Category Archives: Corporate

SUMMARY OF 10 TIPS FOR SMALL BUSINESSES

I hope everyone has enjoyed my monthly tips over the last year for those who own, or want to own, a small business .  I thought as a closing for this series that I would summarize the tips in a one-page document that you can take with you and refer back to when you need a reminder.

First Tip: Create your corporate shield to “shield” you as an individual from liability by creating a corporation or a limited liability company for your business.

Second Tip: Get appropriate business insurance (worker’s compensation, unemployment, business liability, professional liability, health, etc.) and pay taxes.   

Third Tip: Do not misclassify your employees as independent contractors; do an analysis of the type of work, supervision, tools/equipment, control, etc. of your “independent contractors” to ensure they have not been misclassified.

Fourth Tip: Know the employment laws that affect your business such as Title VII, Equal Pay Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), worker’s compensation standards and Arizona state laws.

Fifth Tip: Set written employment policies in an employment handbook, consistently follow your own policies, and train your supervisors on how to implement your company policies.

Sixth Tip: Make sure you are promoting your employee benefits to your company’s advantage and do not forget the benefits that you can offer that do not cost you anything.

Seventh Tip: Make sure you have written contracts that lay out the true terms of the contract and avoid “handshake deals” which can create serious problems for your business if you end up in court.  

Eighth Tip: Integrate written social media policies into your workplace such as prohibiting employees’ use of social media at work, employees posting your company’s confidential material, trade secrets, or proprietary information, etc. 

Ninth Tip: Determine if you need a trademark or service mark for your business and if so, register your trademark or service mark with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to obtain exclusive nationwide ownership of the trademark and the presumption that the trademark is valid over others. 

Tenth Tip: Beware of personal guarantees because if you do sign a personal guarantee, you have to be willing to pay on the debt if the main borrower, whether it’s your business or your child, fails to pay. 

The information contained herein is general information not legal advice, and does NOT establish an attorney-client relationship with Lori Brown.

Advertisements

SEVENTH TIP: THE IMPORTANCE OF WRITTEN CONTRACTS

The next tip for those who own, or want to own, a small business: make sure you have written contracts WITH CLEAR TERMS

I had a case a few years back where my client sold her home health business to a “friend”.  The two friends decided not to get a lawyer and instead used a form contract for the sale of the business.  Of course, a dispute arose after the contract was signed.  The buyer had made a down payment on the purchase of the business and then was supposed to make installment payments to pay off the balance.  But, after running the business for a short time, the buyer decided that she had not received what she expected and therefore she stopped making payments.  The dispute ended up in a lawsuit and the case went to arbitration.  The arbitrator ultimately decided that no one won the case because there was a “mutual mistake” involved, meaning the parties never really agreed on the terms of the agreement.  This was a very rare result because usually in a lawsuit someone wins.  In the end, both sides lost out, the seller never got her money, and the buyer did not get the business she expected.   

The above situation illustrates the importance of having written contracts that lay out the true terms of the contract.  When a contract ends up in court, the judge will look to the “four corners” of the contract, meaning only what it says in the contract, not some verbal side deal that was never written down.  The purpose of a contract is to deal with all potential issues that could arise.  You want to make sure that your written contracts “say what you mean”.  DO NOT just sign a business contract, read it carefully (or have an attorney review it for you).

And, the days of a “handshake deal” do not exist anymore.  I was doing legal research recently and read a quote from a case that I thought summed up this issue well and all business owners would be wise to remember:

“An agreement that is based on trust and is not documented is fine as long as there is plenty of money and as long as there are no problems. The purpose of legal agreements is to define, in advance, who has superior rights when there are not enough assets to go around.”[1]

The information contained herein is general information not legal advice, and does NOT establish an attorney-client relationship with Lori Brown or Hymson Goldstein & Pantiliat.


[1] In re Moye, Case No: 07-37770 (Bankr. S.D. Tex., 2008). 

FOURTH TIP; KNOW THE EMPLOYMENT LAWS THAT AFFECT YOUR BUSINESS

The next tip for those who own, or want to own, a small business: know the employment laws that affect your business. 

If you are in business, your purpose is to make money.  To make money, most companies need workers to run the business.  Last month we discussed the difference between an employee and an independent contractor.  If you decide that you are going to hire “employees”, then you need to know and comply with the various federal and state employment laws in effect. 

For instance, there are various federal laws that prohibit discrimination in employment. Those laws include: (1) Title VII which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, (2) the Equal Pay Act which prohibits sex-based wage discrimination, (3) the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) which protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older, (4) the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) which prohibits employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities, etc.  There are also similar state laws in Arizona that protect employees against discrimination.  You also need to comply with federal and state laws that establish minimum wage, requirements for payment of overtime work, recordkeeping and child-labor standards.  And then there are medical leave laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and worker’s compensation standards as well.

Not all of these laws affect every business because some of them only apply to businesses with a minimum number of employees.  For example, FMLA only applies to employers with 50 or more employees.  Every responsible small business owner should become aware of and comply with the employment laws that affect his/her business.  You certainly do not want to first become aware of a law that affects your business when you get hit with a government agency complaint or lawsuit.     

The information contained herein is general information not legal advice, and does NOT establish an attorney-client relationship with Lori Brown or Hymson Goldstein & Pantiliat.

THIRD TIP: EMPLOYEE V. INDEPENDENT CONTRACTOR

The next tip for those who own, or want to own, a small business: do not misclassify employees as independent contractors.  The reason that many small business owners want their workers to be independent contractors is because independent contractors are not covered by employment, labor, and related tax laws.  Therefore, a new business owner might be tempted to misclassify employees as independent contractors in order to avoid paying payroll taxes, benefits, and other liability.  Before you make this determination, you should do a careful analysis of many factors including:

  • the type of work the  worker is performing
  • whether the worker is supervising your employees
  • whether the worker has his/her own tools and equipment to perform the work
  • how much control you have over the worker (such as who sets the work hours and the pay rate)
  • whether the worker has his/her own insurance
  • whether the worker works for other companies or just for yours
  • whether the worker advertises his /her services separately

The above is not an exhaustive list, but demonstrates that this issue is not a simple one.  For instance, typically, independent contractors sign an independent contractor agreement which details the terms of the relationship between the company and the independent contractor.  But, do not fall into the trap of thinking that if you have a worker sign an independent contractor agreement, than that automatically makes the worker an independent contractor.  If you are being investigated by a government agency, the independent contractor agreement might be one factor that is considered, but it will be unlikely to cut short the investigation and end the inquiry altogether.

Also, consider this: if an employer fails to pay wages owed to an “employee”, that employer could liable under Arizona law for three times the unpaid wages.  If a court or government agency found that your business had misclassified an employee as an independent contractor and failed to pay wages properly, you could face other penalties as well including penalties related to the employment taxes you should have been paying all along.  There are other issues to consider as well such as immigration and worker’s compensation coverage.

My grandma used to say: “begin as you mean to go on”.  She was a wise lady because that is not only good life advice, but good business advice.  Whether you own an existing business or are starting a new one, it is wise to make sure you classify your workers properly.  And, if you already have an ongoing business and think you might have misclassified your workers, you are better off making efforts to correct your mistake now rather than letting the problem linger which could lead to bigger problems down the road.  At Hymson Goldstein & Pantiliat, PLLC we have experienced employment law attorneys who can assist you and guide you to avoid these legal pitfalls.

The information contained herein is general information not legal advice, and does NOT establish an attorney-client relationship with Lori Brown.

FATHER’S DAY

With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day around the corner, I am reminded not to forget.  Technology today makes it much easier not to forget.  We can program calendar entries into our cell phones, set reminders, alerts, alarms, and notifications, and if all else fails, remind ourselves with a sticky note taped to our computer monitor, refrigerator, front door, etc.   But, even with all of this technological assistance, many of my clients come to me and are in need of legal assistance when they have failed to meet a deadline.

One example is when a client gets served with a lawsuit.  “Service” of a lawsuit usually means that a process server has handed the person a copy of a Complaint and Summons.  After service of the Complaint, the client typically has 20 days to file an answer to the Complaint.  If the client fails to answer that Complaint, a default judgment could be entered which can lead liens on property, garnishing wages, garnishing bank accounts, etc.   None of these things are good!

Another example, which is somewhat less conspicuous, is when a small business owner gets a letter in the mail from the Arizona Department of Economic Security (“DES”).  DES is the unemployment office.  When an employee files for unemployment benefits, DES notifies the employer of the claim for unemployment benefits, and the employer typically has 10 working days from the date of the letter to respond to DES as to why the employee quit or was fired.  If the employer fails to respond to this one letter, DES will decide, without any input from the employer, whether the employee is entitled to benefits or not.   The employer can do very little later if it changes its mind and wants to protest the employee getting unemployment benefits.  Too many small businesses ignore these very important letters. So the tip for the month is, remember not to forget, and don’t ignore important letters from government agencies!!

The information contained herein is a business advertisement with general information not legal advice, and does NOT establish an attorney-client relationship with Hymson Goldstein & Pantiliat, PLLC.

FIRST TIP: CREATE YOUR CORPORATE SHIELD

As promised, we begin with our first tip for those who own, or want to own, a small business. My first tip is to create your corporate shield.

The purpose of creating your corporate shield is to “shield” you as an individual from liability. This means that if a lawsuit later develops against your company, the lawsuit would be against the company and not you as an individual. For example, I had a client once that simply picked a name for his company and began operating as that company. That client was later sued as himself because the company he was operating as was not a true legal entity. In this situation, for example, the client is sued as: “Joe Smith doing business as ABC Company”. The big problem here is if Joe Smith loses his lawsuit and gets a judgment entered against him for any amount of money, the creditor on that judgment can lien any property Joe Smith owns, garnish his wages, garnish his bank accounts, etc. Bottom line, you want to avoid being sued as an individual for issues related to your business.

The way to create your corporate shield is usually by creating a corporation or a limited liability company. This is very formal process which requires, among many other things, a filing with the Arizona Corporation Commission. You need to be sure that your corporation or limited liability company is created properly with the appropriate documentation such as bylaws, issuance of stock, stockholder agreements, operating agreements, etc. There are also tax implications involved in the choice of entity and perhaps, tax elections to be timely made.

If you, your family members or friends need help with creating a corporate shield, our team of knowledgeable attorneys are here to help.

%d bloggers like this: