Monthly Archives

August 2013

Small Business Obligations for Maternity Leave Benefits

By | Business Law | 2 Comments

As a small business owner, it’s crucial to be aware of the maternity leave benefits you should be providing for your staff. There are different laws that decide these benefits and how they should be provided to your staff that differ depending on several factors and do not apply to all small businesses.

Maternity Leave Laws

Family Medical Leave Act

Maternity LeaveUnder the Family and Medical Leave act, companies are obligated to offer unpaid, job guaranteed leave for families who have medical reasons under the group health insurance. A member of staff is required to take 12 workweeks of leave for the birth and care of child in the first year. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is only valid for companies that have more than 50 employees. This, therefore, cuts most small businesses out of the situation.

State Laws

Depending on where your business is located the state laws may offer different rights for pregnant women and regarding maternity leave. In California, the state provides disability payments for two thirds of a pregnant woman’s wages for approximately six to eight weeks. To find out what the laws are in your local area contact the state pregnancy, childbirth, and adoption leave statues.

General Leave Policies

If you are a small business and you are not covered by the FMLA Maternity Leave or state laws it’s important to ensure create a leave policy for your employees. Providing maternity leave allows your staff to enjoy the rights of having a child and can give a positive working environment and happier staff overall. On average 90% of workers return to work after taking maternity leave.

If you choose not to put a policy in place, it’s important to consider how long the employee has been working for you. The FMLA requires that a staff member works over 24 hours per week to be eligible, but state policies require no minimum. Policies can apply to both women and men of both adopted and blood children.

Preparing Staff for Cases of Maternity Leave

When it comes to preparing your business for staff taking leave, there are a few things to put into place to ensure your business continues to run smoothly:

  • Be sure to train up your staff to take on the extra work when you lose a member of staff on temporary, or more permanent leave. These steps will ensure a smooth and seamless transaction.
  • You could also consider cross training your staff to handle multiple jobs and tasks. That way once any of your staff members takes maternity leave business is not backed up with jobs that your other staff cannot handle.
  • Another option is to hire contractors and freelancers from outside. There are several companies that specialize in freelancers who can learn the job quickly and professionally, but may be a more expensive temporary solution.

However you choose to take care of maternity leave policies within your small business it’s important to be aware of the options and what laws apply to you as a business owner.

At Gutglass, Erickson, Bonville & Larson, we understand the challenges of dealing with legal issues for your business and we are here to help. Give us a call and we will be happy to answer all your questions. Call us today at (414) 273-1144.

How to Legally Change Your Business Name

By | Blog, Business Law | 2 Comments

Change Your Business NameAfter being in a business for some time, you may ponder whether to change your business name to something which reflects your product, mission, and to appeal to your audience more accurately. Whatever the reason, changing your business name can be very costly if you have had the business for some time. Logos, stationery, business cards, advertisements, sales collateral, and many more items will have to be reproduced. It might also be beneficial to launch a campaign to market the new business name to your customers.

How to Change Your Business Name

All businesses follow similar steps when changing business names. However, every type of business legal entity possesses unique requirements. Limited liability companies have some requirements which differ from sole proprietorships. Therefore, before embarking on the journey of changing your business name, the steps below are critical. Most of the steps are required by law; however, others are just good business practices.

Business Name Change Checklist

Check trademark

Trademark infringements usually carry high costs for businesses. Before making a decision on a name, it is vital to utilize trademark search tools of U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to help you know whether a similar name, or its variation, is trademarked.

Check the available domain names

Before doing anything toward changing your business name, ensure you are able to claim it online. This can be easily achieved with a web search; however, it is also important to check if a web address or a complementary name is available. The WHOIS database can assist you with this. If the name you intend to use is available, claim it immediately.

Make your secretary of state aware

Before changing names in articles of associations, all types of businesses, except sole proprietorships, should inform their Secretary of State first. States usually have online forms for this activity and a small token must be paid. In this process, you will find out if the new business name you intend is already being used in your state by other partnerships or corporations. This can be achieved through online state databases of fictitious names or registered business names.

File another “Doing Business As” Name

If you have in the past filed a DBA (Doing Business As), with the local government in your area, you will have to repeat this procedure using your new business name.

Revise business permits and licenses

Check with your city, state, or county to determine the due process involved in obtaining or updating new business permits and licenses. A fee is also charged for this process.

Notify the tax authorities

Your state, local revenue agencies, and IRS will need to know the changes in your business name.

A new EIN may be vital

Generally, partnerships, corporations, and sole proprietorships do not require a new Employer Identification Number (EIN) when they change business names. However, some situations call for a new EIN; for instance if a single member takes over a business as a sole proprietorship, or if a partnership incorporates.

Update business contacts, agreements and documents

Besides making updates on your business materials, building your new brand, and notifying your clients, it is important to revisit and make updates on business lease documents, bank accounts, business loan paper works, and many other items to reflect the new name of your business.

At Gutglass, Erickson, Bonville & Larson, we understand the challenges of dealing with legal issues for your business and we are here to help. Give us a call and we will be happy to answer all your questions. Call us today at (414) 273-1144.

Social Media Policy for Your Small Business

By | Blog, Business Law | 12 Comments

Social Media for Small BusinessWith social media, so many avenues of engagement and communication with clients are opened up. Social media includes blogging, and it is one of the biggest online sources of copyright violation. Blogging also falls under certain endorsement laws for products most have no idea about. Coming up with a social media policy for the protection of your employees and business is thus imperative. To help you come up with one, there are a number of considerations you should have in mind.

This also comes with a level of risk and a need for a social media policy. A good example is the fact that employees could be accessing social networks at work or posting things about the business on social media. Employees could also be slamming your competitors, and in some cases, infringing on copyright through posting user-generated images and content without any permission. One of the most important things is ensuring confidential information about the company is not being released.

Social Media for Your Small Business

The first place to start is with the firm’s employees. While you might allow them to access social networks at work, you have a choice to limit or control access. The law offers some guidance on the things you could restrict your workers from engaging in. With tablets, smart phones, and PCs providing access from just about anywhere, blocking employees from accessing social media might be difficult. Nonetheless, come up with a clear social media policy on instances when social media should be accessed while at work and whether employees will face any punishment if they abuse the laid out code of conduct.

In case you intend to permit social media access, make sure the policy guidelines developed outline your expectations on the area of sharing proprietary and confidential company information such as documents, videos, and photos. Since the laws are constantly changing, work with an attorney to certify you are complying with local, state, and federal laws on employment and social media.

Social Media & the Law

Social channels such as sharing images sites, social networking sites, and blogs are areas where intellectual property infringements take place. This is why your policy should detail the information that can or cannot be posted online by workers sharing on behalf of the company. For instance, if your company administrator on Facebook wants to use the product image of a manufacturer, confirm you have written permission from the manufacturer before posting, unless permission was granted beforehand.

Many small business owners reach social media administrators and bloggers to solicit endorsements, mentions, or reviews. Federal Trade Commission understands businesses offer freebies, cash, and other compensations to get these reviews and requires that the endorser clearly indicates in the post the mention, or review, was received in exchange with some form of compensation or fee. Also, if an employee has to promote a service or product on their blog or social network, disclosing any affiliation with your company is mandatory.

The most important thing in any social media policy is that it does not have to appear like a legal piece of writing. It should outline in simple terms how a company and its workers should be represented on social media. These policies will include how and when employees are to use social media, how to come up with a unique social media tone, and reminders that intellectual properties and customer service guidelines have to be respected, among others.

Expectations for respectful and courteous engagement on social media from the subscribers and followers can also be added in the social media policy, which is a great defense in case some offensive posts have to be removed.

At Gutglass, Erickson, Bonville & Larson, we understand the challenges of dealing with legal issues for your business and we are here to help. Give us a call and we will be happy to answer all your questions. Call us today at (414) 273-1144.

Starting a Small Business Legal Tips

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Starting a small business in the US is a wise idea, as these small enterprises are the backbone of the American economy. No matter how exciting a new venture may sound, it may also be quite a challenge to establish a small business. After a business type has been identified, a business plan determined, the location chosen, and how the business is financed, you will be faced with the legal aspect of your project.

Legal Aspect of Starting a Small Business

Starting a Small BusinessIn business, legal matters are high up the ladder of importance and priority. One of the first legal steps you may have to take is to establish the legal organization of your business; whether it is a sole ownership, corporation, partnership, cooperative, limited liability company, or even a non-profit enterprise.

Doing Business As (DBA)

Legally, before you set up your small business, you are required to register the ‘Doing Business As’ name. If the name you choose for your business is your name, with no addition whatsoever, you can skip this step, but for all other names that are not your name, you must register with the relevant authorities. This, in the US, is done through the state authorities. Note that it is not a requirement in all states to register a DBA.

Business Tax

Once your chosen name has been approved, you will then need a specific tax identification number. This is acquired from the IRS, and also the revenue agency at the state level. Local taxes are mandatory, but each state has its own tax obligations. Almost all states impose a business income tax, which depends on how your business is legally structured; whether a sole ownership, LLC, and so forth. There are also federal employment taxes that are paid by business owners to the state. All US states require payment of workers’ compensation insurance as well as unemployment insurance taxes. If your small business is located in one of the below states, payment for temporary disability insurance is obligatory:

• New York
• Puerto Rico
• Hawaii
• California
• New Jersey

Generally, it is important to know about business tax, general tax, workers’ compensation insurance, and unemployment insurance taxes when setting up any small business.

Permits

After successful registration and tax compliance, you may require permits and licenses for you small business. Most of the time, permits are required for business activities that fall under regulation by federal agencies. Some of these include businesses dealing with firearms, alcohol, import of animal or plant products across states, aircraft operations, wildlife activities, commercial fishing, and the like.

EIN

When an employer-employee state exists in your small business, you must comply with employer responsibilities and regulations. Before you hire any employee, you must have a valid Employment Identification Number (EIN) necessary for taxation reporting to the IRS. As a good employer, you must keep employment tax records for no less than 4 years. You must submit your employees’ federal income tax withholding forms to the IRS and annually present wages paid to the Social Security Administration.

Commercial Zoning

As a major rule, look into zoning regulations, environmental laws, building codes, and taxation when setting up a small business. Information pertaining to legal matters in business is available in state government offices and online on the US small business administration website, which is also run by the government.

At Gutglass, Erickson, Bonville & Larson, we understand the challenges of dealing with legal issues for your business and we are here to help. Give us a call and we will be happy to answer all your questions. Call us today at (414) 273-1144.

Email, Phone, and Social Media Monitoring in the Workplace

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privacy law - Social Media Monitoring in the WorkplaceThe question of email, phone, and social media monitoring in the workplace, along with employee monitoring, has to be carefully contemplated whenever enforcement is to be undertaken. Ensuring that proper security protocol has been properly established, and put in place, will give business owners the peace of mind that they require to set their focus in moving their enterprise forward. Employees, on the other hand, are the backbone of any enterprise if it is to succeed.

Email Monitoring

Employee monitoring can be undertaken by adapting an email protocol based on the company’s email domain. Since each employee is assigned an email address for business communication, the corresponding username and password is stored in the company’s server so that email traffic can be filtered and monitored for quality assurance. Most company IT administrators can configure workstations in a way that only company assigned client email is accessible and no third party webmail can be used. By implementing this strategy, personal privacy will not be an issue in most cases, as these are all work related email communications.

Phone Monitoring

Employee monitoring by phone does work pretty much the same as an email monitoring process. A business phone system, technically known as a private branch exchange (PBX), will host all incoming and outgoing calls. A system administrator is usually assigned in the monitoring and maintenance of it, and would have the ability to filter and redirect calls and volume traffic depending on the company’s policy. Mobile and personal phones however are much more challenging for administrators compared to landline management. A personal phone is being used for private communication and such is protected by existing law and cannot be violated. But phones nowadays are no longer just phones. They are an audio and video recording device, a camera, and a gadget that are capable of sending emails. Modern phones have become the perfect gadget for industrial espionage, and if not taken care, of will cause big problems to a small enterprise.

Social Media Monitoring

It is understandable that social media monitoring is needed for the betterment of everyone. For a large organization to be successful, reputable and hardworking employees are needed. However, multiple state laws are now banning employers from asking workers for their user names and passwords of their personal social media accounts, or requesting that workers login to social media, in an attempt to monitor their activities via shoulder surfing. Employers are allowed to retrieve worker information under certain circumstances but you should consult an attorney before attempting to do so.

At Gutglass, Erickson, Bonville & Larson, we understand the challenges of dealing with legal issues for your business and we are here to help. Give us a call and we will be happy to answer all your questions. Call us today at (414) 273-1144.

Legally Claiming Made in the USA

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Legally Claiming Made in the USATo claim a product is “made in the USA”, not only must the product itself be assembled in the United States, but virtually all of its components themselves must also be made in the United States. To prevent deception and unfairness in the marketplace, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for enforcing this. FTC requires a product bearing the “made in the USA” to actually be “all or virtually all” made in the USA. If the product is fully produced in the USA it can be expressed with the label “made in the USA” or use an American flag on the label, advertising or in statements such as “true American quality”. The policy applies to products advertised or sold in the USA except those subject to country of origin labeling by other laws such as “made in china” or “made in Japan”.

Claiming Made in the USA

The FTC cannot pre-approve the usage of “made in USA”. It is the responsibility of the company making the “made in USA” claims. The product should contain no (or a negligible amount of) foreign content. Reliable and competent evidence must be substantiated that the product is “all or virtually all” made in the USA.

Final Processing – The US processing must be the last transformation in the manufacturing process, i.e. final processing and assembly of the product must have taken place in the United States. If a product is assembled in a different country, and sent to the USA for storage, the FTC would consider this to be a deceptive use of the claim “made in the USA.”

Assembled in the USA – A product where half of the components are made in China cannot bear the “made in the USA” title. However, when the principle assembly takes place in the US and the assembly is the last substantial transformation in the manufacturing process, the company can use the phrase “assembled in the USA”. The company must ensure that the product has a significant amount of US content or US processing and still exercise to be truthful in making such claims.

At Gutglass, Erickson, Bonville & Larson, we understand the challenges of dealing with legal issues for your business and we are here to help. Give us a call and we will be happy to answer all your questions. Call us today at (414) 273-1144.

Factors to Consider When Hiring Global Employees

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When we talk about hiring a global employee, we are referring to hiring workers from a foreign country. Many employers have the desire or need to hire employees from other countries, but they are usually faced with the challenge that they don’t know how to go about hiring the desired employee due to the complexities of hiring someone outside of their own country. Different countries have different laws regarding their workers which you are required to understand before hiring a global employee.

What to consider about foreign labor law

foreign labor lawTime Off Laws.

Some foreign countries, such as Europe and Australia, are very generous when it comes to vacation, maternity leave, and sick policies. Some countries even goes as far as to provide time off for career development or building a home.

Power of the Unions.

Contrary to what most Americans believe, the power of the Union at its peak during the 50’s was still below that of other countries around the world. Outside the United States, Unions carry a lot of weight; and employee benefits and work conditions are strongly controlled. You should note that you might not be able to change existing policy or conditions without union approval.

Non-Compete Agreements.

Many U.S. businesses will write non-compete agreements in the contacts of their employees, but most foreign countries prohibit the use of these non-compete agreements.

Notice.

If you are in need of laying off or firing your global employee, you must consider the time required to notify your employee before letting them go. The time given varies with different countries; just because you have the right to layoff an American employee on a Friday afternoon without notice does not mean you can do so with all global employees.

Employee Privacy.

Some countries put into place strict laws which govern what employee information can be shared publicly by an employer. Harmlessly publishing an employee directory could actually run the risk of violating foreign privacy laws.

At Gutglass, Erickson, Bonville & Larson, we understand the challenges of dealing with legal issues for your business and we are here to help. Give us a call and we will be happy to answer all your questions. Call us today at (414) 273-1144.

Does Your Business Advertising Claims Break the Law?

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Be it a small business, or a multinational company, the scrutiny and laws governing advertising claims are uniform to all. Always bear in mind that you need to do thorough groundwork before making brazen claims in an attempt to advertise and promote your product, store or services.

Does Your Business Advertising Claims Break the Law?

business laws

Have a thorough understanding of the Federal Trade Commission Act. In general, people say they did not have the legal prowess and understanding to either read or interpret the voluminous and confusing jargon of the laws. But, as it is famously said, ignorance of law is not an excuse to violate it.

If you are under-qualified to understand or interpret the laws, make sure you have credible help from your friends already in the business, or you hire the legal experts for the same. The main objective of the law is to protect the consumer and not the entrepreneur. You do not want, under any circumstance, your advertisement to bring harm to your business.

Advertise Your Business Legally

  • Never make over exaggerated claims which are impossible to believe – even with little application of common sense.
  • Never take a casual approach while advertising, make a detailed study.
  • Check in your line of business for any previous cases or consumer suits.
  • Do not make claims which are blatantly false, especially in cases related to health and safety.
  • Do not blindly believe your advertising firm.
  • Do not make a false claim, even if your main rivals or counterparts did so.
  • Always keep the consumer satisfaction in mind.
  • Never think that you will never be caught for fraud in advertising. A good deal of shopkeepers have got caught by the long hands of justice.
  • Get an idea of international best practices.
  • Go through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) act line by line.

Consult with legal experts, and setup safeguards so you don’t enter into any problematic situations.  It will likely be less costly to work with the legal experts beforehand than to face large fines or legal battles afterwards. Even when one looks into the success stories of some great start ups and new businesses, their clever advertising gets the credit. A good advertising can pull in a large group of customers into your store or business. A bad one can have the FTC officials knocking at your door. So be clever and play by the rules, so that you do not end up being played by the rules.

At Gutglass, Erickson, Bonville & Larson, we understand the challenges of dealing with legal issues for your business and we are here to help. Give us a call and we will be happy to answer all your questions. Call us today at (414) 273-1144.