risks-240Operating in today’s business world can sometimes seem like you’re navigating a legal minefield. You must be aware of, and comply with, numerous laws and regulations. A misstep can result in expensive and time-consuming legal challenges.

Filler & Associates have listed below eight legal risks facing businesses. Remember that many states and localities have additional laws, and you should examine federal and state guidelines for any type of claim in order to protect your Maine-based small business. Consult with Filler & Associates for more information about your situation.

1. Employees charging discrimination, harassment and unfair treatment. Employees and job applicants are protected from unfair treatment or harassment based on race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, disability or genetic information. It is also illegal to retaliate against an employee because he or she complained about unfair treatment or assisted with an investigation or lawsuit.

Employees away on military duty and those returning from military duty have re-employment rights and protection from discrimination.
Covered employees must be given leave for their own illnesses, to care for ill family members, for pregnancy, maternity, or for certain duties as military family members.

2. Employees charging wage and hour violations. Employers must pay minimum hourly wages and overtime pay to employees who are not exempt from these protections. Proper meal and rest periods must be provided. Also, employers must be aware of workers they consider independent contractors as they may in fact be employees entitled to minimum wage and overtime pay.

3. Compliance with regulatory laws. In all industries, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful working conditions for employees. Various industries have many additional laws and regulations. For example, in construction, there are regulations involving scaffolding, noise exposure, hazardous materials, ventilation, eye protection and more.

A variety of federal laws have whistleblower protections (and in some cases, rewards) for employees, customers, vendors and others who report non-compliance.

4. Contracts. We all know a well-drafted contract provides protection for the parties signing it. Contracts determine rights and obligations. Still, many businesses enter into transactions with poorly written contracts or contracts with standard provisions that are not favorable to them. Business owners and managers sometimes even make deals with no contracts at all. Then when disputes occur, they are forced to rely on memory and find that verbal contracts are difficult to prove in court.

Remember too that the internet has changed the way we do business and you may sign contracts online. It’s important to determine jurisdiction so you aren’t called into court far away from your business’ location.

It’s also important to review contracts after laws and regulations change to ensure they are still complete and relevant.

5. Taxes. The federal tax code is complex and constantly changing. Businesses naturally want to keep their tax bills low by taking advantage of every tax break available to them. But if they go too far, they may face a costly IRS or state tax agency audit. An improper deduction can result in back taxes, interest and penalties.

It is imperative that business owners stay in the know about all applicable tax laws. Talk with Filler & Associates for more information about your specific situation.

6. Employee Benefits. Businesses with employee retirement plans must stay in compliance with a variety of fiduciary, disclosure and reporting requirements, and they must update their plans when new laws pass. Filler & Associates, your attorney and employee benefits professional can help ensure you stay in compliance with all applicable laws.

7. Customer disputes. Business owners have to be prepared to deal with a variety of disputes from disgruntled customers. They may claim they are the victims of faulty products, false advertising fraud, or breaches of contract. They may sustain injuries on your property and claim your business was negligent.

8. Taking out loans. Operating a business generally involves getting financing. It’s important to make sure you understand repayment options, tax implications, promissory note terms, personal liability, and issues with shareholder loans, collateral, and interest rates when borrowing.

As you can see, businesses face a variety of legal dangers and laws that may change. The eight risks listed above only scratch the surface. Effectively managing the legal risks facing your business is an important part of successfully growing your business. Consult with Filler & Associates for more information about minimizing legal risks in your situation.