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Ask the HR Pro — Q: How do I conquer key HR challenges as a small business?

By Ashley Cuttino

September 12, 2023

A: As a small business, the human resources (HR) function may take a back seat to the day-to-day operations, handling financial matters and marketing the business. However, the foundation of a small business is the workforce. The workforce is a reflection of the business to the community at large and the customer base. Managing the workforce in a small business is no easy feat and can be a landmine of HR challenges which affect hiring, training and disciplining, and employees. In this article we will discuss these four key HR areas and how small businesses can equip themselves to navigate these challenges.

Initially, all businesses should stay current on updates to federal, state and local laws. As a small business, here are a few ways to do this:

  • Subscribe to newsletters from regulatory agencies like the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and Department of Labor (DOL).
  • Attend seminars, conferences and/or online training sessions.
  • Consult with local HR advisors and legal counsel.
  • Utilize the HR services offered by the American Rental Association (ARA). Did you know that the ARA provides free legal services and information in the HR arena?

By staying abreast of the ever-evolving world of HR compliance legislation, the organization is in a better position to respond and implement the necessary changes in workplace practices or procedures, as opposed to reacting to disgruntled employees or even costly litigation.

Hiring. Having a sound hiring plan will go a long way in hiring a strong candidate. Before advertising for an open position, the organization should carefully consider what criteria will be used to evaluate candidates, including educational background, prior skills and experiences. Tailoring the job post to fit the needs of the business will help to streamline the recruiting process to hopefully attract a match for the organization and the candidate. When considering how a job posting should be advertised, think outside the box. To attract diverse candidates, post the announcement in a variety of places including social media, colleges and universities, and community organizations. Once the organization has developed the job posting, develop a plan for screening candidates that will be applied consistently to all candidates. A consistent process will help prevent allegations of discrimination. After hiring the right candidate, small organizations should prioritize employee satisfaction to retain good people.

Training. Closely related to employee satisfaction is equipping employees with the appropriate skills and knowledge to excel in their roles. The orientation and onboarding process should acclimate the new hire to the organization to set the foundation for the employment relationship. Small organizations may not have the resources to invest in comprehensive training modules, however, hands-on training such as instruction-based training, job shadowing and cross training are relatively inexpensive ways to invest in new hires. These hands-on training opportunities can be the building blocks of a lasting employment relationship by providing employees with the support they need to learn and grow in their roles within the organization. In turn, the organization benefits by a lower rate of turnover.

Disciplining. Inevitably, conflicts will arise in the workplace. Internal conflict amongst employees can take root and create a toxic environment. How an organization responds to conflict sets the tone for the duration of the employment relationship. If an employee makes allegations of wrongdoing, or you become aware of employee wrongdoing, the organization should promptly respond to these matters. The organization should not ignore or minimize the allegations. Make it clear to all affected employees that the organization takes the matter seriously and will work to find a resolution. If allegations of wrongdoing are substantiated, take immediate action to administer the appropriate level of discipline. This is another area where consistency is key. Having a current handbook with specified disciplinary procedures and training management on how to administer those practices and procedures can thwart claims that employees were treated differently. A best practice for a disciplinary procedure is to include a provision which reflects that the policy does not envision every situation in the workplace and the organization reserves the right to respond to wrongdoing according to the nature of the actions.

Small businesses are not insulated from HR challenges. In fact, for small organizations these HR challenges can be particularly burdensome given the limited resources and competing priorities. Nevertheless, advance planning and forward thinking can help best position the organization to deal with these HR challenges.

— Ashley Cuttino, Ogletree Deakins, co-chair COVID-19 Litigation Practice Group

This column is provided by Ogletree Deakins, Atlanta, as part of a partnership with the American Rental Association (ARA) for ARA’s Human Resources Assistance Program. ARA members can receive a single sign on from the ARA webpage to a microsite specific to ARA on the Ogletree Deakins platform; get access to two 30-minute calls with an HR professional per year; access to an FAQ section as well as to Ogletree Deakins’ library of webinars; and access to Ogletree Deakins’ ARA-specific webinars. To learn more, visit