Expert Advice

By Hannah Wallace April 30, 2005

Q. I'm a small business owner and I employ a part-time filing clerk and a longtime administrative assistant who also does customer service. Do I need to pay them overtime?

Sarasota business attorney and certified financial planner Chris Caswell answers: If your employee fits within the standard definitions of the recently changed overtime regulations, then there may be some guidance. If not (in many small businesses, employees wear many hats), there may not be a "safe harbor," and you will have to treat employees as if they are non-exempt, i.e. they are entitled to overtime pay.

The overtime requirements do not distinguish between full- and part-time, only on the number of hours worked in the work week. Any time spent in excess of 40 hours requires payment of time and a half. The part-time worker would not do that, so no overtime would be due.

There is an exemption for an administrative assistant-type of position, but it is full of special terms. As a starting point, they are possibly exempt if the employee is paid at least $455 per week, the primary duties are office work directly related to the management or general operations of the employer or customers, and include the exercise of significant discretion and independent judgment.

If not clearly within those criteria (even in some small way such as no discretion in customer service duties), then they may have to be treated as non-exempt. You should always get the opinion of your company attorney for your specific situation.

Chris Caswell can be reached at [email protected] or (941) 366-7727. This is not legal advice and should not be relied on without consultation with an attorney regarding your particular facts.

Q. As a manager, I'm besieged by employees who need constant input. How do I get my employees to become more self-reliant?

Executive and business coach Jim Bos suggests you consider the following: The real question here is why do your employees keep coming back to you for answers? As a manager, do you feel that everything needs to go through you or that you are the only one with the answers? Examine your own motives and you may find out what you are doing to precipitate this ongoing behavior. You can develop your employees to think more on their own if that is really what you want.

Of course there are times when it is just more expedient for you to give the answer as there is no other source or it is the most effective way for the information to be communicated. Even under these circumstances, it is always important to solicit feedback from the employee as to what they heard. This way, as a manager you can confirm that they truly did understand, or if they didn't, you can add clarification. This also allows the employee to give you feedback and to be sure that they are proceeding appropriately. Remember even if they do not get the feedback right, this just sets up a further opportunity for learning-not for making them question their own abilities.

Jim Bos can be reached at (941) 922-1777 or at [email protected]

Q. I'd like to give my employees some tips for writing e-mails to clients, co-workers and potential customers. Can you help?

Joanne Lain, founder and owner of JoLain Virtual Assistant Services in Bradenton, writes back: E-mail correspondence says a lot about your employees and your business, so some simple guidelines should be followed.

To avoid accidentally sending an e-mail message before it is completed or a document has been attached, do not fill in the recipient's address until the message has been finished and proofread.

The subject line should be brief and concise so the topic can be conveyed at a glance.

The body of the message should be professional, courteous and to the point. Avoid abbreviations, and do not use all uppercase letters either in the body of the message or in the subject line. It's harder to read and could be interpreted as shouting. Follow the basic rules of grammar and always spell-check.

Attachments often carry viruses. Do not send attachments unless you know the recipient wants them and can accept them. Use a zip program to compress large document attachments.

Always include the original message or a portion of the original message in replies.

If you use a spam filter, make sure the recipient has been added to your approved senders list before hitting the "send" button. It could be costly and embarrassing if your spam filter program rejects that person's reply.

Joanne Lain can be reached at (941) 752-3585 or [email protected]

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