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volume seven issue two






Robin Barrett Wilson Founder and CEO of robin b., Inc.

W H AT D O E S T H E C H A N G E P R O C E S S L O O K L I K E ? 1 | volume seven issue two

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RISBJ | rhode island small business journal


volume seven issue two



7 Small Business News 9 Suffering From A Labor Shortage? 10 Educating Rhode Island 12 Small Business Startup: NowRenting


14 Making The Move To Garden City 16 Professional Growth Monthly Activities


18 10 Things To Help Create A Business Website 20 RI Law: Paid Sick Leave


24 Personnel Practices

volume seven issue two


26 What Does The Change Process Look Like?





29 Rhode Island Business Plan Competition



Robin Barrett Wilson Founder and CEO of robin b., Inc.

W H AT D O E S T H E C H A N G E P R O C E S S L O O K L I K E ?

Featured The Top Business Trends for 2018 Common Business Plan Mistakes

18 | volume seven issue two


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*Restrictions apply. See website for details. Projects must be completed by December 31, 2018. These programs are funded by the energy efficiency charge on all customers’ gas and electric bills, in accordance with Rhode Island law. *Restrictions apply. See website for details. Projects must be completed by December 31, 2018. These programs are funded by the energy efficiency charge on all customers’ gas and Grid. electric bills, in accordance with Rhode Island law. ©2018 National RISBJ | rhode island small business journal 6

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PROVIDENCE, RI – Providence Community Library (PCL) has partnered with Over the Edge to bring a brand new event to the Ocean State this coming June. The fundraiser will feature an exciting opportunity for members of the public to rappel down the 12-story Regency Plaza building in downtown Providence and help raise $100,000 for the nine neighborhood locations of Rhode Island’s largest library system. The event will begin at 9:00AM on Saturday, June 23 and run throughout the day.To secure a place, each participating “Edger” will need to raise a minimum of $1,000 for the chance to go Over the Edge. Potential participants should visit www. to reserve their spot and create a personal fundraising page that enables friends, family, and colleagues to donate funds toward their rappelling adventure. Registration for Edgers opens today. Over The Edge is a special events company that provides signature events for non-profit organizations anywhere in North America and it is currently expanding globally. Business leaders, individuals and community members are invited to raise donations in exchange for the experience of going “over

the edge” of a local building. Over The Edge to date has raised over $70 Million for non-profits around the world, including the Make-a Wish Foundation and the Special Olympics Boston. PCL has exclusive rights to stage Over the Edge events in the Providence metropolitan area. “This is the biggest fundraiser PCL has done to date,” explained PCL Library Director, Jeff Cannell. “It will be an exciting and memorable experience for the 90 rappellers and a rewarding one for sponsors who take the opportunity to invest in such an innovative event.” Sponsorship and promotional opportunities are available for businesses and individuals who wish to help PCL reach its fundraising goal and support literacy and lifelong learning in Providence. To learn more, visit or contact Steve Kumins. PCL Development Director, to discuss a customized option. For general information about PCL’s Over the Edge event, visit . | volume seven issue two



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Is Your Company Suffering a Labor Shortage? | SMALL BUSINESS






Labor Shortage? by Bryan B Mason

I hear from many of my clients that they cannot find any qualified people to hire and that they often lose people who are lured to competitors. These companies say they can do more business but for the lack of additional staff. That is a huge opportunity cost in terms of lost profits. These are really two problems – no one to hire and not keeping the people they do have. Let’s talk about these one at a time as the solutions are different.

No One To Hire

My clients have tried many of the traditional ways to find prospective staff. They have run want ads, paid for access to on-line job sites so they can dig through unsolicited resumes, gone to job fairs and approached technical schools and colleges, among other strategies. When they do find someone that meets the job criteria, they have a phone interview and if that goes well, they schedule an in-person interview. Sometimes the person does not show up for the interview. Efforts to contact them fail. When the job seeker does show up, and it goes well, a job offer is made. A start date is agreed to. Often, the newly hired employee does not show up on the agreed to date. When reached, they say they just took another job or their employer made a good counter offer. Does this sound familiar?

Hard to Keep People

Over the last few decades, as companies began to lay off workers in hard times with much more frequency, the bond between companies and their labor force has broken. Loyalty of workers has greatly diminished, and for younger people, loyalty almost does not exist anymore. As employees gain marketable skills, they expect to get paid more. There is no more waiting around for a position to open with their current employer. They just find another job that pays them for their new skills. Employers need to adjust. I just finished working with a client where we addressed this problem head on. We developed a skill matrix for each job. Each level had verifiable skills. We created a family of position descriptions for each job type – junior level, proficient level and senior level. These position descriptions were directly referenced to the skill matrix. We set up a process for employees where they could request a skill evaluation. If they passed and were ready for the next job, the company created one and paid them according to the salary range for the new job level. This way, we provided an incentive to the employee to gain new skills, and my client got a higher functioning employee. This kept the employee from leaving and made room for more entry level people. The employer was able to reduce turnover and as a result was able to grow their labor force and take on new business.

Wage Rates

I believe that one issue is that employers want specific skills and experience. That’s fine, but much harder to get in this job market. I suggest you find someone with the right characteristics but without all of the experience or skills you want. Think broadly about jobs in other industries where the job holder has the same core characteristics that you need – organized, good attitude, good with tools, etc. Now, if you can figure out how to train these people, you have just identified another pool of labor to tap.

The other thing to consider is increasing how much you are willing to pay. In your industry, would you be able to attract more people, or people with better work habits and skills if you raised wages? If so, you should consider it. For most businesses that have an opportunity to grow, they can pay a little more to get people because they have already covered their overhead cost with the scale of their current operation so the new business is potentially more profitable.

Arranging for internships with technical schools and colleges is another good way to find the right people. If they have a good experience during their internship, you have a great chance to transition them to become a full time employee when they graduate.

As an economist, I can tell you that today’s labor market is different than it was in the last eight or more years. Today, workers have much more leverage. Analyze your marginal costs of new business and go for it!

Bryan B Mason

Principal | The Apollo Consulting Group LLC

Mr. Mason founded the Apollo Consulting Group in 2008 to help small and mid-sized companies in solving their challenges. Mr. Mason brings over thirty years of corporate, consulting and entrepreneurial experience in a variety of industries. He possess skills in general business management, analysis, strategy development, marketing, finance/budgeting, operations, pricing optimization, workflow optimization, process reengineering, project management, and information technology. Mr. Mason has two degrees in Economics and was a Volunteer Mentor for the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (RI-CIE). He writes a weekly blog on his company website at | volume seven issue two


Educating Rhode Island T h e S t a t i s t i c s Yo u S h o u l d K n o w KEY FIGURES: STATE-WIDE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

142,014 STUDENTS

Including Elementary, Middle, & High School


Including Elementary, Middle, & High School

306 TOTAL Schools


Elementary, Middle, and High Schools in RI


*Based on data compiled from the 2016-2017 academic year





Proficency ELA: 12/20

Proficency ELA: 12/20

Proficency ELA: 16/20

Proficency Math: 12/20

Proficency Math: 12/20

Proficency Math: 12/20

Gap Closure ELA: 6/15

Gap Closure ELA: 6/15

Gap Closure ELA: 6/15

Gap Closure Math: 9/15

Gap Closure Math: 6/15

Gap Closure Math: 9/15

Growth CIS ELA: 9/15

Growth CIS ELA: 9/15

Graduation Rate CIS: 20/30

Growth CIS Math: 9/15

Growth CIS Math: 9/15


RISBJ | rhode island small business journal


16 Districts 57,038 Students 5,384 Teachers 122 Schools

BRISTOL COUNTY 2 Districts 6,573 Students 591 Teachers 12 Schools

KENT COUNTY 5 Districts 21,469 Students 2,103 Teachers 33 Schools

NEWPORT COUNTY 6 Districts 9,428 Students 941 Teachers 20 Schools

WASHINGTON COUNTY 6 Districts 14,739 Students 1,543 Teachers 33 Schools


combines key data from different sources – achievement results, demographics, opinion data, and more – to provide a holistic view of public education in Rhode Island.

F o r m o re i n f o r m a t i o n a n d re s o u c e s , p l e a s e v i s i t : i f o w o r k| svolume . r i dseven e .issue r i . two go v11

Small Business Startup

When our founder, Edward Giardina first became a landlord, he began to wonder how people managed their investment property as well as their full-time jobs while still having time for a life. Every day would end with potential tenants’ contact information written on business cards, loose leaf paper or napkins. It was a big challenge, but his desire to grow his business outweighed the inconvenience. Ed began looking for a solution, and what he found (or didn’t find) would come to define what NowRenting is today. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and that couldn’t be more true of NowRenting. The focus would be to develop intuitive software that addressed simple challenges as a landlord while keeping it affordable and on the cutting edge of industry technology. 12

RISBJ | rhode island small business journal

NowRenting is a tech company that automates the renting tasks to organize the listings, leads & leases of residential rentals. Pairing its intuitive software with a live rental team, NowRenting combines the convenience and efficiency of modern technology with the expertise and timesavings afforded by a professional service. To put it simply, NowRenting is here to provide tools to manage your rental business. NowRenting is helping every party in the rental process including tenants, landlords, and realtors. NowRenting is committed to assisting you in your rental process we even offer many of our tools for free! NowRenting profits from helping Realtors grow their rental business like Corissa from the Bohemia Group, who increased her rental business by +25% vs. last year, and it took her half as much time to get tenants signed onto leases with the

Small Business Startup: NowRenting | SMALL BUSINESS

help of NowRenting. Caroline Ceceri from Keller Williams in RI received 14 real-time rental leads that were expecting her call within the first 24 hours of using the NowRenting lead generation service. Realtors running their own small business have seen massive growth since signing on with NowRenting and tenants have appreciated the transition to a digital option. Residents can go through the entire rental process from finding a listing, signing a lease and sending rent all without leaving the NowRenting software. NowRenting sees Tenants adopting the NowRenting platform at a faster rate than landlords or

rental professionals. This is why realtors are having so much success using our platform because NowRenting has active users looking for apartments. NowRenting saw a significant gap in the rental market on the resident facing end. NowRenting did not see major players in the market taking into consideration the tenants wants and needs in their rental search. NowRenting jumped at the opportunity to cater to the resident as a primary user in the software ecosystem. NowRenting developed the apartment finder to collect and understand what the resident is looking for in their next move.

NowRenting then matches these rental leads with a small business realtor with a listing close to the residents asks. NowRenting sees this as a win for both parties in the NowRenting user base. A resident has their ideal or almost ideal rental fall into their lap without having to sign up for email alerts on multiple sites, and the small business realtor creates a new connection and hopefully signs the resident on to a new lease. | volume seven issue two


Location, Location, Location. Making the Move to Garden City Center Bio: Melissa Calise is a University of Rhode Island graduate with degrees in Public Relations and Textiles, Merchandising and Design. She is now the Director of Store Development at robin b., a R.I. based women’s clothing boutique.


ocation, location, location. This phrase has never been as important for businesses as it is today. Businesses, let alone small businesses, can’t survive just anywhere anymore. As a women’s clothing boutique this is something we, at robin b., learned in a few short years. Intimate plazas and Main Streets are quaint, but the traffic is too sparse to sustain long-term growth. Despite the nostalgia, these spots are lacking convenience and with the rise of online shopping, this is not something that can be sacrificed. This realization led us to our new home, Garden City Shopping Center in Cranston. This growing shopping center has everything a boutique owner could want for their customers, a convenient and diverse selection of shops and restaurants, ample parking and something the internet can’t replicate, a great atmosphere with engaging events.


RISBJ | rhode island small business journal

It’s clear that retail is changing more so than ever. With doors to businesses closing each day, it seems impossible for small businesses to stay alive. There are even many national retailers forced to close their doors. However, there are some retailers, both big and small that are persevering, hitting incredible milestones and blowing past everyone’s expectations. After analyzing those succeeding, we found that we seem to have a similar approach. Small businesses don’t have the budgets to test out new strategies, but we can observe, learn and adapt and that’s just what we did. With her background in retail, combined with experience in the tech. industry, Robin Barrett Wilson, Founder and CEO of robin b., Inc., has been able to make changes quickly and adapt to a changing envi-

Location, Location, Location | SMALL BUSINESS

ronment. Although, by the end of 2018, robin b., Inc will have moved 3 times, it is all part of the plan to bring the business closer to its customers. The world seems to think retail has gone entirely online, yet 94% of total retail sales are generated in brick-and-mortar stores (Ufford, 2017). To compete, we had to think of what would set our store apart from other retailers. What made us different? How can we offer something more to our customers? The

way things are merchandised; every decision we make revolves around how we can benefit the customer. Not only does our move from East Greenwich to Garden City make shopping more convenient for our customers, it will enable us to share a more engaging and inviting shopping experience. As a women-owned boutique, where retail is so competitive, we can say with confidence that brick-and-mortar is changing, but it certainly isn’t dying.

Our size allows us to connect with our customers on a different level; we know their names, what they like and what they don’t. answer was clear, we needed to give new meaning to the phrase, “the customer comes first.” Our size allows us to connect with our customers on a different level; we know their names, what they like and what they don’t. From the items we carry (we offer exclusive designs), to the employees we hire, to the

Ufford, Laura. “7 Reasons Ecommerce Brands Should Consider In-Person Selling – Shopify.”Retail Marketing Blog by Shopify, Shopify, 11 July 2017,

The world seems to think retail has gone entirely online, yet 94% of total retail sales are generated in brick-and-mortar stores. | volume seven issue two


SMALL BUSINESS | Professional Growth Monthly Activities: Books and Publishing


Steven and Dawn recommend that people with a good story to tell, should consider writing a book. Their story could be: A Family Memoir Intended to be passed from generation to generation (with a limited print run) that chronicles a family’s history, contributions and legacy, produced exclusively for close friends and family.


RISBJ | rhode island small business journal

A Professional Book Offer advice or specific business expertise. For example, a current client is writing a book on the construction and repair of church organs – a business he has been working in for over 50 years. His instruction manual is intended to help members of a younger generation keep these majestic organs working properly. He hopes to sell a book to every church with a working organ anywhere in the world.

An Informational Book that shares a passion, hobby or a common interest. For example, Burt Jagolinzer, who attended 59 consecutive Newport Jazz Festivals, published his memoir ‘Round Newport which has been popular among festival attendees as well as jazz enthusiasts living around the country. Books have sold at the festival, in bookstores, and online.

Professional Growth Monthly Activities: Books and Publishing | SMALL BUSINESS

This month’s learning tips come from Steven and Dawn Porter, co-owners of the Rhode Island-base indepdent book publisher Stillwater River Publications, who are also the owners of the brand-new Stillwater Books bookstore located at 175 Main Street in Pawtucket. Both Steven and Dawn are native Rhode Islanders and graduates of URI. Steven began his career as the Director of Advertising and Public Relations for Lauriat’s Books (a chain of 176 east coast bookstores), progressed to writing three books himself, and founded the non-profit Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA) where he currently serves as its president. Dawn studied book design in college, published her own children’s book, is a high school special education teacher, and works nearly full-time with Steven running the publishing company and bookstore when she isn’t teaching.

If you need help getting started, or simply love local books, you are invited to visit Stillwater Books located across from Slater Mill just 150 yards from home plate of the proposed new PawSox stadium in downtown Pawtucket. You may:

Small Business Journal (RISBJ). • And even purchase a great book or two! If you have questions, you can contact Steven or Dawn at 401.949-5299 or by email at I would like to thank Industrial

• Browse their collection of nearly ten thousand books, hundreds written by local authors. • Get some free tips and questions answered on what you need to do to publish a book. Stillwater River Publications has published over 125 to date. • Arrange to have your book sold at the store. • Pick up a free copy of the Rhode Island

Consultant Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto for helpful comments.

Here are some tips from the Porters to help you on your way toward writing your own book: Have Reasonable Expectations

Know Your Audience

Decide before your start why you are writing the book and what you want to get out of it. Is it for family and friends? To enhance your business? To land on a bestseller list? If you aren’t sure, think through these questions so you are not disappointed.

Readers have expectations, too. If you write a business book, but it doesn’t look or read like a typical business book, it will take extra time and effort to sell. Respect what readers are looking for.

Know the Business of Publishing

Seek Professional Advice

Even the most experienced and successful authors rely on professional cover designers, professional editors, professional proofreaders, and experienced marketers. Those who succeed – whether traditionally or self-published -- are those who produce excellent, | volume seven issue two 17 high-quality work.

With the introduction of e-books and selfpublishing options, the publishing industry is in a state of rapid change. Take some time to learn about both the traditional and non-traditional publishing options that are open to you. Make the right choices.

SMALL BUSINESS | 10 Things To Do Before Creating Your Business Website

10 things


before b 3. Know your users

I rovidence, R ening, East P

rand Op Heart Spot G

In this digital age, creating a web presence for your small business is a given. Before you start, here are 10 critical steps to build a website that will hit the ground running and immediately begin converting visitors into clients and customers.

1. Set appropriate expectations If you’re planning to knock out a quality website for your company in an afternoon, or even a few days, you’re not yet prepared to put together a quality website. Think of it like building or renovating your home: plan that it will take longer, cost more, and involve more experts than you think. But like a home, your website needs to be built with a good foundation, and will be worth all the time and money you put into it. Doing it right the first time will save you many headaches down the line.

2. Identify your goal What is the primary goal for your website? What do you absolutely want users to do? Sign up for your mailing list? Make a purchase or appointment? Call you? This information is critical. A website that tries to do too much can overwhelm users and cause them to leave too soon. Every page on your site — and all content, photos, and design elements — should be planned out to direct users toward your goal and help them get the basic information needed to complete it. Until you have this goal set, do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Stop here and keep working on this step.


RISBJ | rhode island small business journal

Learn as much as you can about your target customers. How old are they? What appeals to them? And a big one: How are they viewing your site? If your potential clients are under about 50 years old, they’re probably primarily viewing and navigating your site on a mobile phone. So your new site needs to be designed and optimized with that in mind.

4. Plan out your site Just like a home, where you wouldn’t want users to open the front door into a bedroom and then have to walk through a closet to get to the kitchen, your website should have a solid home page and logical, simple flow toward your goal. Whether you use a spreadsheet or Post-It Notes™ on a wall, spend some time determining your site map and ask for feedback from others acting as “average users.” If you have a current website, install Google Analytics to gather hard data about how your users are traveling through the site and where they leave the site, so that you can improve the flow in your update.

5. Secure a URL Your URL serves as your site’s address on the web. It needs to be memorable, succinct, and easy to spell. If your company’s name is long, consider if there’s a way to shorten it while still retaining its uniqueness. For example, if your company is Bob’s Fantastic Hot Dogs, an URL like would help your clients reach you faster on the web. And because an URL doesn’t recognize capitalization, make sure your company name doesn’t run together into something awkward: Is “” asking you to Choose Spain, or Chooses Pain? Once you’ve decided on a URL that’s available, purchase the domain name immediately.

6. Study the competition Before putting time and energy into your own site, review 3-5 websites of similar businesses. Take detailed notes about what you like and dislike about their sites: look, user friendliness, navigation, readability, etc. Save these ideas as a jumping off point as you develop your website.

10 Things To Do Before Creating Your Business Website | SMALL BUSINESS


business website 7. Identify SEO keywords You want to capture search engine users looking for what your business has to offer. Pinpoint 3-5 target keywords related to your products or services that you will sprinkle throughout your website copy. Start by thinking about what the average person would type into a search engine if they were looking for information about your services. Then consider using a keyword tool to drill down into popular keywords that will boost your website’s organic search results (i.e. your website will show up higher in search results when users Google that phrase). If this part is starting to sound like gobbledygook, that’s OK! There are many professionals who can do basic keyword research for your company for a modest fee.

8. Write killer copy Get all your content written prior to creating your site. Refer back to your sitemap to ensure that content includes all the information potential clients or customers need without repeating yourself. Copy should be as short and concise as possible, and important information about what you offer and what sets you apart should be easy to find near the top, so users don’t get overwhelmed and leave the site prematurely. If writing isn’t your professional gig, strongly consider hiring a copywriter. And it is absolutely a must to proofread the copy — typos and poor grammar will turn off site visitors and make potential clients think that if quality isn’t important on your website, it may not be in your service model either.

to be high quality, high resolution. Use your sitemap to make a list of all photos needed (location, products, staff, etc.) and gather all needed photos before beginning to build your site. Here are a few great reasons to consider video, as well. Like building a house, building a website is a big endeavor, particularly if you intend to sell products online. And as a small business owner, you’re probably already wearing a whole lot of hats. Your energy may well be spent on other important aspects of launching your business, and the money you spend hiring a professional to design your site, create strategic content, and navigate the world of web hosting and development will likely pay great dividends in the form of an easy-to-find-and-use site that converts web users into paying customers. See you on the web! Bio: The Rhode Island Small Business Development Center at URI is part of a national network of nearly 1,000 business assistance centers that provide counseling and training to small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs. Partially funded through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, we help businesses to succeed from start-up to maturity.

9. Update your logo A strong, consistent logo will solidify your brand image. If your logo isn’t up to snuff, consider putting your website on hold and hiring a professional to create a logo that will go the distance. It will be confusing to customers and site users if you change your logo after site launch.

10. Invest in professional photography Again, quality images are another “must” for presenting a professional brand image. Hire a pro for photography or purchase quality stock photography that represents the “feel” of your business, if shots of your actual location/ products aren’t necessary. All images on your site need

Rhode Island

Small Business


Center | volume seven issue two


LEGAL | Rhode Island Law Requires Employers To Provide Paid Sick Leave

NEW ide v o r P o t rs e y o l p m E Requires


By: Attorneys William E. Oâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;Gara and Matthew C. Reeber


RISBJ | rhode island small business journal

Rhode Island Law Requires Employers To Provide Paid Sick Leave | LEGAL

Rhode Island became the eighth state to pass a paid sick leave law. (R.I. Gen. Laws 28-57-1et seq). The law requires Rhode Island employers with 18 or more employees to provide paid sick and safe leave as of July 1, 2018. For employers with less than 18 employees, the law mandates that employers allow use of unpaid sick leave. At first glance, the law appears to impact only those employers that do not presently offer paid sick leave. A closer look indicates otherwise. Essentially, the new law strips from an employer complete control of the shape of an employee benefit (paid sick time) and moves it into the legal entitlement column. For employers, the message is clear – a once fringe benefit offered by an employer is now a legal entitlement. The following information is a general overview of the new law’s key elements to help employers prepare their organizations for implementation.

Paid Sick and Safe Leave Requirement If you are an employer with 18 or more employees, starting on July 1, 2018, you are required to allow employees to accrue and use paid sick leave time off at a rate of one hour of paid sick and safe leave time for every 35 hours worked up to a maximum number of hours.

Exempt from the law’s requirements are licensed nurses employed by a health care facility on a per diem basis.

Purposes for Using Paid Sick and Safe Time Off The law allows employees to take leave for their own mental or physical illness and for a family member’s illness, if their place of business or their child’s school closes due to a public health emergency, and when the employee or employee’s family member is a victim of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking. Employees can also use the time in four (4) hour increments or less if the employer does not have a written policy setting a minimum increment for sick leave.

Impact to Existing Paid Time Off Policies Employers should evaluate their existing policies to determine if it includes all required reasons an employee may take leave under the law. If an employer’s existing policy meets the paid time off law’s accrual requirements, the employer does not have to provide any additional time off to the employee. Employers that provide 40 hours of paid time off or vacation to employees that also may be used as paid sick leave are not required to provide additional sick leave to employees who use all their time for other purposes, including vacation, provided that the employer makes it clear that additional time will not be provided. The law also limits the ability of an employer to require that an employee provide documentation related to use of paid leave.

Employers need to carefully review and revise existing sick leave policies and implement a policy that will comply with the law.

• 24 hours during the calendar year of 2018; • 32 hours during calendar year 2019; and every year after • 40 hours during calendar year 2020 and every year after If an employer’s existing policy meets the paid time off law’s accrual requirements, the employer does not have to provide any additional time off to the employee. Employers that provide 40 hours of paid time off or vacation to employees that also may be used as paid sick leave are not required to provide additional sick leave to employees who use all their time for other purposes, including vacation, provided that the employer makes it clear that additional time will not be provided. Employers with fewer than 18 employees must provide employees with three days of unpaid leave per year in 2018, and up to 32 hours in 2019 and up to 40 hours in 2020 and every year going forward.

What Should Employers Do Now? Employers, whether they presently provide paid sick leave or not, need to review and understand the law’s application and requirements. Employers need to carefully review and revise existing sick leave policies and implement a policy that will comply with the law. Pannone Lopes Devereaux and O’Gara employment lawyers are available to help prepare your organization to be in compliance when the new law takes effect on July 1, 2018. Please contact attorneys William E. O’Gara and Matthew C. Reeber at 401-824-5100 or email or | volume seven issue two


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LEGAL | Personnel Practices: Terminating An Employee

Personnel Practices Terminating An Employee by Kristen M. Whittle, Esq.

Unfortunately, most employers will need to make the difficult decision to terminate a worker’s employment at some point in the life of their business. At present, the default employment relationship under Rhode Island law is employment-atwill, meaning that, unless otherwise modified by contract, Rhode Island employers are typically permitted to terminate a worker’s employment for any reason or no reason at all, except for reasons that are protected by law. Federal and Rhode Island law recognize certain classes of workers as protected—meaning that employees cannot be subject to adverse employment action, including termination, for one or more of those reasons. For example, the following classes are considered protected under state and/or federal law: race, national origin, gender (including pregnancy status), sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, disability, age (40+), and veteran status.

Potential Discrimination claims.

Although employers are not obligated to tell an employee why he or she is being terminated, employers should carefully document their personnel files with the reason for


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such termination in an effort to reduce liability in the event that an employee presents a discrimination claim—i.e., that the employment was terminated due to the employee’s membership in a protected class. For example, where an employee is being terminated for performance reasons, employers should take careful notes of any performance improvement meetings with the employee, and document any formal discipline that had previously been issued to the employee. Then, in the event of a later claim, the employer can point to that documentation and argue that the worker’s employment was terminated for performance reasons, rather than for a discriminatory reason prohibited by law.

Consider offering a severance package.

Unless otherwise provided by contract, most workers who lose their jobs will not be entitled to any severance or other separation pay beyond their ordinary earned wages and accrued but unused vacation time. The benefits of offering a severance from an employer’s perspective include a level of finality with the employment relationship, as severance packages are typically offered in exchange for a release of liability— meaning that the employee agrees

Personnel Practices: Terminating An Employee | LEGAL

Although employers are not obligated to tell an employee why he or she is being terminated, employers should carefully document their personnel files to accept severance pay on the condition that the employee will not later file a lawsuit or otherwise seek damages in a claim against the employer arising out of the employment relationship. However, the mere offering of a severance package may embolden an employee to ask for additional benefits or suggest to the employee that he or she might have a valid claim against the terminating employer.

Unemployment implications.

Workers who lose their jobs involuntarily may be entitled to unemployment benefits as determined by the State of Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training. (Most workers who voluntarily resign will not be eligible for such benefits). However, workers whose employment is terminated for certain causes may be ineligible for unemployment benefits. For example, egregious misconduct may disqualify a terminated employee from receiving unemployment. Upon termination, employees may request that an employer agree to not contest unemployment benefits. Employers should proceed cautiously in this regard and always ensure that the information they provide to the Department of Labor and Training be truthful and accurate.

Return of Property.

Upon termination, employers should also ensure that all of the employee’s personal property is returned to him or her, and that the employee has also returned all of the employer’s property—especially keys/access cards, mobile phones, and computers. If there is a concern that the employee may have retained a key or other access to the worksite, consider changing locks and implementing other security measures. In addition, the employer should disable the former employee’s access to company email and other electronic systems.

Kristen M. Whittle, Esq. Partner, Barton Gilman LLP | volume seven issue two


SMALL BUSINESS | What Does The Change Process Look Like?

By Larry Girouard

Many of my past articles talk about the challenges of change, but few business owners ever rise to the occasion and take on that challenge. For most company owners, maintaining a steady slow growth is good enough. The Achilles Heel in this approach is that “steady slow growth” usually means growing with the market rather than implementing overt actions to penetrate the market. This works as long as the market is growing, but, as we all know, most markets ebb and flow. The downside of any receding market trend is often a painful reality for owners as they face the difficult decision to lay employees off. On the emotional side, this is heart wrenching for the company and its owner. I know, because I have been on both sides of that equation. Also, when you consider the overall investment to hire and train your employees on the culture of your business, having to let these people go presents the significant future cost of ramping up again. If the strategy is to grow the business faster than market trends, owners are left with few options beyond market penetration. This means you must go out and take business away from competition. As stated so many times before, for market penetration to be successful you MUST be able to address the “Why?” question. The question that every target account will ask, which is “Why should I buy your product or service?” You must give them a real reason to believe that they will be better off with your company rather than staying with their current supplier. The devil you know. OK, this seems logical.


That said, when a business owner sits down and begins to outline their message to address the “Why?” question, the page remains void of many compelling reasons. If you can’t get excited about your message, how do you ever expect your target accounts to be motivated to the point that they would consider jumping ship? One thing that you can take to the bank is the fact that business owners/presidents cannot ever implement change on their own. Nor can they demand change through command and control techniques, because top down change programs often neglect the emotional needs of their employees. As a result, performance slowly and sometimes quickly, slips back to the old baseline levels. Referencing Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, it is suggested that employees be intimately involved and engaged with any change process.

The Beta Test Approach I mentioned critical thinking in a past article, and the importance of owners being humble as the key ingredient for the glue that cements the foundation for making the change process possible and sustainable. The tribal knowledge that most business owners have prevents them from letting go and empowering employees to make decisions because of the “no one understands the intricacies of my business better than I do” mentality. From that perspective, change will be incremental at best, and market penetration will remain on the wish list. Every journey starts with the first step. Owners/presidents need to have the courage and humility to take the first step and see what happens. Construct a beta test that is

“ The downside of any receding market trend is often a painful reality for owners as they face the difficult decision to lay employees off. ”

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What Does The Change Process Look Like? | SMALL BUSINESS

short term in duration (4-6 weeks), quantifiable, engages several employees, and if possible, crosses at least one functional line. The scope of the beta test will be based on the risk that the owner is willing to take. It is best to start with a lower risk test and see what happens. Change is an acquired taste for both owners and their employees. So, pick an area, or a process, that you feel needs to be improved, and see what the employees can do with it. You might consider:


Tapping the team of employees that you want to be involved in the program.

2. Have the team determine what the current state of the performance level is for the area. Some performance metrics may be available, while other descriptors would be more subjective in nature.

3. Have the team outline a timeline for key milestones for the project.

4. Allow them to meet on a regular basis to review their suggestions.

5. Allow them some latitude to make changes on their own so they can test their theisms.

6. Have them provide you with periodic updates on

their progress through completion. They may ask for your suggestions, but I encourage you not to give too many. You do not want them to be over dependent on your input.

7. Compare the past performance in #2 above to the

new performance and then brainstorm the plusses and minuses of the overall exercise.

The most important thing in this exercise is that team members must commit to each other that they will try to follow an overall established timeline of activities to completion. If they agree to that, than you, as president, must let them go and empower them to try new things to improve the designated area, or process chosen. This approach is not complicated. The important thing to remember is to start with an area, or process, that is low risk initially. Then let go, and empower the team to come up with a better solution. The team’s solution may not be optimum in your eyes, but that’s OK. This is all about getting employees involved with solving problems on their own. I am reminded of a statement that was credited to an employee of GE at a plant assembly with GE president Jack Welch. During Q&A an employee made a statement that, in part, went something like this:

“ pay for my hands 365 days year, and you can have my mind for nothing...” The thoughts and input of your employees about better ways to do their jobs is the single greatest untapped resource of an owner/president. Employees do what they do 40 hours a week. They know their job better than you will ever know it. Employees provide the gas that will run the “change engine.” Have the humility to listen to them, and trust that they will not let you down. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with the results. So I ask:

What Does The Change Process Look Like? If you practice letting go, you will see.

Larry Girouard President, The Business Avionix Company | volume seven issue two 27 A Business Consulting Firm

Pannone Lopes Devereaux & O’Gara attorneys are innovators and collaborators with a record of achievement representing clients with the highest level of legal services in a wide range of disciplines and industries. Our firm’s success is rooted in its cutting edge approach to modern legal representation, commitment to teamwork and providing superior service for clients built on respect, urgency and efficiency that results in long-lasting relationships.

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