Your business may be “like” a family, but….

As a human resources consultant to many small and medium-sized businesses, I often hear company leadership state that “we’re all family here.” Often times, this response is given during discussions about whether the company should implement even the very basic and core HR practices that protect the business. Frankly, I just about wince every time I hear it.

You see, I know what it is like to be part of a true family business. My parents owned a small butcher shop and grocery store for most of my childhood. The store employed five people — me, my 3 brothers and my sister. I dare say that not every employment regulation was followed at that little shop but that store was also our only source of income. As their children, we weren’t about to file a complaint of unfair labor practices or unpaid wages. We all pitched in to do what was necessary for the family — which had its own challenges. That’s a true family business. Can you say the same thing about all of your employees in your business?

In some ways, your business may operate “like” a family. When people work closely in a small business, everyone naturally gets to know each other and close bonds are formed — even with the owner or president. If the company leadership does not take even basic steps to protect the business, then there may come a rude awakening at some point.

Take a look below at some of the ways in which our family-business operated. Granted, most of the bullet points below are probably very different from some of the issues faced in your own business. If an employee in your business were subject to something similar, though, can you be certain they would just look the other way and not decide to take some action? Consider the following:

· In 1980, the minimum wage was $3.10. My dad started us off at $0.50 per hour! (Trust me, he didn’t “miss” that labor law!) I did get regular raises, though and made it to $4.00 per hour by the time I was 18.

· My brother and I were 10 and 11 years old, respectively, when we started working in the store stocking shelves and running the cash register (standing on a milk crate so we could see the register keys!). In this case, my dad probably didn’t know about the New York State labor law requiring that your child be 12 years old before working in the family business.

· All of us were using the meat slicer, the grinders and knives to fill orders, chop and grind hamburger and make sausage well before the required 18 years of age — more like 14. (By the way, the old saying is true that the two things you don’t want to see being made are legislation and sausage!)

· We were also responsible for cleaning the equipment at the end of the day including a very large and very scary bandsaw (just like in wood shop at school) that was used for pork chops and t-bone steaks.

· Dad called us in at all sorts of odd times during the day (particularly in summer) to fill coolers and stock shelves. There was no such thing as “call-in” pay for us.

· We kids squabbled over who was putting in more hours, working harder, or showing up late for shifts (let’s face it, we all showed up 10 minutes late every time). There were even a few wrestling matches between angry brothers during store hours. What was he going to do, fire us?

I am sure that many businesses strive for — and achieve — a work environment where employees are committed and pitch in to do whatever is needed for the business to succeed. Are you sure, though, that each employee will ignore improper employment practices or not take action on perceived unfair treatment? Before you find the business on the wrong end of an employee complaint with some government agency, step back and put the appropriate policies, procedures and practices in place to make it run as it is supposed to — like a business and not a family.