For your convenience, your most common questions are answered right here.
Do you offer professional development seminars and keynote speeches?
I am member of the National Speakers Association and eWomen Network Speakers Association and provide keynote speeches, breakout sessions and development workshops for all types of business professionals and industries. I focus on leadership conferences, human resources conference and women’s conferences where I share my love of the law and how it can be leveraged to navigate the legal landmines™ that exist for businesses today and grow a strong and profitable company.
Are there any types of business that you don’t work with?
Generally, no. The concept for creating a strong foundation for your business and growing it is the same regardless of the type of business you are in. I’ve worked with entrepreneurs and business owners in all stages of the business cycle – from cradle to grave.
I’m not sure I can afford a lawyer or business consultant, how do you work with your clients?
There are several ways I work with clients: Hourly billing, project billing, and annual retainer arrangements. Hourly billing is the traditional billing structure for professionals where the client is charge an hourly rate and the ultimate fee is based on the hours the professional needed to complete the task. This type of billing structure works well on small matters and is the standard for litigation matters since the total hours needed are nearly impossible to estimate.
Clients, however, often like more predictability than the hourly billing system. There are times when a project rate or flat fee works well for both parties. This arrangement works well when you want a discrete task completed such as a business evaluation or creation of a human resources handbook.
If you are going to need ongoing services then a retainer arrangement might make the most sense. In this arrangement, you pay a set monthly fee over a designated period usually 6 or 12 months for a certain amount of hours of services over that time period This arrangement gives the client the reassurance of having a professional on speed-dial and expense predictability. One caution on this arrangement, the consultant will be paid the monthly fee whether you use her services or not.
BUSINESS LAW FAQs
What are the biggest challenges to starting a business?
Business owners face a number of challenges when they start their business, but most new businesses face these issues:
- Having a good strategic plan
- Not implementing systems
- Developing your great idea into a product or service that clients can’t resist
- Working all the time in so many different roles
- Cash flow issues and financial distress
- Keeping going and motivated despite setbacks and client rejections
- Hiring and keeping good employees
- Disciplining and firing employees that don’t move the business forward
- Time management including balancing personal and business needs
- Not having an A-Team for support and vision development
Do I have to incorporate my business?
No. But you should. Businesses can be a sole proprietorships, partnerships, corporations or limited liability companies. With a sole proprietorship your business is just you. When two people run a business together and don’t incorporate they have a partnership. Again, they’re going solo. A corporation or an LLC files Articles of Incorporation with a state. In the law’s eyes a company’s is “person.” So, incorporating usually protects your stuff from the business’s obligations. That’s why you incorporate. If you aren’t incorporated you are responsible for the business’s debts. But if your LLC gets sued you’re generally not responsible for the business’s debts.
How often should a corporation hold meetings and update its minutes?
A corporation must hold a meeting of its shareholders and directors, either individually or together, at least once a year. The company needs to keep minutes of those meeting in its corporate record book. Also, any time the company has a major change, expense or transition it will generally want to approve those changes or purchases in a special meeting. Failure to maintain and document regular meetings can jeopardize the company’s ability shield its owners from personal liability for the corporation’s actions.
What is piercing the corporate veil and what does it mean for my business?
The company extends a “corporate shield” or veil over its officers, directors and owners that protects them from liability for the corporation’s actions. A plaintiff can “pierce the corporate veil” under state law for two reasons: (1) fraud of the individuals; or (2) treating the company as the owner’s “alter ego.”
Is it a good idea to have a Buy-Sell Agreement?
Yes, if there is more than one business owner. An owner’s death, divorce, disability or termination of employment or even disputes between the business owners can seriously jeopardize the businesses success. A buy-sell agreement minimizes these problems by providing for a dispute resolution mechanism or when that fails, an orderly transition period. The truth is that a real marriage is often easier to get out than a business arrangement that isn’t working well.
My business has been sued. Do I need to hire an attorney?
Generally, yes. Let’s face it. Being sued is stressful and overwhelming. Having a trusted and impartial adviser is critical to help your business handle the lawsuit in the most cost effective and least destructive means possible. Also, if your business is incorporated it’s considered a separate legal person. This means if you represent it and aren’t a licensed attorney you are engaged in the unauthorized practice of law. Some state courts have a small claims division, generally claims of less than $5,000, where a company doesn’t have to be represented by an attorney. Even if you operate a sole proprietorship you probably want to hire an attorney since there are rules and time limits you’ll be responsible for complying with and an attorney knows there requirements.
Are employment laws the same in every state?
In part. Federal employment laws apply in the same manner in every state, but states have their own laws. State employment laws either cover an area of the employer/employee relationship not covered by the Federal laws (such as state anti-discrimination laws that apply from your first employee), or grant the employee more benefits than the Federal laws does. As an example, Federal employment laws require the employee be paid overtime for all time worked over 40 hours in a work week but state laws may require overtime after the employee works 8 hours in a day. Your policies and procedures need to comply with both state and Federal laws.
What is the difference between hiring an employee and hiring an independent contractor?
There are two main distinctions between hiring an employee and an independent contractor: control and taxes. When you hire an employee you have the right to control his working hours, location and methods of performing the work. On the other hand, you hire an independent contractor to produce a product – say a website – and you have no or very limited control over how the contractor performs that task. When you pay an employee you are required to withhold federal and state taxes and other obligations but an independent contractor is paid her gross wages and is responsible for paying her own taxes. Some businesses are tempted to treat employees as independent contractor for the perceived reduction in taxes. DON’T make this mistake. Misclassifying an employee can be financially devastating to a business and its owners.
What is employment at-will?
There are two types of employees; “at will” and “term” or “for cause” employees. An “at will” employee can be fired without having “just cause.” In other words, at will employment can be ended for any lawful reason or no reason whatsoever. If I don’t like my employee’s tie, I can, but would be silly to fire him for it. On the other hand, “term” or “for cause” employment can only be ended when the time or “term” expires or if the employee has done something wrong. “Cause” is defined by your contract or the law.
Do I need an employee handbook?
Yes. Although what you need in the handbook will vary depending on the number of employees the company has. An employee handbook is the first step in introducing an employee into the business’s culture, and answers regular questions. When you only have a handful of employees the handbook acts as your business’s FAQ sheet – what hours the company’s open, what holidays are recognized, how leave is requested, company procedures, etc. A handbook also advises the employees of their state and federal rights and the procedures for bringing a complaint to management.
Unlawful interview questions
- Have you ever been arrested?
- Are you married?
- What is your religion?
- Do you have children?
- Do you have responsibilities other than work that could interfere with performing the job’s duties?
- Are you disabled or have you ever had a worker’s compensation claim?
- What country are you from?
- Is English your first language?
- Do you have any debt?
- Have you used illegal drugs?
- When did you graduate?
- And Many More…
Lawful interview questions
- Have you been convicted of a crime?
- Are you available for work on Saturday or Sunday?
- Are you available for travel?
- Do you have responsibilities other than work that could interfere with performing the job’s duties?
- Can you perform the physical requirements of the position?
- Are you authorized to work in the United States?
- What other languages do you read or write?
- Would your financial situation affect your ability to perform?
- Are you currently or in the past 6 months, have you used illegal drugs?
- How long have you worked in the industry?
Do I need employee contracts and agreements?
Having an employee agreement is strongly recommended. First, it sets expectations. Second, state law gives the company some limited protection from an employee’s using the company’s property for the employee’s benefit, but generally the company should have more than the bare minimum. In some cases a non-competition agreement might be warranted and a business can only obtain post-termination of employment restrictions by contract.
Do I need a job description?
YES. The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) make job descriptions highly desirable if not nearly compulsory. Setting out the job duties allows a business to properly classify the position for overtime compliance. Setting out valid physical requirements for a position can avoid later claims of disability discrimination. Additionally, having a written job description gives your employee certainty about where she fits in the business’s operations.
Can you withhold an employee’s final paycheck?
Generally, NO. State law determines when you must pay your employee his final paycheck. Some states require the employee be paid his final check on his final day while others just require the final check to be paid in the next normal payroll cycle. The one very limited exception to this rule is when the employee has previously signed a written agreement allowing the company to withhold certain amounts such as payroll advances or the expense of unreturned equipment from this check. Without a valid signed withholding agreement you CANNOT withhold the employee’s final paycheck. Even with a signed agreement a business withholds funds from this last check at its peril.