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Small-business owners need policies to protect themselves and their companies

By Virginia Bridges
vbridges@newsobserver.com
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Many small-business owners start their own company to escape the policies, procedures and paperwork associated with large corporations.

“But there is a critical purpose to some of those trappings of corporate America,” said John Szymankiewicz, a licensed engineer and attorney in Raleigh. Szymankiewicz’s practice focuses on small-business issues such as corporate formation, contracts and employee issues.

Here are his edited comments on creating company policies:

If an owner or employee discriminates against or sexually harasses another employee, the owner and company could be sued by the employee, and the business also could be subject to action taken by the government for violating that person’s civil rights.

Documented policies, procedures and training show that the company does not condone the behavior and should not be held responsible.

Company policies should outline specific acceptable and unacceptable behavior and consequences such as termination. Employees should be trained on the policies and the training should be documented and kept in employees’ files.

At a minimum, businesses should have a policy against discrimination that includes race, gender and national origin, as well as sexual harassment, workplace violence, substance abuse and theft.

Employees should also sign and date that they have received a copy of the policies.

This will show that conduct was prohibited by the company and that the responsibility should be placed on the individual employee and not the business.

However, business owners need to be sure they are enforcing the polices and that employees are following them. When issues arise, owners should immediately address the problem and document the violation and consequences.

Owners should also let employees know when policies change or are updated, and employees need to be trained on changes.

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges
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