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How Small Businesses Can Plan for HR Compliance in 2021

February 9, 2021

By Corinne Saliba, MBA, SPHR, originally featured in SBAM’s FOCUS Magazine.

As much as we are feeling burnt out by 2020, the reality is that the events of this past year have changed and will continue to shift HR priorities for 2021. COVID-19 has had an immeasurable impact on HR and small businesses and will shift how business owners and leaders will need to manage HR to remain compliant.

According to a COVID-19 Research Report conducted by the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) last July, more than a third of employers are facing challenges with maintaining company culture, managing employees who are unable to telework, shifting communications to meet remote needs and finding time to implement and stay compliant with government leave requirements.

Over three in ten organizations (31 percent) are having trouble managing the increased number of leave requests caused by the coronavirus. Also, small businesses tend to manage HR in-house and often without the guidance of a professional HR practitioner. SHRM estimates “70 percent of businesses with five to 49 employees add HR onto the workload of employees with little to no experience in workforce issues.”

We usually find that business owners and entrepreneurs are reluctant to outsource human resources to save money, but the reality is that 2020 was unprecedented in the world of employment regulation because of the virus and the FFCRA (Family First Coronavirus Response Act). Even as a seasoned HR professional, it was a lot of information all at once and at times difficult to keep up with, so I can imagine a lot of my clients were left scratching their heads.

When discussing HR with my clients, I often use the graphic on the right to visualize the components of HR. The components include four categories; Compliance, Recruiting & Hiring, Workplace Regulations, and Safety and Managing Employees.

Within each category, here are things to look out for in 2021:


The FFCRA was signed into law in April of 2020. Because of this, every small business under 500 employees must have the mandatory FFCRA poster in a communal area for the visibility of all employees. Remote employees must also receive a version of the posting.

The poster summarizes employee rights under the FFCRA including the types of leaves of absence an employer must grant for various reasons related to coronavirus. This posting technically expired December 31, 2020, so employers must be on the lookout for expanded regulations this year.

Recruiting and Hiring

With a large majority of employees still working from home due to business closures, virtual hiring and onboarding will continue to make appearances in 2021. A lack of face-to-face interaction will require employers to leverage technology and social media to onboard and recruit new hires and candidates.

Some candidates will even expect it, so be ready to talk about the precautions you’re taking as an employer with new hires and candidates alike. Relying on cloud-based technologies such as electronic filing is also recommended.

Managing Employees

Burnout was mentioned previously. It is imperative that employers are aware of this kind of stress, and recognize, reward and assist employees however possible to inspire retention and productivity. Mental health and engagement challenges will likely carry over as obstacles in 2021. Plan for it now by brainstorming ways to stay agile with scheduling and work arrangements (especially child care), and consider needs for communication and training. Remote staff should be considered as well.

Workplace Regulations and Safety

2020 introduced conversations surrounding social justice and ethical challenges that obligated employers to respond. As employers head into 2021, it is highly encouraged that they have diversity and inclusion conversations to expand thought processes, innovate and respond to market changes. At the very least, employers should be addressing key policies in their employee handbook.

Another consideration will be staying updated with other regulatory changes, such as corresponding state wage and hour laws. These will not be on hold during the pandemic. Be aware of any changes and requirements made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and your local government. Note that a lot of federal employment law is dictated based on employee count. 2020 was all about transformation and working with little notice and fluid information. I don’t suspect a less chaotic 2021, but that means that growth is on the horizon too. Day-to-day tasks and priorities have been and will continue to be refocused

Corinne Saliba is a senior certified HR practitioner (SPHR) and a two-time graduate of Baldwin Wallace University, where she earned her MBA in December 2018. Since joining Ahola, Corinne has coached and advised several small business clients in multiple states regarding their HR initiatives and compliance concerns.
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