Employees’ Cell Phones

Think about the policies that make sense for your business.

Most employees have their own cell phones, and it’s common for them to make personal calls during business hours. These calls may be to arrange day care for their children, schedule doctors’ appointments or contact workers for home repairs. Can you prohibit or limit personal cell phone calls at work? The answer: It depends.

In one recent situation, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) examined the cell phone policy for a company that had union employees. The company’s employee handbook said that because cell phones present a distraction in the workplace, resulting in lost time and productivity, personal cell phones could only be used for work-related or critical, quality-of-life activities. Other uses of cell phones, such as text messaging and digital photography, were not allowed during business hours.

The NLRB said that because the company’s policy was not clear about permissible communications regarding union activities (“Section 7 rights”) on breaks or non-working time— which must be allowed—the policy was unlawful.

For businesses that are not union shops, there are no federal or state laws barring you from setting your company policy on this matter. From a practical point of view, cell phones are ubiquitous, and rather than prohibiting their personal use, it may be preferable to set limits instead. Consider explaining the cell phone etiquette you expect from your staff at work (for instance, not answering personal calls in front of customers) and barring cell phones during staff meetings or for internet surfing, gaming or any use while driving. Put the policy in writing, and make sure that employees understand what’s expected of them and what the consequences will be for violating your policy.

For more guidance, you may want to take a look at these cell phone policy templates. 

New Overtime Rule

Records work hours in a time sheet.

Changes to the regulations are on the table again.

Generally, if your store’s employees work more than 40 hours in a work week, you are required to pay them time-and-a-half. For example, an employee who earns $12 per hour and works 42 hours in one week must be paid $12/hour for 40 hours and $18/hour for 2 hours. But there are exceptions: This federal rule under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) does not apply to “exempt employees”—managers or professionals performing certain duties and who receive salaries at least equal to a set amount. 

Until now, that salary threshold was $455 per week ($23,660 annually). Under a proposed revised rule, the new threshold is $679 per week ($35,308 annually), including certain bonuses. (There’s been no change in the duties tests, which define the job functions that are included (or excluded) for the rule.) It’s not yet clear exactly when the rule will go into effect, but it’s expected later this year.  

What to do now? Look over your current staff and determine whether any of your employees who are now exempt may become nonexempt when the salary threshold increases. You may want to raise an employee’s salary accordingly, to keep them “exempt,” or budget for anticipated overtime that you’ll have to pay when a nonexempt employee’s hours exceed 40 during the work week. Also, review the duties test to determine whether an employee falls within a nonexempt category (after factoring in the salary).

What Small Businesses Get Out of Digital Marketing

Are you tapping into all its potential?

As an independent retailer, you likely have a website, social media accounts, e-mail and mobile devices that you use to run and promote your business. How do your efforts compare with those at other businesses?
A recent survey shows how small businesses are using digital marketing in 2019. Here are some key findings:

  • 35 percent of small businesses prefer digital marketing to traditional marketing (print ads, radio and TV, direct mail and flyers, billboards, etc.).
  • 95 percent of small businesses will increase their spending on digital marketing this year.
  • The top channels in which small businesses will increase their investments are social media (63 percent), their website (54 percent) and search engine optimization (SEO) (35 percent).
  • Social media dominates small businesses’ digital marketing strategies, with 73 percent of them using channels such as Facebook and Instagram.
  • 34 percent invest in video marketing, which can be extremely lucrative for small businesses.

What can digital marketing do for you? It has distinct advantages over traditional marketing:

Cost. While digital marketing isn’t free (even if you don’t pay for posts,
it still involves time and effort), it’s less costly than traditional marketing options. With traditional marketing, you usually have to commit for a specified period (for example, running an ad in print for three months), whether or not there is any response. Digital marketing can be quickly tailored as needed (for instance, increasing postings during your busy season).

Target customers. Digital marketing enables you to reach specific customers. For example, you can use e-mail marketing for the
sale of a specific type of item (e.g., pointe shoes) and send it to ballet customers who’ve previously bought or expressed an interest in it.

Customer engagement. Digital marketing makes it easy
for customers to interact with you. For instance, if you send out an ad, those who are interested can quickly click on it to learn more.

ROI. Because you can track digital marketing more readily than traditional forms of marketing, you can more easily determine whether there’s a return on investment for your efforts. 

Barbara Weltman, an attorney and small-business expert, is the author of J.K. Lasser’s Small Business Taxes 2019: Your Complete Guide to a Better Bottom Line and publisher of “Idea of the Day” at bigideasforsmallbusiness.com.

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