Sunday, April 21, 2013

HR in the Spotlight: Why Even the Smallest Arts Organizations Should Have a Strong HR Infrastructure (Part I)

I recently had a great conversation over LinkedIn with a group of arts managers who shared some of their HR struggles. Most of these organizations have less than 10-20 full time employees and understandably no one was an HR expert.

So, with that in mind, I wrote this two-part series on key HR policies for arts organizations!  This is inline with my overall series, 24 Frames, but its a summary of some of the most important areas organizations should focus.  As always, please feel free to comment/discuss below, I would love to hear your reactions and insights.  You can also reach out to me directly at if you would like some advice on anything specific in your organization.  As I have mentioned before, helping arts managers with their HR questions is my way of connecting to my arts roots!

Part One - Document, Document, Document

               Anyone who has ever worked with an arts organization knows that everyone has to do a little bit of everything to get the job done.  There are only a very few that are at the size where they can invest in having a full time HR professional on staff.  But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn't have an HR infrastructure in place. Documentation, key policies and clear processes can keep your arts organization from ever going dark over a preventable people issue.
                Document, Document, Document.  The best defense against any claim is documentation.  Therefore it is important to capture, in writing, any performance feedback, employee complaint or disciplinary actions.  The last thing you want is to be confronted with a disagreement, know that you talked to the person about that issue (and maybe even came to an understanding or agreement) but not have any evidence to back-up your side of the story. The document should have the date of the conversation, who was involved, the main talking points/topics covered and the outcome/next steps.  You want to make sure you keep a copy of this document in the employee's file, and give a copy to the employee.
                You also want to put together at least a basic job description for every role in your organization, including the volunteers. As you will see below, you can leave yourself room to have flexibility within the responsibilities.  This way you set your basic expectations of the role up front.  And if there are ever gaps in performance,disagreement on pay or schedule, you have it documented.  Every role should have at least the following information captured in a document:
          ·        Title
          ·        Department and Manager (title, not name)
          ·        FLSA Classification (or note that they are a volunteer)
          ·        Work hours
          ·        Pay range (again note if they are a volunteer)
          ·        Brief description of responsibilities
          ·        Any required/essential skills or experience

             You may be thinking, “We are a five person organization.  We all do anything or everything.” And that’s completely understandable and is probably the case for many readers, it’s how you stay afloat! However, try to capture some of the basic responsibilities you know they have to be able to complete.  For example, for your marketing guru, you could list: manage ticket reservations, design and print marketing materials,write and distribute press releases, update organization’s website, and other ad hoc projects and duties as needed.  This simple description hits on two key components.  One, it sets the performance expectations of the role; no matter what else is going on, you need Jane to do these four items.  If she doesn’t, or she does it poorly, you have reason to discuss her performance gaps and act accordingly.  Two, by adding the infamous clause at the end “and other ad hoc projects and duties as needed” you have allowed yourself flexibility to ask Jane to stop by the bank to make a deposit, order food for a opening night party, etc.  And when you interview someone for this role, you can let them know that these are the key pieces of the role but you will be leaning on them for other support.  Just make sure you update the document if anything about the role significantly changes!

                Because the Law Says So!  Just because you are not a large corporation, doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider how you can mitigate risk with your employees and volunteers.  Non-profit organizations are just as vulnerable to lawsuits and claims with the EEOC, and often one claim can close your doors.  Your goal should be to arm yourself with the best HR infrastructure you can have, no matter your size.  And the foundation is strong documentation. 
                There are a few key policies that any business, no matter the size or the focus, should have, including: Harassment & Discrimination Prevention Policy, Expense Reimbursement, Pay Practices, and Time-Off & Leave.  The key to a good policy is that it is detailed enough to protect you and your employees and give people a foundation to base a decision.  But it shouldn’t be too strict that it paints you in a corner and there isn’t flexibility for an individual circumstance you are willing to consider.  For example, a good phrase to include is“deviations from this policy must be approved by X role” or “exceptions are up to manager’s discretion”.  But then you need to make sure those roles/managers are trained on how to consider exceptions (or have someone they can turn to for coaching).
                There are some key labor laws that apply to any incorporated business.  As mentioned above, you must classify employees and then pay them correctly under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).  You need to determine if a job is exempt or non-exempt and then pay overtime if they are non-exempt. When thinking about classification, the most important thing to consider is the scope of independent decision making and the level of impact on the business. 
To qualify for exemption, employees must meet three tests for each exemption:
          •       An exempt employee must earn a minimum amount. 
          •       The minimum amount must be paid on a salary basis. 
          •       Exempt employees must perform certain duties that meet federal criteria as a bonafide: Executive,   Administrative,Professional, Outside Sales worker.
          •       Certain computer employees may be exempt professionals based on similar regulations.

Non-exempt employees are eligible for overtime pay at 1.5 their regular rate if they:
         •      Work more than 40 hours in any week
         •       In CA, if you work more than 8 hours a day OR 40 hours in a week

               If you have 50 or more employees, you must abide by the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which states employees who have worked for one year (or 1250 hours) must be granted up to 12 weeks unpaid leave each year to tend to a medical issue relating to themselves or a family member. This leave can be taken intermittently or all at once.   And a company cannot make any employment decisions based on the fact someone were out on a leave. 
               And finally, you must make sure you are following any federal anti-discrimination laws.  Some key laws are Title VII, ADA, ADEA, EPA.  Let’s start with the cornerstone employment act: Title VII, also known as the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This law prohibits discrimination based on Race, Color, Sex, National Origin, and Religion.  You cannot make any employment decisions based on these five characteristics.  It was amended in 1991 to include language around compensatory and punitive damages.  Additionally, the 1991amendment added the potential liability to a company regarding disparate impact.  Disparate impact is when a company has a policy in place that is indirectly discriminatory. 
               The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (or ADEA) prohibits discrimination against anyone over the age of 40. You cannot make any employment decisions purely because of age.  Some of these laws seem black and white, but you must think about decisions that could be SEEN as discrimination.  For example, if you ask someone when they graduated from college, you are indirectly asking their age.  You may be trying to ask more about their education, but by adding the year, you are learning their age.  So consider all ways the decision could be interpreted to be influenced by one of these protected characteristics.
                The American’s with Disability Act (or ADA) prohibits discrimination against anyone with a noted or perceived disability.   What is a perceived disability?  If you notice someone struggling in their role and you assume they have a learning disability and that must be why they are struggling, you have put a perceived disability on them.  You cannot make any employment decisions about that person because you THINK they have a learning disability.  However, if someone does come forward and disclose that they have a disability, a company is required to consider a reasonable accommodation that will allow the employee to successfully complete their job without putting undue hardship on the company.
                The Equal Pay Act of 1963 states that employers cannot make pay decisions based on gender.  If two people are in the same job, gender cannot be a factor in any pay differential.  If a person is performing better or if they have more experience and they happen to be different genders, of course they can be paid more, but that decision cannot be made based on if they are a man or a woman.
                When in doubt, check with the Department of Labor (  There is a lot of helpful information posted on their site.  Additionally, check with your state and local labor offices.  You must always follow the law that is most favorable to the employee, whether that is local, federal or state.

Ok, so that was the dry stuff!  But it's so important to pay attention to documentation and the laws, it can literally keep your organization alive.  Stay tuned for Part II: Showing Employees Some Love

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