Sharon Koehler

Artistic Stone Design

I was able to attend some HR classes recently and brush up on current regulations. Folks, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but HR is changing. It is tougher to keep up with ever-changing laws and regulations. There is federal law, state law, local law, labor law and a few other regulations to keep up with and worry about. It’s tough. HR is not for the faint of heart! 

Consider the I-9 form. It’s a pretty simple form to verify identity that you give to a new employee; they are supposed to return it filled out with the proper documentation. That seems simple enough, BUT there are two things you need to be aware of.

The first hurdle concerns the list of documents. You cannot tell a new hire, “Just give me your driver’s license, social security card, passport, etc. for ID.” Turns out, it is illegal for you to tell the employee what you will accept for documentation! You give him/her the form, and they decide what they will give you, in accordance with the guidelines on the form. 

Secondly, there is a Spanish I -9. Now, before you get excited and think that you can start giving that to your Latino workers to make it easier for them to fill out, think again. The Spanish I-9 form can only be used in Puerto Rico. So, if you have been using that form and you are not in Puerto Rico, you might have some explaining to do to the Federal Government. 

Service Animals Versus Comfort Animals

The ADA only recognizes dogs (any breed) and just recently, miniature horses, as service animals. Service animals must be properly trained and they must perform a “task” for the owner. Service dog training is a tall order, and goes well beyond sensitizing the dog to his handler’s specific disability—tough enough in its own right.  

Service animals are not limited to being seeing eye dogs, anymore. Service animals can help with diabetes, seizures, heart problems, mobility issues and countless other things. Service animals come with no documentation, so if anyone tells you they have certificates or documents saying their animal is a service animal, they are not telling the truth. It is a little-known fact that by law, they do not need documentation.

A business owner (or employer) can only ask two questions regarding service animals: Is your (animal) a service animal? (and) What task does the animal perform? According to the ADA, a service animal is allowed to go anywhere the owner goes. They are not pets, are highly trained, and not subject to pet rules. So take note: this applies to employees and customers, alike.

Comfort/ESA animals are a completely different thing. Comfort animals perform no specific task. They do not have to be trained in any way and can be any animal. They do not fall under ADA guidelines for service animals, and you do not have to accept their presence like a service animal.

I have a personal example to relate. One morning I needed a ride-share service (Uber, Lyft, Carma Grab, etc.) to get to work. When I got in the car, the driver had a dog on her lap. I have nothing against dogs. I love dogs. I own dogs. Dogs are great.

Unfortunately, the dog became a problem during the ride. She was paying so much attention to the dog that she wasn’t driving when the lights turned green. Several times when the lights changed, I had to prompt her to drive. She was drifting because she was petting the dog and not looking at the lanes. We got honked at more than once. 

Long story short: I gave her a less than stellar review. The company contacted me and I explained the circumstances to them. Turns out the dog was not a service dog, but a comfort animal – not authorized or allowed by the company. They do allow service animals, but they need to be separated from the passenger (with the passenger in front and service animal in back), and the rider is told about the situation before pickup, in case there are allergies or phobias.

Service dog training is a big deal. It often lasts one to two years of daily training, and goes well beyond sensitizing the dog to his handler’s specific disability — which is tough enough in its own right — to include impeccable manners and the ability to remain calm in all situations.

Service dog training is a big deal. It often lasts one to two years of daily training, and goes well beyond sensitizing the dog to his handler’s specific disability — which is tough enough in its own right — to include impeccable manners and the ability to remain calm in all situations. 

Hiring a Contractor

There is an old issue making a comeback for a modern reason. Some companies try to discourage or prevent employees from talking about their pay. Did you know that discouraging or preventing an employee from talking about their pay is illegal. It has been since 1934, and there is nothing on the horizon to change that. 

Other issues employees can talk about are working conditions and hours. Social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) has been blamed for the resurgence of this old issue. Let’s face it (no pun intended), we talk about everything on our social media platforms. These three issues can be discussed as the employee sees fit. 

Another pitfall to be aware of is a change to job applications. Some states have banned the question, “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” Companies are being advised to take that off their applications, even if it is allowed in their state. 

Why? As it turns out, if an applicant from another state that does not ask the “ex-con” question fills out the application (downloads it or fills it out online), you can potentially be sued for infringing on their privacy. Find out what regulations are enforced in your area.

There is something on the horizon that might end up being a big deal for some companies. It is not sweeping across the US yet, but several states have already implemented changes to worker classifications. This affects 1099 individuals (self-employed independent contractors).

What they are saying is that any 1099 worker you hire cannot do the same work as your regular employees. For example: You do granite countertop work, and you get a big contract for a huge job. You have installers who work for you, so you will not be able to use any 1099 installers to help complete the project. The 1099 individual must do something different, like plumbing. Now, that regulation is not in all states, just a few at this time, so check your state and local regulations. 

Now, I am not a lawyer. I am not giving out legal advice. I am just passing along some of what I have learned in my recent HR classes and seminars. If you have any questions, my best advice is to call your local agencies and get the right information on what is acceptable in your location. HR is changing daily and you just need to find a way to keep up.

Please send your thoughts on this article to Sharon Koehler at