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Meal and Rest Breaks – What Small Business Employers Need to Know

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 23, 2013

Should you pay employees for rest and meal breaks? Are you even required to offer such breaks?

We all need rest and meals during work hours and the law stipulates standards for these breaks, including whether your employees should be paid for them. Here’s what you need to know:

Federal Wage and Hour Laws

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act of the U.S. Department of Labor, non-exempt employees can take short breaks (although it’s not mandatory). A short break is typically considered to be 20 minutes or less, and employees must be paid for these as hours worked. When it comes to meal breaks, anything more than 30 minutes does not generally need to be compensated as work time (although again, meal breaks aren’t required under federal law). But here’s the caveat – if your employee does any kind of work during that meal break, such as answering email or taking a business phone call, then you must pay them for that break.

Bathroom breaks, which are required under the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, are excluded from the definition of rest breaks.

To avoid any legal hassles, be sure you communicate your break policy to employees. For example, employers have been known to come under the spotlight for permitting certain workers to take frequent (paid) cigarette breaks, while other employees do not. If employees are taking unauthorized breaks, or unauthorized extensions of authorized breaks, you are not required to count the unauthorized time as hours worked (so long as the terms of what is authorized/unauthorized have been expressly communicated to employees).

State Wage and Hour Laws

Even though meal and rest breaks aren’t required under federal law, some states do impose mandatory breaks for employees in specific industries after a certain amount of hours worked. For example, in California, a meal break must be provided no later than the end of the employee’s fifth hour of work. So giving employees the option of skipping lunch to get out of work early is breaking the law.

Generally, state laws stipulate a 30-minute paid meal break. For laws in your state, check this consolidated breakdown of state meal break requirements and rest break laws from the Department of Labor. You can also refer to your individual state labor office.

Related Resources

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

Balancing Work and Personal Life with Your Business

By bridgetwpollack, Guest Blogger
Published: January 22, 2013

January is the month when we promise ourselves we will change for the better…we say we will eat better, work out more and spend more time with our loved ones. And by February, we find ourselves right back into our old habits.

If you’re really lucky, the holidays may have provided a mental and physical break and rejuvenated your fervor for your business. Hopefully, you were able to spend time with family and friends and were reminded about what you work so hard for, and proved that time away from your work can do your work good.

But as an owner who has dedicated all you have to your business, it can be difficult to know how to juggle work and play. In the 2012 U.S. Bank Small Business Annual Survey, small business owners reported that “more owners in 2012 said their business is their life and their life is their business–up from 34 percent in 2011 to 45 percent in 2012.”

As with many things, the most important step in achieving work-life balance is to simply be aware of it. Know what your work and personal goals are and regularly take stock of where they stand and what needs to change.

It’s helpful to think of your life as a business, too. Its profits may not be measured in any currency and its benchmarks may not be defined by tangible assets, but it too has goals to achieve and plans to help you get there. Just like a business, to sustain yourself and your personal life over a long period of time, it needs to be analyzed, planned and dedicated time. Only once this “business” is made sustainable and profitable can it properly bolster your actual business.

As an entrepreneur who has laser-focused vision on the ultimate bottom line, it can be easy to forget about managing the personal aspects of your life. Similarly, if you have employees, you may slip into the role of the boss who demands that same 150% dedication from their employees as well. While they are most likely passionate, dedicated and hard workers, they need their own work-life balance as well. Try to make sure they have adequate time during the year to take their own leave and address their own personal goals and needs. The Golden Rule certainly applies: Treat your employees how you wish your boss had treated you.

The question then becomes, “What is adequate time to provide to myself and my employees?” and “How do I let go of some of the business aspects to focus on my own life?” These questions can have varying answers depending upon your personality, needs and the business that you are in. This is where it is helpful to have a mentor—someone who understands your business, but is removed from the situation so that they can see different aspects from you, the owner, who is engrained in all of the components.

Take the beginning of this new year as an opportunity to make a plan for your small business, your personal life and how you will balance the two throughout the next 12 months. Work with a mentor from SCORE or the Small Business Development Centers to evaluate this plan. Don’t beat yourself up if you happen to show up late for dinner or miss that deadline in lieu of a soccer game. If you haven’t already learned this in your small business endeavors you certainly will:

“When you aim for perfection, you discover it's a moving target.” -George Fisher

About the Author:

bridgetwpollack
Bridget Weston Pollack

Guest Blogger

Bridget Weston Pollack is the Vice President of Marketing and Communications at the SCORE Association. She is responsible for all branding, marketing, PR, and communication efforts. She focuses on implementing marketing plans and strategies to facilitate the growth of SCORE’s mentoring and trainings services. She collaborates with SCORE volunteers and develops SCORE’s online marketing strategy.

How to Train Your Sales Reps to be Superior Subject Matter Experts

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 17, 2013 Updated: September 21, 2016

Do all your sales reps sing off the same hymn sheet? Are they all equally knowledgeable about your products and services?

If you’ve ever worked in retail sales, you’ll know how difficult it is to remember your training and apply it in critical moments. After all, products are constantly evolving and inventory is always shifting. This is why it’s critical that small business owners ensure their sales teams are well trained and knowledgeable. It can make the difference between winning and losing a sale.

Thanks to the Internet and the proliferation of online reviews from experts and consumers alike, the average customer is more informed than ever—and your sales reps should be one step ahead of them. Here are some tips for ensuring your sales teams are armed with the knowledge they need to support your sales goals.

Give training the time and depth it deserves

Training is worth the investment; the nicest sales rep in the world is useless without product knowledge. This means not just knowing your products, but your competitors too.

A single training session is rarely enough, as people learn through practice and from their mistakes. If you don’t have time to handle the training yourself, pair each new rep with a mentor. This should be someone on your team who’s already knowledgeable, and willing to spend several weeks training, shadowing and observing your trainee—before that person ever gets in front of a customer. In addition to teaching, be sure to test, quiz and role play to challenge your trainee’s know-how. And don’t just emphasize product knowledge; for example, if your products are complex or technical, role play situations where a rep’s knowledge may be insufficient and it’s time to bring in the business owner or someone from your technical team. No one expects a sales rep to know everything, but they do expect them to know where to find the right answers, rather than fudge their way through a sale.

Include competitor training

If your product line or similar products are sold by a competitor, be sure to train and test your trainee reps on these. Educate reps on the competing product lines, their strengths and their weaknesses. Have them do their own research and present comparisons of your products versus those available elsewhere. Help them identify differentiators and encourage them to role play a sales pitch that involves a competitive sell.

Monitor, check in and refresh

Knowledge retention and true learning is a fine art, especially in today’s information-driven world where data is quickly consumed and just as quickly forgotten. This is why it’s important to stay on top of your sales reps performance once they are out selling on behalf of your company. Ask your customers for feedback, use customer surveys to gauge satisfaction levels and listen in on sales pitches. Commit to holding regular training sessions with your entire sales team to ensure they are up to speed on new developments, new product lines and new marketing campaigns. (Sales and marketing should always be aligned.)

Encourage continuous learning and sharing

A good rep will always look for further learning opportunities, whether through external classes, industry publications, or trade shows. Encourage this behavior, budget permitting. A low-cost alternative would be to hold monthly “lunch ‘n’ learn” training sessions where you encourage a rep to make an informal 10-15 minute learning moment presentation. This could be about a new industry development that might impact your business; sharing best practices from an external training course (a train-the-trainer concept); or providing insights on a deal or transaction that went well (or otherwise).

For more tips read 8 Tips for Training your Small Business Employees on a Budget.

What training practices have worked for your sales teams? Leave a comment below!

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How to Craft a Social Media Policy for Your Small Business

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 16, 2013 Updated: September 12, 2016

If your business interacts with consumers via email or on the web, then it’s likely that you have an online privacy policy that governs how you collect, use and store consumer information. But do you have policies or guidelines that govern how your business uses social media to engage and interact with your followers?

Social media opens up new avenues for communication and engagement with consumers, but it also brings with it an element of risk. For example, perhaps your employees have access to social media at work, or are posting on behalf of your business. How can you be sure they aren’t releasing confidential company information, slamming the competition, or breaking copyright by posting images or user-generated content without permission?

Blogging also falls under the social media umbrella and is one of the Internet’s biggest sources of copyright abuse. Blogging is also subject to certain product endorsement laws that you should be aware of.

Crafting a social media policy or code of conduct can help protect your business and your employees.  Here are some considerations you should bear in mind, plus some policies developed by other businesses that can help you craft yours.

Start With Your Employees

Do you allow employees to access social media in the workplace? The choice is yours, although the law does provide some guidance on just what you can restrict employees from doing. For example, last year the National Labor Relations Board ruled against employers who fired workers for complaining on social media sites about their workplace conditions during non-work hours, stating that these cases “…interfere with the rights of employees under the National Labor Relations Act, such as the right to discuss wages and working conditions with co-workers.”

It’s hard to avoid employees gaining access to social media in the workplace; smart phones or tablets provide anywhere access. However, it’s a good practice to develop a clear policy about which instances warrant access to social media during work hours and for work purposes, and if you intend to discipline employees who abuse your code of conduct.

If you choose to permit access to social media, be sure your social media policy guidelines outline your expectations with regard to sharing company confidential or proprietary information such as photos, videos, or documents.

Laws are changing constantly, so it’s a good idea to work with lawyer to ensure you are complying with federal, state and local laws as they pertain to social media and employment law.

If You’re Not Sharing Your Own Content – Be Warned

Social channels (including blogs, social networking sites, and image sharing sites), are a potential minefield for intellectual property abuse. So it’s critical that your policy clearly details what can and can’t be shared online by employees who post on the company’s behalf. For example, if a Facebook moderator wants to use a wholesaler’s image of a product to help promote your newest line, be sure to get written permission from the wholesaler first, unless permission was previously granted.

Endorsements Must Be Disclosed

Many companies reach out to other bloggers or social media page owners to solicit reviews, mentions or endorsements. If you offer cash, freebies or any other form of compensation for this favor, then the Federal Trade Commission requires that the “endorser” clearly state in their post that the review or mention was in exchange for a fee or other compensation. 

Likewise, if you ask employees to promote your product or service on their social networks or blog, they must disclose their affiliation with your business.

What Should Your Social Media Policy Look Like?

Your social media policy doesn’t need to look like a legal document; it should simply outline how your business and its employees will represent itself in a virtual social world.

Such policies often include rules on when and how employees will be using social media, plus tips for adopting a social media voice and reminders to respect customer service policies and intellectual property. Some also set forth expectations for courteous and respectful engagement from social media followers themselves (a good defense should you ever need to remove offensive posts).

Many businesses have implemented social media policies and guidelines targeted at employees only. While these don’t have to be published in the public domain, if your policy addresses points of consumer concern, then you should consider posting it on your website and social networks.

Here are a few useful examples that you can refer to as you craft your company’s social media policy:

  • Walmart – Breaks down engagement guidelines by social media network, such as Twitter and Facebook, while separately addressing corporate concerns such as intellectual property or employee disgruntlement.
  • Best Buy – Offers clear do’s and don’ts for company employees engaged in social media
  • Environmental Protection Agency – A good example of more formal employee-centric social media guidelines

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About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

How to File and Provide W-2s, W-3s, & 1099 Forms – Plus Important Updates for the 2013 Reporting Season

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: January 14, 2013 Updated: January 14, 2013

It’s that time of year again—W-2, W-3 and 1099 reporting season.

The Affordable Care Act has changed things a little this year in terms of the information you must provide your employees on their W2s. Read on for an update and a refresher of other reporting obligations and how to file the right forms.

Reporting Employee Wages and Taxes – What’s New on Form W-2

If you paid an employee any amount in wages in 2012, you must issue an annual W-2 form to report the wages, income tax, and FICA tax withholding, along with certain other employment-related payments. You should provide this information to both your employees and the Social Security Administration (SSA).

*New for the 2012 Tax Year* – As a result of the Affordable Care Act, businesses that provide health insurance to their employees are required to report the cost of coverage on employee W-2s. However, in order to allow businesses to update their payroll systems to support this requirement, most small employers are exempt from this requirement for the year 2012.  The criteria are as follows:

  • If you filed fewer than 250 W-2 forms in 2011, you are not required to report the cost of coverage on 2012 forms (filed with the SSA in early 2013). You do have the option of doing so, if you wish.
  • If you filed more than 250 W-2s, you will be required to comply with the new reporting requirements starting with the 2012 Form W-2.

If you are required or choose to report, the amount you report should include both the employee and employer contribution to the healthcare premium so your employees have a view of the true cost of this benefit. 

Read more on this topic from the IRS: Employer-Provided Health Coverage Informational Reporting Requirements: Questions and Answers.

How to File Form W-2 and W-3 With the Social Security Administration

As an employer, you must file Form W-2 and W-3 with the SSA by February 28, 2013. If you file electronically, the deadline is April 1, 2013. Here’s how to file:

  1. Electronic Filing – If you have less than 20 employees, you can file your W-2s online and print copies for employees. You’ll also need to file Form W-3 form at the same time showing total earnings and taxes withheld for all your employees. To avoid errors, you can verify names and SSNs online to ensure your records align with SSAs.
  2. Paper Filing – Follow these instructions for filing a paper W-2.

Provide Your Employees with W-2 Forms

In addition to filing Form W-2 and W-3 with the SSA, you’ll need to give your employees a copy of their W-2s with a postmarked data of January 31 or earlier. If you filed your W-2s online, these employee forms can be printed out automatically or you can download paper versions from IRS.gov.

Ask your employees to check that all the information on the form is correct. Any errors can be corrected using Form W-2c and Form W-3c.

For forms and updates about W-2 filing requirements, check out this W-2 Wage and Tax Statement Guide on IRS.gov.

Report Payments Made to Independent Contractors on Form 1099

If you used the services of an independent contractor in 2012 (i.e. non-employees), you’ll need to report compensation of $600 or more to the IRS on form 1099-MISC (downloadable here) and provide a copy to independent contractors by January 31, 2013.

Got Questions?

Always consult a knowledgeable tax advisor in matters of business taxation, as errors and mistakes can result in costly penalties.

 

 

About the Author:

Caron_Beesley
Caron Beesley

Contributor

Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley

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