Part Two: HR Basics for Small Businesses

HR Basics for Small Businesses

Regardless of the size of your company, laying a good foundation with HR basics is necessary for the success of your business. In last week’s post on HR basics for small businesses, I looked at employee handbooks, meal break policies and employee file management. In this week’s post, we will look at the importance of good documentation, how to interview and hire candidates and what onboarding means for small businesses.

Good Documentation

As I mentioned in a previous post, good documentation can help protect your company from costly lawsuits and help you to make the best decisions about your employees. Documentation includes investigation notes, coaching logs, warnings and any other notes or written material about an employee’s performance or workplace issues.

Your documentation should stick to the facts and include the resolution or expectations for the employee. If it is a warning, make sure your employee signs it. If they refuse, make a note that they did so and sign your name. Store documentation in a secure place, and remember that investigation notes should be kept separate from employee files.

I honed my note-taking skills when I worked on the student newspaper in college. I developed my own system of abbreviations and symbols to help capture as much information as I could. This skill came in handy when I started working in HR and had to document investigations, disciplinary action and other conversations with employees.

Develop your own system for jotting down simple notes, but remember to spend some time typing up your notes in an easily readable format, so someone is not left trying to decipher abbreviations and messy writing years later. I like to block off an hour or two per week to catch up on my documentation. This ensures that I stay on top of it and that my pile of notes does not get too big.

Interviewing & Hiring

Even if you are only hiring a few people per year, it is still a good idea to have an interviewing and hiring process in place. This includes drafting a job description for your opening, posting the opening on appropriate websites, screening applications and resumes, conducting interviews, checking references and making an offer.

Prior to conducting interviews, write out a list of the questions that you want to ask. Your questions should be about the candidate’s work experience and skills. Avoid questions that could allude to a protected class (e.g. race, religion, ethnicity or age). The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website offers information on what is considered a protected class and how to avoid discriminatory practices. Also check your state website for additional protected classes in your state.

Create questions that require a detailed response from the candidate. Don’t ask, “Are you good at customer service?” Instead, ask the candidate to tell you about a time they had a difficult customer. How were they able to resolve the situation? You can also give the candidate a workplace scenario and ask what they would do.


Onboarding is the process of hiring and training a new employee. I like to think of of it starting with the job offer and going through the end of the employee’s introductory period.

Even a small business should have an onboarding process. This includes a standard template for an offer letter, a new hire packet that contains all required paperwork (e.g. W-4, I-9, emergency contact form, required pamphlets and other employment paperwork), new employee orientation and a training plan.

At a small business, new employee orientation can simply be a supervisor sitting down with the new hire to go over company policies and expectations. If you are hiring a few people per month, consider doing a monthly orientation.

Even small businesses should develop a training process. Who will train the new hire? What criteria will be used to evaluate their performance and determine if they are a good fit for the organization? Develop a training checklist to ensure the trainer is teaching the employee all the skills they need to succeed in their job.

It may seem like overkill to establish these processes for a small business, but laying a good foundation built on HR basics will help you if your business grows and will also ensure that you are treating employees fairly.

Posted in

Stephanie Hammerwold

Stephanie Hammerwold, is the founder and director of Pacific Reentry Career Services, a Southern California nonprofit that helps formerly incarcerated women find and maintain employment. She also blogs on a variety of HR topics as the HR Hammer. When not volunteering for her nonprofit, Stephanie has a day job in HR at a tech startup in Irvine, CA.


Pin It on Pinterest