Quite frequently, as an experienced business attorney, entrepreneurs have asked me what things they need to be conscious of and be knowledgeable in when owning a business. Although many business owners are great at what they do, they do not necessarily have the know-how about business related subjects which will ultimately play an important role in their success in their business venture. As such, I have come up with a list of areas that I feel are important for any business owner to be knowledgeable in or to at least have access to experienced legal counsel, a certified public accountant and a business related insurance agent or agency.
- Business Insurance. Almost all businesses need some form of insurance to protect either themselves as owners or the company as a whole. A business owner should sit down and explore all the business insurance programs available to them consistent with their business operations and needs. Business insurance is an important part of protecting business assets and the owners from potential exposure. For example, if a company handles a lot of money, the company should consider getting employee dishonesty insurance to cover the potential exposure of an embezzlement claim.
- Government Regulations. Business owners should be cognizant of all government regulations that could affect the workplace. This includes tax, employment, and conducting business in general (e.g. licensing). Some businesses, depending on the specific industry, are more regulated than others. For example, the trucking industry might be more highly regulated by laws than perhaps a pizza establishment.
- Business Taxes. A general understanding of all taxes related to the company is important. Knowing how much tax will be assessed to businesses is as equally important as getting an understanding of when they need to be paid as well as what forms need to be filed with local, state and the federal government. Failure to pay taxes when due and in the amount due could have a serious, detrimental impact on a business.
- Business Contracts. Ultimately businesses will be doing businesses with third parties (e.g. vendors, employees, individuals, other companies, etc.), and in many of those instances, a written agreement is important to protect the interests of the business. In many instances, contracts will dictate what the parties have agreed upon.
- Intellectual Property. Protecting your name, product, slogan, or services are extremely important in business. Getting trademarks, patents, and copyrights protects you from competitors.
In my opinion, when running a business, business owners should have 3 “trusted” advisors which would include an experienced business attorney, certified public accountant and a business insurance agent or agency
Below is a non-exhaustive list of things to consider when starting a business.
1. Before starting a business, do you have a business plan which encompasses both short and long term goals and objectives?
2. Where to conduct business activity (what state and community) and what type of business structure should you utilize (e.g. corporation, LLC, etc.).
3. Will you need financing to start up the business and what are the projected start-up costs?
4. What type of insurance coverage will the company need?
5. What type of licenses or permits will the company need?
6. Federal, state or local registration requirements for business taxes?
7. If hiring employees, information on payroll taxes and labor and employment law compliance.
If you plan on starting a business it is highly recommended that you seek out a business attorney, CPA and/or accountant, banker and insurance broker who can assist you in the process and answer questions. Seth T. Seidell, Attorney is an experienced business attorney in Michigan.
The following are a non-exhaustive list of Michigan related employment documents that employees should consider having reviewed by an attorney before executing them. These types of documents normally involve pre and post-employment matters and can often involve intricate legal terms of art which the general lay person may not understand. Having an attorney review these legal documents to assist in the negotiating process, which may include proposing modifications and changes to the documents or to merely consult with the employee on what all the terms and conditions mean would be a wise decision for any lay person.
- Restrictive Covenant Agreements: Restrictive covenant agreements commonly involve a written document drafted by the company or their legal counsel which normally encompass clauses pertaining to confidentiality, non-solicit, non-disclosure, trade secrets, innovations and non-compete and are commonly often required to be signed in conjunction with an offer of employment. These types of agreements restrict an employee’s ability to do certain things while employed and after employment.
- Employment Contracts: Employment contracts are commonly found in areas involving highly compensated individuals or those who will hold upper management positions or who have professional degrees.
- Severance Agreements: Severance agreements are commonly offered at the time of separation of employment. Severance agreements will normally provide additional money to the employee in exchange for a release by the employee not to sue the employee for any reason involving their past employment with the company. Severance agreements may also include restrictive post-employment covenants.
During my many years of legal practice in Michigan I have come across numerous situations where businesses lacked insurance coverage when they tried to file a claim with their insurance carrier and/or was denied coverage when a claim was filed because it was excluded from their policy. Many of the owners have asserted to me an “I didn’t know I didn’t have the coverage, my insurance agent never told me that my policy wouldn’t cover the type of claim involved or my insurance agent didn’t advise me that I needed additional coverage for certain types of potential claims.” In many instances, I have come to the realization and conclusion that the business owner merely didn’t want to pay for the additional coverage or didn’t think that type of coverage was needed. I always tell my business clients when they plan on purchasing business insurance they should review the policy in its entirety before signing on the dotted line, and to especially review and take notice of the area that usually is entitled “exclusions” from the policy. In many instances, and depending on your state’s insurance statute, an insurance agent must inform you of all coverages available to the business. Many insurance agencies and agents are now requiring you to fill out waiver forms if you do not wish to take certain additional coverages for your business so they can avoid potential malpractice claims. Depending on the type of industry a business is involved in may determine the type of extra or additional coverage the business should look into. A business owner would be wise to spend time reading a property and casualty policy or any other business related policy in advance of binding coverage with the insurance carrier in order to verify what is covered and what is excluded from coverage.
Between 2013-2015 the Michigan Unemployment Agency assessed thousands of Michigan workers with claims of fraud pertaining to unemployment benefits. Although the state claims it was doing everything by the book, those who have filed suit against the state of Michigan and Michigan legislators have indicated that the problem with improper adjudications pertaining to unemployment matters started when the state switched over to a new computer system and laid off approximately 400 people in the process. Estimates indicate that approximately 60,000 filed claims during this period should be re-reviewed by in person unemployment adjudicators. A high percentage of the Michigan unemployment fraud cases brought before administrative law judges have been summarily dismissed on multiple grounds.
The law firm of Seth T. Seidell, has specialized in Michigan unemployment matters since 1998, including many cases involving misrepresentation and fraud. Although each case is unique based on its own facts, the Seidell law firm has been highly successful in winning many of those cases. If you believe that you have been mistakenly charged with fraud and/or misrepresentation by the Michigan unemployment agency, and whether or not your appeal period has run out, you may still be entitled to a review of your claim by a state administrative law judge or otherwise.
National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) Scrutinizes Employer Handbook and Other Written Policy Language of Private Non-Union Employers
Section 7 of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) guarantees employees “the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection,” as well as the right “to refrain from any or all such activities.” One of the great misconceptions in the business world is that the NLRA does not apply to private employers who are non-union. The NLRA applies to both union and non-union private sector employers and is regulated by the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) as well as the federal courts. Generally, disputes in this area arise when a private non-union employee has been disciplined, suspended and/or terminated for violation of company policies and procedures which have been generally noted in employer handbooks.
Recent rulings of the NLRB include the following handbook provisions and/or written policies and procedures that were deemed unlawful under the NLRA:
- Provisions defining “confidential information” as “personnel information, including, but not limited to, all personnel lists, rosters, personal information of co-workers” and “personnel information such as home phone numbers, cellphone numbers, addresses and email addresses.”
- A blanket rule that bars employees involved in worker misconduct probes from discussing the proceedings with their colleagues.
- Language that called for “courtesy” on the part of employees.
- “At-Will” employment clause that states the employment relationship cannot be amended, modified or altered in any way.
- A general policy that suggests that employees must first take a complaint through an open-door policy, dispute resolution or human resources and does not allow employees to complain to each other or outsiders (e.g. NLRB).
- No-loitering rules after finishing a shift.
- Statements that indicate that the employer is “non-union.”
- Dissemination of information during non-work hours or in break rooms.
- Requiring employees to represent a company in a “positive and professional manner” and to “avoid negative comments.”
- Certain types of social media postings.
When it comes to employer handbooks and/or other written policies and procedures there is no substitute to having those documents reviewed periodically by trained professionals such as legal counsel.
The following summarizes cases and/or legal matters handled by the Seidell Law firm for the year 2015. This list in non-exhaustive and does not represent all legal matters handled by the firm.
- Represented and resolved multiple wrongful discharge cases on behalf of employees
- Represented and resolved multiple employment related matters on behalf of employers
- Resolved several unemployment fraud cases with favorable rulings to the employee
- Resolved several administrative individual licensing matters before state government agencies
- Drafted and/or reviewed multiple corporate employee handbooks, forms, policies and procedures
- Handled multiple buy/sell transactions on behalf of the seller or buyer
- Litigated and settled a breach of contract case between two companies involving failure to pay past due rent
- Drafted and reviewed business and employment contracts covering a wide range of industries
- Represented employees and employers on issues before the EEOC, MDCR and wage and hour
- Handled multiple federal trademark filings
There are many things to consider when starting a business in Michigan. Although the list below is non-exhaustive, these items, in addition to your business plan, pertain to areas covering the law, taxes and insurance. When working your business plan, you should also incorporate these items into your overall start-up costs.
- Business Entity Type: Commonly, there are multiple business types, including: sole proprietorship (e.g. dba), partnerships, limited liability company and corporations. From a legal perspective, lawyers generally avoid the use of a sole proprietorship and partnerships as they drastically increase your personal liability. In addition, there will be certain tax implications and requirements depending on the entity you form.
- Business Legal Documents: Many businesses that form either an LLC or corporation, especially when multiple owners are involved, will also need business related documents such as an operating agreement or bylaws, restrictive covenants, and a buy-sell agreement.
- Business Insurance: There are multiple types of insurances available for each business and certain businesses may require specific insurance as it relates to their specific industry. A thorough discussion with a property and casualty independent insurance agent is a must when starting a business.
- Business License and Regulations: Some types of businesses require a special license and/or require the owner to have a license (e.g doctor, lawyer, etc.). Further analysis should be conducted to determine what licenses you may need from a local, state and/or federal level before you conduct business. In addition, many types of businesses are regulated by local, state and federal laws and a thorough review of these laws should be conducted.
- Business Tax Registration. You will want to determine, based on your business, whether or not you need to file for business related taxes with the state, especially if your business has employees and/or sales or use taxes. A thorough discussion with your CPA should be conducted. They can also assist you in getting your federal tax ID number with the IRS.
- Businesses with Employees. If you plan on hiring employees you should consult with an employment attorney to discuss your legal requirements as an employer.
In closing, prior to starting any business you should consult with an experienced business attorney regarding any legal documents that are necessary, an experienced employment attorney if you plan on hiring employees, a CPA or accountant regarding tax matters and a property and casualty independent insurance agent for business related insurance. All three of these trusted advisors will be critical to your business success.
A human resource individual can be described as a person who “professionally” oversees the organization’s human resource management functions. This includes a wide spectrum of managing the entire employee-employer relationship, including outside forces that interact, and employment laws applicable to the workplace.
Employees are a businesses’ “most valuable asset!” Whether you have just one employee or many, the success of any business operation lies with its employees. Attracting and retaining employees is critical to any businesses’ operational success. Unfortunately, many business owners unwisely leave human resource functions to individuals who are not qualified in the area (e.g. receptionist, office manager, accounting, etc.), because the individual lacks the proper education, experience, or otherwise, which leaves the business operation vulnerable to employee litigation, increased turnover, and unhappy employees. Business operators should use a qualified individual to manage key internal human resource functions. There are three (3) key areas of human resource management which can be summed up into the following categories:
- Employee Recruitment and Retention: includes by way of example, but not limitation creating organizational roles, interviewing, job descriptions, selection and placement, assessments, and background screening
- Employee Retention and Engagement: includes by way of example, but not limitation on boarding of new employees, training and development, compensation and benefits, career and/or succession planning, performance management, and employee related issues
- HR Policies, Procedures, and Law Compliance: includes by way of example, but not limitation, HR strategy, HR tools, HR policies (e.g. employee manuals and forms), compliance with local, state, or federal employment laws, HR training, education, and certifications.