Many HVAC distributors are not able to have their own in-house human resources department. Because of this, mistakes can be made that might cost the business thousands of dollars or more. Enter human resources consultant Nancye Combs. What does she have to say that might save your business one day?

Many HVAC distributors are not able to have their own in-house human resources department. Because of this, mistakes can be made that might cost the business thousands of dollars or more. Enter human resources consultant Nancye Combs who presented "A Dozen Things You Should Be Doing in HR that Saves Millions" to the Heating, Air-conditioning & Refrigeration Distributors International (HARDI) Central and Great Lakes Regional meeting in Lake Geneva, Wis., last summer.

"My goal is to take a complicated subject and try to make sense out of it," Combs, who will also be at the Solution Center during the HARDI Convention in Orlando, said. "These are pocketbook issues. You need to know the items people can sue you for and how to avoid that."

The most important, and perhaps simplest, advice Combs shared with the distributors is to make sure every company has an employee handbook. It does not matter if the business employs 300 or three people, every business must have an employee handbook.

"Make sure it fits your local, state, and federal government regulations because they will nail you if you don't," said Combs. "If your handbook is out of date, they will hold you to it. There is nothing easier to scrutinize than the printed word."

According to Combs, the reason the employee handbook is so important is because it can help distributors avoid charges of discrimination. When an owner is in a courtroom defending against a discrimination charge, they need to prove that they have been consistent and the handbook has the policies that prove consistency. If people do not have a handbook, the court will go to past practices by the company and can hold the distributor accountable if they have not treated every situation exactly the same.

In addition to an employee handbook, the human resources consultant made it clear that every company needs to have prospective employees fill out an application form. This could save the company some money in the long run.

"An employment application is a legal document," Combs said. "I have never seen a court hold any company accountable for making a termination based on lying on an application. This is true even if it is 20 years later."

It is important not to just accept the resume. Since a resume is not signed, it is not a legal document. A recent national study said 25 percent of people lie on their resume about their education level. When applicants bring a distributor a resume, the company should have them fill out the application form and then staple the resume to the form.

"We put a bunch of good stuff on that application form. We say that all facts are true and the company has the right to fire you if they are not. It says you submit to a background check. It says if you leave the company and take anything with you like a computer or a phone, that the company can take that out of the final paycheck," Combs said. "A company can't do any of those things without the person signing it. In regards to getting equipment back, they would need to do it voluntarily or you would need to take them to small claims court."



Another topic that has distributors' attention is crafting a social networking policy. In today's world, many employees are active on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites. The question becomes, "What can employees put online or what can they say on Facebook?"

Combs said a recent study identified that 40 percent of companies have a social media policy in place. Companies do this because employees are getting online and trashing employers, customers, and co-workers.

"The employer is responsible for everything their employees put on the web. What are you going to do to protect yourself?" Combs asked. "Your employees can go on social media. The most important thing to look for is; are they speaking on behalf of the company? They are not authorized to do that. They can, obviously, speak for themselves."

Employees can say comments like: "I work for ABC Company and I think they don't pay me enough. I don't like our benefits." They can't say comments like: "They do not pay us enough money and our benefits are terrible."

"Now they are speaking on behalf of all the employees and they are not authorized to do that. They also can't use your logo in any disparaging or commercial way. Employees have the freedom to grieve about their job, and you can't put a chilling effect on them. But they can't speak for the company or the employees of the company," Combs said.

Combs is HARDI's HR & Organizational Management consultant. She has 25 years of consulting experience with hundreds of companies worldwide. She has been an expert witness in federal court on employment practices and a university instructor for HR professionals and entrepreneurs. Combs will be available to answer human resources questions during HARDI's annual convention.

Combs told the audience that with so many unemployment claims during the recession, nearly every state is scrambling. She pointed out the five ways people leave a job.

1. Discharge: The employee is gone and it was not their idea. The business is 100 percent responsible for the unemployment costs.

2. Laid Off: Employee is available but there is no job. In this case, you are not responsible for their unemployment, just a percentage of it. If an owner uses the words "I let them go," that is always interpreted as a discharge.

3. Voluntary Quit: the person leaves and the job is still there. They left on their own accord. Combs recommends you never fire a person who quits. If an employee leaves for three days and they have not called in, you say: voluntary quit job abandonment. If you terminate them because of the no call/no show, you owe them 26 weeks unemployment because the burden of proof switches to the company. If you say job abandonment, the employee must prove they did not quit and the company's handbook says three days of no call/no show is job abandonment.

4. Retire.

5. Die.