd (@icaninvent), president and CEO of Lloyd Marketing Group, founder of InvenTank, and a Shark Tank alum, shares her marketing and patent background with program participants.

They also meet once a week as a group, hold panel discussions, and listen to speakers on different topics (e.g., legal, marketing, accounting, starting a business, etc.) We help each participant develop individual business model paths and determine where they should be at the end of the program. Vets are assigned a financial, legal, and business mentor to help them through the program.

In order be eligible for VetLaunch’s Business Accelerator, veterans must meet requirements listed on the website and complete an application.

What are your future goals?

An 11-week business accelerator program is long – not everyone can commit that sort of time. We’re developing shorter, five-day boot camps for next year, with one longer 10-week program as part of New Orleans Entrepreneur Week.

Currently, we’re just limited to the New Orleans market. It’s difficult, but we’d like to develop a new program to help vets outside of city with a four- to five-day period consisting of an intense 10-hour day boot camp.

How does a military background help veterans run a business?

Veterans have organization, perseverance, leadership, and operations management skills. Generally, a lot of vets in the last 15 years have served in conflict; most vets have seen one or more combat deployment. You can’t replicate those experiences in training. Compared to that, starting a business is nothing. That high level of responsibility carries over to running and operating a business.

Can you share a veteran’s success story from working with VetLaunch?

From our first year, a former Navy helicopter pilot Jeff Widenhofer (@madjacmusic) has enjoyed success. He’s a musician and composer, and he has an album, SOLIDMAN, coming out soon. The album is about the deep-rooted personal experiences of Jeff and his partner Chris Irwin, a former Navy SEAL.

Our second group yielded a successful husband-wife team working to franchise their business NOLA Poboys. Six months ago, it was a concept. Last month, they opened a franchise at the Houston Astros’ Minute Maid Park. Currently, there are plans to open 21 stores over next two years. We helped them get to that point, and they still work out of our building. It’s been our biggest scalable success.

How can people help or get involved with VetLaunch?

We are always looking for sponsors and business mentors to donate time and skill sets. Donations help, of course. If people know any vets that need help transitioning, send them our way.

What 3 career resources do you recommend for veterans outside of New Orleans?

Unfortunately, many vets may not have heard about the resources available to them. We’re working on getting the word out about the numerous programs that can help them start a business:

  • Check local resource centers. SCORE, the US Small Business Administration, and other organizations offer free training and workshops.
  • Research colleges that offer entrepreneur programs. Syracuse University runs the EBV National Program, a nationwide initiative designed to offer skills and entrepreneur training to post-9/11 veterans with service-connected disabilities.
  • Find a think tank or business incubator program. Local programs like VetLaunch in New Orleans and Bunker Labs in Chicago offer valuable entrepreneur educational resources.

We want to educate vets that are coming out of service that they don’t have to follow the “normal” route. I don’t think I would have been very successful working in a corporate environment. Younger vets especially don’t feel at home in a cubicle surrounded by people with dissimilar life experiences. It helps them knowing we’re combat vets, too.

Want more tips from small-business owners like you? Check out our Small Business Spotlight series.

3 Summer Trends to Check Out

17. May 2016 07:58

craft beer with hops

Summer is quickly approaching, and consumers are ready for a warm-weather, vacation-fun frame of mind. For small-business owners, the goal is to entice those summer consumers to spend money at your business. Here are three trends to watch closely and see if they can be applied to your business.

Trend #1: Happiness Is Ice Cream

You’re probably not surprised, but the demand for ice cream is far from cooling down: US consumers eat 18.4 liters per person per year, according to Mintel.

What’s “hot” in ice cream? Think artisanal. Mintel research shows ice cream lovers want locally handcrafted brands with “a homemade-style authenticity.” There has also been a tidal wave of good-for-you ice creams, such as low/no/reduced allergen, low-fat, and gluten-free.

Trend #2: Craft Beer Is Still Brewing Strong

Summer is a great time for a cold beer, and since 2012, the microbrewery and craft beer trend has not only grown, but evolved. Recently that evolution has included an explosion in flavored beer innovation.

Mintel’s Global New Products Database (GNPD) reveals the proportion of flavored beer product launches has grown over 80 percent in the past five years. Young women (especially those aged 22 to 34) are the biggest fans of flavored beer. Leading flavors include pumpkin, spicy, coffee, and chocolate. Consumers are interested in trying new varieties of beer and want to know where their products come from and how they are made.

Trend #3: Health Drinks Are on the Rise                    

Summer means thirst, and on the other end of the beverage industry is a proliferation of healthy drinks. In a recent Smart Blog on Food & Beverage post, Ilana Orlofsky, marketing coordinator at the beverage development company Imbibe, says consumers are focused on transparency, the brand story, and functional beverages from natural sources.

Nutritional drinks are popular, especially water, tea, coffee, and beer fortified with protein. Vinegar-based drinks aid digestion, reduce blood pressure, and help with weight management. Plus, as medicinal and recreational marijuana becomes legal across the United States, look for more cannabis-based beverages to hit the shelves.

For more tips on getting your business summer-ready, check out "Preparing for Spring and Summer Shopping Habits" and "Should Your Business Have Shorter Hours in Summer?"

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website SmallBizDaily.com to get the scoop on business trends and to sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.

5 Surprising Tips that Will Turn Your Company Culture into a Force of Nature

16. May 2016 08:00

lightning storm over the city

Think company culture is just for mega corporations? Think again.

A good company culture is your business's magnetic pull: it attracts talented employees and makes them want to stay (even when big competitors can offer more money-wise). Check out these five tips from successful small-business owners and HR professionals that can help you create a culture that engages and retains quality talent.

1.  Know that Perks Aren't a Substitute for Culture

GreenPal (@YourGreenPal) cofounder and CEO Bryan Clayton says ping pong tables, free lunches, and massages can make a company a great place to work, but don’t mistake the fun stuff with real culture.

“These are the perks that help keep employees happy and a great company on top, not necessarily what propels it to greatness.” Instead, he says, “Culture should refer to the aligning values of the organization; do you and your team members all believe in the same things? What is your team’s mantra?”

The takeaway: Few people will hang on to an unfulfilling job just to have a turn at the foosball table. A strong culture, says Clayton, creates trust, loyalty, passion, and purpose. Find out what truly makes your employees content to take your company culture to the next level.

2. Treat Your Company Culture Like a Garden

Bob Helbig, the media relationships director with Workplace Dynamics (@WPDynamics), says much of culture comes down to what is learned, cultivated, and practiced.

“Treat the workplace like a garden; it needs constant tending.” He adds, “If you get to the point where you think everything is going well, don't expect it to be perpetual. The work never stops.” 

The takeaway: A healthy business culture is worth the effort you put into maintaining it. Remember, the goal is to create an environment that attracts and retains quality talent, which in turns helps keep your business great.

Establish your values early on so you can cultivate the culture you want, but don't be afraid to adapt as your team grows. Learn more in “4 Overlooked Ways Your Business Changes When You Make Your First Hire.”

3. Make It Real

“It's not enough for companies to vie for top talent with the same desirable cultural traits,” says Karen Jaw-Madson (@KarenJaw), principal of Co.- Design of Work Experience. “An organization must make clear what makes them uniquely differentiated and special in both word and deed.”

In other words, make sure your company culture is genuine so that the values you articulate match the lived experience. When you can do that, Jaw-Madson says it can attract and retain the right talent – the kind that will thrive in your culture.

The takeaway: The competition for quality employees can be fierce, but the winners are the business owners who find skilled people who also fit their culture. Create a workplace that makes them say, “I want to be part of that.”

4. Lead by Example

Todd Averett, president of Leading People Partners, says, “Leaders, like it or not, play a huge role in forming culture.”

They’re the ones who are most involved in aligning policies, process, and procedures with the desired culture. Plus, if management only pays lip service to your stated values, employees won't take it seriously either.

The takeaway: While you want to give voice to your employees, Averett says you might also want to think carefully about who you hire for leadership roles. Ensure they’ve demonstrated the desired values and culture before adding them to your staff.  And while you’re at, strive for that consistency in your own behaviors.

5. Embrace Diversity

Sharing values doesn't necessarily mean you want everyone on your staff to look, think, and act the same.

In fact, Eunice Kim, director of culture and talent for Kaleidoscope (@Kaleidoscopers), suggests you keep diversity top of mind: “Different backgrounds, experiences, and career paths can be the pieces that keep your culture alive and relevant.” She recommends defining what cultural fit means for your team.

The takeaway: Cultural fit is very important, but it’s not the same as building a team that moves in lockstep. Different perspectives bring in fresh ideas, so consider hiring the candidate who can bring their unique experiences to the table.

Handling diversity in the hiring process can be tricky. Get tips to protect your business in “5 Interview Questions that Could Get You Sued.”

3 Shocking Insurance Claims Caused by Small Business Employees

13. May 2016 07:57

closeup of a black cat face

Small-business owners generally don’t put much stock in luck. They work too hard to think the roll of the dice somehow controls their destiny.

But sometimes fate has other ideas and works its mischief through your employees. In honor of Friday the 13th, we decided to dig up stories that demonstrate how employees and their bad luck can lead to jaw-dropping small business insurance claims.

The “Why-Don’t-You-Look-Where-You’re-Going?” General Liability Claim

Fortune may favor the bold, but it’s not always pleased with the pushy. That’s what Jesse Harrison, the founder and CEO of Zeus Legal Funding, discovered when his employee's hurry led to an insurance claim.

Apparently, his client and their child were on an elevator with the employee. Harrison says, “When the elevator door opened and everyone had to get off, the employee pushed a cart forward just as the three-year-old tried to get off, too.” The employee accidentally injured the child when he ran the cart into her.

Good luck charm: Because the triggering event involved a third party – a client, in this case  – Harrison’s General Liability Insurance paid the claim. These kinds of accidents happen all the time and without much warning, which is why most small businesses purchase General Liability Insurance first.

The “Look-Out-for-That-Hog!” Workers’ Compensation Claim

Some people have all the luck. Others have car collisions with 400-pound hogs.

That's what happened to a Mississippi casino employee while returning home from a work-related trip. According to LexisNexis’ “Top 10 Bizarre Workers’ Compensation Claims of 2015,” her injuries could be covered by the casino’s Workers’ Compensation Insurance. Though the employee didn’t immediately file a Workers’ Comp claim and the casino questioned just how business-related her trip was, she did end up getting compensation for her injuries.

Good luck charm: Even when safety measures are in place, an employee’s bad luck can become your headache. But Matt Wilson of Martin Law (@MartinLaw1979) says, “If you manage a claim carefully when you first get it, it’s far less likely to blow up into a problem later on.”

Wilson encourages employers to investigate Workers’ Comp claims thoroughly, but he also recommends demonstrating concern for the injured employee. In his experience, the workers who feel like no one cared about them are more likely to secure legal representation.

The “I-Don’t-Think-You-Can-Fire-Me” EPLI Claim

Sometimes the wheel of fortune spins and it’s your turn for bad luck. But sometimes your actions push you toward trouble you might have otherwise avoided.

Consider, for example, Business Management Daily's report on a sous chef at Great Wolf Lodge resort who used some of her Family Medical Leave Act leave after shoulder surgery. When she returned, she requested and received a light-duty position. Later, she took additional time for knee surgery, ran out of leave, and again asked for lighter work when she returned. This time her request was denied, and she was fired.

The sous chef’s next step? A lawsuit claiming discrimination, which she won.

Good luck charm: First, download a copy of this FMLA poster so you and your employees know their rights.

Next, realize that the employer in the case took a risk that the chef wouldn’t be classified as disabled after her surgery and lost. Hopefully, the employer had Employment Practices Liability Insurance (EPLI) because it’s the policy that can address employee lawsuits over:

  • Wrongful termination.
  • Discrimination.
  • Sexual harassment.
  • Mismanagement of employee benefits.

These aren’t the only areas where unlucky employees can end up costing your business. Learn more in “Hiring? Better Update Your Professional Liability Insurance.”

3 Employees Every Business Needs (And 2 to Avoid at All Costs)

12. May 2016 07:56

two grumpy employees

A good employee can be a game-changer, but a bad employee can be, too. Their lack of proficiency or effort can cost your business in lost opportunities and low company morale.

So let's take a look at both kinds of employees, starting with the good. We interviewed Amber Ushka (@AmberUshka), the vice president of human resources for the government sales leads company Onvia (@Onvia), for her take on the employees every business needs. Here are her recommendations.

1. The Mascot

First, get the picture of a giant-headed bulldogs and crazy chickens out of your mind. We’re not talking about your alma mater’s mascot – at least, not exactly. Mascots represent their institution; they’re the walking embodiment of everything it stands for. Your business needs plenty of those.

“Skills can be taught, but the cultural contributions someone will make through demonstration of our values is critical to success,” says Ushka. “The ideal employees are a full-on match to our values and our culture, period.”

The takeaway: Culture matters – a lot. Determine what your values are and create an interview to see if candidates are a match. Read “3 Blunders that Can Tank Your Small Business Culture” for ideas.

2. The Storyteller

The storyteller is the candidate who knows the journey of their career. According to Ushka, it’s the super stars who connect the dots between where they are and where they are going: “I like to hear about destinations – you know, the ‘Where do you want to be in five years’ question – but the journey is more interesting and tells me more how they plan to add to their 'story' when they land.”

The takeaway: Good employees understand their career and are constantly learning from it. They add to their story every day, leveraging their experiences and engaging proactively, says Ushka. For someone like that, their work becomes much more than a job.

3. The Questioner

Ushka also looks for candidates who are inquisitive. These employees constantly ask ‘what if,’ which means they’re also the agent of change for your business. She says, “Being curious keeps your mind hungry for knowledge and looking to make things better, faster, stronger.”

The takeaway: Look for candidates who ask questions during the interview. It’s usually a good sign that they prepared, but it might also indicate a person who will grow throughout their career.

Now let's switch gears. Watch out for the next two employees – these are the folks you want to avoid at all costs.

1. The Victim

Victims are some of the most difficult employees to manage. They shift the blame to others and rarely take responsibility for their actions. While that’s annoying to you and their coworkers, it also means they never take the opportunity to learn from their professional mistakes. Hiring someone like that could mean you see lots of Professional Liability Insurance claims.

2. The Goof-Off

The goof-off is there to coast and get a paycheck. They usually drag their feet until someone else comes along to do the heavy lifting for them. The impact on morale is clear, but the bigger risk is that they’ll ignore tasks.

Consider what can happen if this employee overlooks a spill and a customer slips. Suddenly, you’re facing a General Liability Insurance lawsuit. Or what if they’re slow to address a problem with a client? That can easily grow into a Professional Liability claim.

The takeaway: Avoid these types of employees by finding out about their experience with taking charge of a process or project.

Ushka suggests looking for candidates who can describe a time they took ownership of something, even if the outcome wasn’t ideal. “I like to hear candidates talk about their role in it, what they could’ve done differently, what they learned," she says. "They didn’t just sit back and let someone else drive it or worse – be a victim of it.”

The first step to a successful interview process is getting good candidates in front of you. Learn more in “How to Write a Killer Job Description in 4 Easy Steps.”

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