If you have a Job you need to hear what this Lawyer has to say!

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If you have a Job you need to hear what this Lawyer has to say

- On this episode of C-Level, I speak with Chandra Davis, attorney and co-founding partner of ELS, The Employment Law Solution Firm.

- So, Chandra thank you so much for being on the episode. I'm excited about this episode because, one of the biggest things when an entrepreneur or somebody scales you're gonna need to hire people, right? And you are the expert in this field, and you're gonna give a whole background and everything on the right and wrong ways of doing it. But first, I'm very interested in people's story. So give me your background, where'd you start, where'd you grow up, and how'd you get into law, and what are you doin' right now? .

- Well my background.

- Yeah.

- I'm a Jersey girl born and raised.

- Yep, Bloomfield.

- Plainfields.

- There you go, okay.

- And spent 18 years of my life in New Jersey. I went to a very small private school called the Pengrey School in New Jersey. And I knew I wanted to live somewhere else different. I loved growing from Jersey, I'm glad I'm from there, but I was ready to experience some different aspects of life.

- Did you miss the cold, like the snow and stuff?

- I miss seeing the snow.

- Yeah. I don't miss the snow.

- I don't miss being in the snow, per se, especially as an adult. But I miss snow days, like snow days were the bomb.

- Right, right .

- Which is really ice, ice, and then snow on top of it. Then you were good.

- Yeah, scratchin' it off in the morning.

- Absolutely right. But when I decided to look at colleges, I went and looked at lots of different colleges. I probably was the college advisor's favorite kid, because I was in there all the time, trying to decide where I wanted to be. And I went to, my small school in the '80s and '90s, did not have any African-American students at all. So I wanted to date, so I decided I was gonna go to a place where there were more African-American males. And so I came down to Atlanta, went to Emery university, but we have the Morehouse college and lots of other universities in the area. And did not find my husband there, but I loved Emery. And from Emery I have worked in higher education field. And so I went to the university of Georgia for my master's degree in higher ed.

- Mm-hmm, bulldogs.

- Bulldogs, sic 'em. And loved it, but never lost my desire to be a lawyer. Just growing up, I was always told that I argued well, that I engaged well, that I was articulate. So, being a lawyer was something I always thought I wanted to do and then even after my masters degree I decided I still wanted to go to law school. And I worked in my field in higher ed at Virginia Tech, that's where I picked up the husband, and he is a Hokie, and then, lived in DC. I actually worked at Georgetown University Law Center, and then applied for law school, and ended up at Michigan Law School, and I'm a Wolverine, go blue all day every day, and very proud of it and enjoyed my time at university of Michigan. Which is where I eventually picked up my law partner, we went to law school together, Jamala McFadden. And, you fast-forward, I ended up back in, well, I clerked for two federal judges, I lived in South Africa, working with the South African Human Rights Commission. And then decided to come back to the states and then I worked at a large law firm here in Atlanta. And worked for the EEOC as a trial attorney for four years. And then my law partner and very good friend, Jamala said she was thinking about leaving her large law firm, Sutherland, and starting her own firm. And she's like, and I want you to do it with me. And I was like, I got a good government job. I don't need to go anywhere. And I thought about it, and I said, if you're gonna do something, then do then in your early forties, not your late forties. Because late forties, you start thinking about retirement. And so, we did it.

- What was that like? Like, the decision to make that pivoting moment to step out completely on your own and break free from something comfortable?

- I could not believe I was doing it. Because if you asked me in law school, are you gonna start your own law firm? I'd a been like, heck no. Are you on something? Absolutely not. I never thought of myself as an entrepreneur. And realized that that's what I was doing when I started my own law firm. We were taught how to practice law, not necessarily be business people. So it has been a learning curve. Including hiring people. So now I feel the pain of entrepreneurs when they have to hire someone. And I don't always follow my own advice, hire slow, fire fast. I don't always do that. But, what we did do, is some of the basic things. One, is know that once you hire someone, you should really be thinking about Fair Labor Standards Act, minimum wage, posters. Something as simple as putting up the EEOC, EEO posters, FLSA posters, workers comp, all those things. Just having them up. Even if some of the laws don't apply to you, just so that you know you're compliant. Also, deciding whether to hire someone as employee or as an independent contractor.

- So, explain the difference, because I mean, some people out there may not know.

- So an independent contractor is truly somebody who you give a single project to. You give them bare parameters, and they can do it when and how they want. Proverbial example is a house painter. I want my house painted blue, I need it done by November 1st, and you can't start before 9:00AM because the HOA says you can't start before 9:00AM making noise. That's all. How he does it, or she does, how many people he or she uses, whether they wait until October 31st to paint my house. As long as it's done by November 1st, and has a certain workman. That's an independent contractor. An employee is, I need you here by 9:00AM everyday, you can take a break at 12, I want you to use my computer, I want you to do certain things, I'm giving tasks as I go along. I'm reviewing those tasks as they go along, I have a lot more control. It's all about control. And the Department of Labor, who enforces the Fair Labor Standards Act default is employee. So, you have to prove to them that the person actually is an independent contractor. And I tell employers all the time, you can call a horse a zebra, you can paint stripes on it. The DNA is still a horse. And the Department of Labor looks at the DNA. And so you have to be really careful. And I tell them, if you're not sure, default to an employee. But it's hard because there's taxes involved, and I get it. Because when we first started, I was like, do we really have to hire employees yet? And my law partner was like, really? We're employment lawyers. Are you really gonna push for an independent contractor when you know better? And I was like, yeah. So I understand the pain of it. But it's really important. And I tell other people, as you grow, have a contact with an employment lawyer. So that when you get ready to fire the pregnant lady you know you're doing it properly. And it's not because you can't fire her, or a man of color, or whatever. It's just that you want to make sure you're doing it right. And for the right reasons. And so having that relationship, and that's one of the reasons we started the firm. We wanted to give both large companies, we represent large Fortune 500 companies, retailers and so forth. And we represent what some people call mom and pops. And they may have five employees, but they have some issues that are going on. Or they just want to know that they're doing things properly which the more proactive and safer and less expensive way to go. Or they're growing, leaps and bounds, and they have fifteen, twenty different employees and know they need to get handbooks in place, and other things in place, and we help them that way.

- Let's talk about that. So what are some of the things that an employer needs to have in place before they hire their first employee. Like, what should they have internally?

- My first thing would be a job description. Know what you want the person to do.

- [Chris] Clear objectives.

- Clear objectives. And know that you are paying minimum wage, and that you are complying with the state laws, giving people proper breaks, all that kind of stuff. But, I think the first thing is a job description. If you have your first employee, you don't necessarily need a handbook at that point. You don't necessarily want an employment contract. We're an at-will state here in Georgia, and that really means that you or the employee can terminate that relationship at any point in time on your end, as the employer, as long as it's not for an illegal reason. Like because of a protected category, like disability, religion, national origin, pregnancy, those protected categories. You can't terminate someone because of those. But anything, your blue shirt today. Chris, I don't like blue today. You're fired.

- Really?

- There's no reason why I can't.

- All states are different, right?

- All states are different. Wrongful termination is very hard to prove. And not a great claim to make. There are others that are better, even in state laws in Georgia, but we don't have a lot of employment laws in Georgia. But yeah, for any reason. The reason could be blue, I feel like there's some constriction in the market and I need to let you go because I want to make sure we are profitable. But it could be for pretty much any reason. And, you too, can quit for any reason. You don't like the way I talk to you today. You can say, I quit. So, it goes both ways. But yeah, I think it's really important that you kind of think ahead. And when you have someone that you can call to bounce ideas off of, it is a lot less expensive. And when we started our firm we promised ourselves that we prefer our clients to call us and not bill them for the fifteen minute call than to not call us because they're worried it's gonna cost them fifty bucks. So we're very, very committed to that. And our large clients appreciate our accessibility. And our commitment to diversity. One of our clients is AT&T and we just received their award the Diversity and Inclusion Award for their pipeline.

- Congratulations.

- Thank you, very much. We work really hard to make sure there are more women and people of color who are coming through the legal field and feel like there's a place where they can practice. Our lawyers are people. If you go to our website and hover over our picture, you see our professional lawyer picture, and then you hover over it, and you see a picture of my law partner Zumba dancing. Me, on my way out traveling somewhere, because that's my favorite thing to do. One of our associates loves martial arts, and you'll see a picture of her in that stance. So, we want to create an environment where our clients feel like they can call us and talk to us but where our attorneys feel like they can have a life there.

- So, obviously, there's a lot of things that we do and one of the things that we do is help CEOs with their personal brands, or public figures with their personal brands and building audiences. And what I always say is, you have your business, but people want to know you as person, too. They want to know what your hobbies are, and that can only really help your business really. Because I mean, you never know, you're from Jersey, or a dogs fan, right? Whatever. They're connecting with you. And eventually, that's business. So don't always just be so corporate. I like the fact that you guys are not, you know .

- And being a lawyer is relationship driven. My husband has been in sales, and he always says, people buy things from people they like. People want to purchase your services, with people they like. Because, to be honest, there are a lot of good lawyers. There's also a lot of good l and e lawyers, labor and employment lawyers. But, you want to work with someone that you have a good relationship with, that you can talk to, that you can be somewhat vulnerable with about your business. And we want to work with people we like, too. So, I think that's really important as you advance in building your business. But, those basic things, are things you should just check off list. And have someone to call. You know, we want to be that firm, that lawyer that you can call when you need some help. That's really important to us.

- So what's the difference, what are you finding is different when you're working with a smaller "mom and pop" store as opposed to a larger corporation or is there differences between how you go about helping those two entities?

- A little bit. Because typically when we're dealing with a large corporation, like an AT&T or something like that I'm dealing with in-house counsel. So, I'm dealing with other lawyers, most of the time, other labor and employment lawyers that that is their specialty. So some of the things, I don't have to explain. So I don't have to explain some of the procedural things. I don't have to explain some of the strategic things. Because of how l and e works. So when I'm dealing with an owner, or an HR director, or an HR person who is not well-seasoned, then I have to explain a little bit more about the process. But I have a master's degree in education. So that's not a burden to me. I don't mind explaining, because I think, I need you to be a partner and I need to be your partner in this journey of representing your company. So I need you to understand what's going on so that you can weigh in. Because you know your business better than anyone. And so, I want to make sure we're representing your business at the best of our ability. So, partnering is part of what we do. We send monthly updates to clients we really try to stay engaged with our clients and answer any questions they have.

- I mean, it's hard. 'Cause I always say business owners and entrepreneurs you got so much on your plate. You need to have a team of experts surrounding you. You can't be an expert in everything. It's impossible. So you might know a little bit, but especially when you're hiring people. A company is made up of people.

- It is.

- A company would not exist, it's not one person it's made up of people. And if you're not doing the right things in getting these people, legally, or whatever. You could be putting your company at risk. So, hiring somebody like you, especially if you're able to tell them the reasons why you need to do it this way I can see a lot of value in that.

- And creating company culture is so important. And making sure someone is a good cultural fit for your company.

- What are some of the ways you can go about doing that?

- It really takes some time and energy. I think it takes, first of all, being self-aware. There's something called emotional intelligence really understanding who you are, how you function so that you can be very transparent when you're hiring somebody about your function. I'm a communicator. I want you to over communicate with me. Because I don't know it's off my plate until you told me, you're taking it off my plate. In other words, I'm worrying about it. And I can make space in my brain for something else. So, knowing who you are, how you communicate is really important. And knowing the kind of environment you want to live in. I don't want to be in an environment where I can't give hugs. I'm not saying I have to hug everybody I meet. I'm saying even though in this, there's Me Too, being very sensitive to sexual harassment, I'm going to take verbal cues from someone about hugging. I may ask you, is it okay for me to hug you? I don't want to live in a world where we can't give hugs. Or at least my world that I help create. And so, knowing those things about yourself I think is really key in creating that cultural environment. And then, asking pointed questions. Taking your time. Hiring slow, which I don't always do. But hiring slow is really important and taking the time to get to know someone. We do do an exploratory period, where we really give an opportunity for the new employee to get to know our team and us, and for us to get to know them. And sometimes, there's not a good fit. And you part ways. And that's okay. But you really want to make sure hat you're creating an environment, and when you figure out maybe even a year in that it's not a good fit, don't prolong it, and be honest.

- So what do you feel about having like a, trial period? You know, like three months, we'll revisit this in three months, whether it's internally or whatever with an employee. Is that a good way to kind of work with them? Because anybody can sell themselves in an interview.

- Absolutely.

- You know, they can sell you a bag of lies they can tell you things that you just want to hear and it sounds great, and you make a bad decision. But what I find is, it's fruit over time.

- [Chandra] Absolutely.

- Is that something that would be advisable?

- I definitely recommend it. I think I recommend it for both sides, again. Even in the interview process, I encourage people to ask us questions. I encourage you to say, you're interviewing me as much as I'm interviewing you. Because you don't want to be in a place that you're gonna be uncomfortable or that you're not a good fit. If you have trouble getting to work on time, you probably don't want to work for me. I mean, but there are a lot of other places where it's a lot more fluid about being on time.

- Transparency, I think, is the golden rule. When it comes to an employee-employer relationship. Because, just be like, hey, listen, I'm honest, these are the things that we're looking for as a company, but also, if you can't be in on a certain hour. If there's something that you're helping your family, or something with a situation every Friday, just let us know.

- 'Cause, I can work with that.

- [Chris] Yeah, exactly.

- I'm able to work with that.

- You don't call out sick, when you're not really sick, like that's one of those things.

- Absolutely. I had this conversation recently. If you need a mental health day, and you need to work from home because you're gonna fly out to have a mental health, or a long weekend, I can work with that. It can't be every Friday, but I can work with that. But if you have a family member you need to help every Friday I can work through that, we can figure out something. But you know, transparency and lack of communication is so key in terms of having a failed relationship. If you have a good, honest relationship it goes far. Trust. So, I think an exploratory period's really important and I think, we do like a three-month, so that it's hard to be on your best behavior, or whatever, if you will, for three months. Right? So, at some point, you're gonna default to your normal patterns.

- I call it the honeymoon period.

- [Chandra] Exactly.

- It's like, all right, here's the honeymoon period you know, staying late, coming in early, staying late, all right. Let's get past this honeymoon period and then we'll see--

- How we work. And if, at the end, you as the employer really feel it's not a good fit, you be honest about it. And sometimes, it's a wake up call for people that they never had before. I had to terminate someone, and I realized I did it partly for their benefit, to make sure that they realize that you can't keep doing this. And this is not a good pattern to set.

- So one thing I find that entrepreneurs run into is, that it's very difficult for them to fire. I actually struggle with that too.

- Everybody does.

- It was very hard for me to let somebody go but, what I'm finding, is that if you don't get rid of the toxin, you're gonna poison the entire tree.

- I cannot tell you how many times I've had cases where they just ignored the person. They just said, well, you know, we'll deal with it later. And ten years go by, and now they're like, well, I've been here ten years, and no one told me da-da-da-da-da. Because no one was honest, doing employment evaluations feedback, documenting feedback, which is, I know, difficult sometimes. But those are some of the tools you can use, to one, correct people's behavior. I recommend writing people up, not necessarily because I'm trying to pepper their file with negative write ups. What I'm trying to do is say, I've had to talk to you verbally. I'm trying to tell you how important this is.

- Pointing back to, hey, we already had this conversation on this day. Here it is.

- Exactly. And sometimes, people don't get the verbal stuff. And they think, eh, he's not that important. But when you see it in writing, you're like, oh, crap. They really mean this. So, those are tools that we use to correct behavior. Not to terminate. Because it costs money every time an employer hires and terminates someone. It's costly. And I reckon, not only in money, but time. Which can be quantified into money. And I realize that. So my first question is, are you sure you wanna fire this person? Is there no way to repair this relationship? Because if there is, let's work on that. If there isn't, okay, let's figure out how we best sever our relationship.

- And that's the biggest thing too, is I think it's the job of the employer, right, to bring out the very best in their people.

- Absolutely.

- I always say, okay, well, how can I help you? What can I do to help you advance in your career? What are some of the tools I can give you? How can I help you? So, if you're asking me for advice, and I'm giving this advice, but you continually to not do it, there's nothing more I can do to try to help you grow in this position. So at that point in time, if we've had these conversations multiple times, we have documentation on it, that might be a clear sign. And I always heard this before, most people when you have it structured right, they fire themselves.

- They do. They do. They realize they're not cutting mustard, what is it? They know. And they aren't really surprised by it, because they do know. And I think, I don't know what percentage. 80, 90% of people want to do a good job. I mean, you have the slackers who don't care, but I don't think most of us are wired that way. We want to do a decent job. And you know when you're not. And you know when you're disappointing. And so, you're not surprised. You're absolutely, they end up firing themselves. And they either move on of their own free will, or they do something they know is egregious and they know it's over. So, I think you're absolutely right. But, l and e is fun. I mean, the things people do at work, I always say, I'd be embarrassed to do at home by myself. It's amazing. They're great stories, 'cause companies are made of people. And people are complicated, is the bottom line. We're human beings, and we're complicated. And so, we bring some of those complications to work. And that's why it's so important to find the right fit for your team, employees. And we all bring something different to the table.

- One of the things I like, Chick-fil-A has this on-boarding video that they play and it has, obviously being a filmmaker it's cool, because even though it's an internal video it shows people coming in to Chick-fil-A but somebody just came from a funeral, or something bad just happened, or somebody just lost their job or whatever. And how people respond to them makes all the difference. You never know what's going on in somebody's life, especially your employee. Sometimes, something could have just happened at home and that's why they're acting the way they are. And I think if we stop, as employers and recognize, okay, these are people. There's lives that they're leading, outside these four walls of this office. Let me be a bit more cognizant of that.

- That's all emotional intelligence basis is the idea that you don't know where someone is. I've been training myself to be positive wherever I walk. When someone asks, how are you? I say excellent. Sometimes I'm not having an excellent day but then I think about it, I'm breathing, I have my children, my husband, my business. I am excellent. Even if I'm having challenges that day. And sometimes that "excellent" helps lift somebody else up a little bit. Or, "hey, I really like that blue shirt". Genuinely, I like your blue shirt. That might make you feel a little bit, because maybe you weren't feeling so great about yourself this morning when you got dressed.

- I always say, I like to be a thermostat, not a thermometer. Change the temperature.

- Yes.

- Be positive, change the temperature in the room.

- I think that's right. And finding out the people you work with, tuning in to when they're in their, there's an idea that you can be in your basement. That's not the time to have the compensation conversation, is when, my law partner's not feeling so great that day. That's not the right time. And it can wait a day. It's not the right time necessarily. You call someone in your office because they've been late or whatever, and you say, hey, I've noticed this, is there something going on? And you might get some information. And then you might be like, you know, I can work with you in these things. Let me know if there's something we can do to make it less stressful for you because that's not my goal. I think those kinds of conversations are so important. And I think it makes your workplace a better place. But being honest. I do need you to be at work on time. But if there's something hindering you, maybe there's something we can do about your shift maybe it's not important that you be here at nine, maybe 9:30 is okay. But just as long as you're here at 9:30 when people expect you. So I think it's just really important to have those honest conversations and recognize that lots of things happen. We were talking about Chick-fil-A, and I know I'm droning on, but the Chick-fil-A example is so important. We were talking about as consumers, you walk into Chick-fil-A, and they make you feel good. They're like, happy to be there.

- It's their pleasure.

- It's their pleasure. You go to some other fast food, other kinds of restaurants and you're like, am I interrupting you? Is this not where you wanna be? I mean, I understand that it's hard work, or whatever, but I come for an experience, not just food. And so, I need you to be a little bit more positive. Especially when you get the non-positive, you're like, well how are you today? And I say, I'm excellent! And they're just like, . It's not a good experience.

- I think it's the trickle down effect, right? When the employees are being treated well, and they're feeling the love, or whatever it is that they're just really enjoying doing what they're doing that's gonna pass down to the client. And I think it's gotta come from the top-down.

- I think that's true. You know, so no matter how large your corporation is if you can train your management, your senior management your management, your employees, it's gonna come down to the customer.

- And managing is more than being technically proficient. A technical expert. Management is a skill in and of it's own. And a lot of people are promoted to management because they're technically stellar. But have no people skills. Have no ability to engage with people, connect with people, make a team thrive. Finding out what motivates people. All of that is part of management. Employees want to be heard. I can tell you, I worked for the EEOC for four years. I can tell you how many cases I think would never have gotten to the commission if the employer or the HR person, or the manager had sat down and listened. It could have been the same answer, no. You can't have that. We can't do that, whatever. But just being heard, really feel like you're being heard can solve a lot of problems internally. And that's what we really motivate people to do. We do a lot of training on internal investigations. On management skills, on how to be compliant with EEO laws. One of our mantras, is we like to keep our employers out of trouble. We want to keep the EEOC from knocking. From the department of labor from knocking on your door. We really want you to be successful. Because those distractions are not profitable. And profitable for the company usually means profitable for everyone, including the employees. And so we really want to help you be successful and by taking some things off your plate. But, you have to somehow, listen to our advice sometimes about being proactive which I know, is hard. Because you're about doing the work. Sometimes, thinking about these employment issues are not top of mind.

- Yeah. So, in wrapping up, if there was one piece of advice that you would give to an entrepreneur that's scaling that's getting ready to hire, what would that be?

- I would say, interview some employment lawyers. I would say, don't try to make yourself an expert on everything, as you brought up before. And employment law is something that you can contact out. And it's not as expensive as you think it might be. And so, find an employment lawyer that's going to work with you, who's going to give you salient advice, there may be a list of things you could do, but, we'll talk to you about priorities and budget. But find an employment lawyer that you can call when you need one, when you need to have questions answered. But really do, seriously, find someone that you can connect with.

- So hire an expert. Love it.

- Hire an expert. Contract out what you can contract out.

- Thanks Chandra, I really appreciate you.

- Thank you, I really enjoyed it. Thanks so much.

- [Chris] Hey guys, thanks for tuning into the episode. If you enjoyed it, show some love. Give me a thumbs up and subscribe. Also, make sure you check out our exclusive C-Level group on Facebook.
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