- posted: Feb. 13, 2012
Just as your body needs annual wellness checkups, your business does, too. Much of the simple matters can be done by your office, without an lawyer – but if issues turn up, it may be time to check with counsel.
❏ Corporate Status. Is your business in good standing with the state? In California, corporations, limited liability companies (LLCs) and limited liability partnerships (LLPs) should check here to verify that the business is in good standing. Make sure you choose the proper entity.
Why you should care: a corporation, LLC, or LLP not in good standing in the State of California cannot bring suit or defend itself in court, according to Cal. Corp. Code § 2205 and Cal. Rev. & Tax. Code § 23301. If your business is not in good standing, even if you never get sued or sue anyone, interest and penalties are mounting up. If the business is suspended, the time to fix it is now.
❏ Statements of Information must be filed by most corporations annually, according to California Corporations Code § 1502. Previously, the state sent the form; now, it only sends a postcard.
Why you should care: The lack of a form mailed to the business can lead some businesses to forget to make the annual statement – a costly mistake, as filing it late results in a $250 penalty – ten times the cost of the form. The good news is that the form is now online, and even simpler to fill out than before; the filing fee can be paid by credit card. Put an annual reminder in your calendar system for the beginning of the month before the business incorporated – if the corporation incorporated in June, select May 1st.
❏ Wage Protection Act. When you hire new employees that are subject to the overtime rules, California now requires that employers give the new employees forms. Read here for more important information.
Why you should care: Eventually, there will be penalties associated with the failure to provide these documents to employees.
❏ Independent Contractors. Are the independent contractors the firm uses actually independent contractors, or are they employees?
Why you should care: there are new penalties for intentionally misclassifying independent contractors. Even without such penalties, paying back taxes for someone you thought was an independent contractor can devastate the business.
❏ Check your employee handbook. Does it cover important issues like:
❏ At-will employment?
❏ Getting an acknowledgment from the employee that your business handles confidential information for both itself and its customers, and the employee needs to protect that information both during and after employment with the company?
❏ Specifying that the information created by the employee belongs to the employer as part of a work-for-hire agreement, and the employee is not entitled to use that information after the employment ends?
❏ An ethics policy about dealing with customers and suppliers, that does not create conflicts of interest for your business or the employee?
❏ A policy on inspecting offices, lockers and common areas of the business for contraband?
❏ Payday and timekeeping requirements?
❏ Leave procedures, including sick leave, pregnancy leave, leaving to care for a family member, and military reserve leave?
❏ Allowable time off, such as jury duty, visiting children’s schools, and the like?
❏ Job evaluation procedures?
❏ An illness and injury prevention program?
❏ Appearance policies, including casual Fridays (if offered)?
❏ Harassment investigation procedures?
❏ Internet, email and telephone use procedures – including personal usage and ownership of email accounts, web pages, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media accounts [ /who-gives-a-tweet-about-who-owns-a-tweet/ ]?
❏ Job termination procedures?
Why you should care: a good employee handbook protects the business by specifying procedures in advance. It reduces uncertainty and the potential for trouble down the line.
❏ Make sure your insurance is up-to-date, including:
❏ Worker’s Compensation Insurance (required for all employees);
❏ Disability Insurance for officers not covered by worker’s compensation, and which can be broader in coverage than worker’s compensation;
❏ Health Insurance, with the great changes to the health care system occurring during the next few years, it may be a good time to shop around for a better policy;
❏ Life Insurance for Owners, so that should an owner die, his or her estate can be paid the value of the ownership interest without destroying the company’s future;
❏ General Business Liability Insurance – make sure that all locations are covered, as well as all assets in question. Is there enough coverage? Is there too much coverage? When a firm reduces size, sometimes it forgets to inform the insurer, and they end up paying for what the firm doesn’t need.
Why you should care: While many people pay lip service to insurance issues, there is an aspect of “out of sight, out of mind” to worrying about the issues insurance is designed to cover. Few can afford to over-insure these days, but under-insuring can be disastrous.
❏ Sales Contracts. Make sure the following is in your customer contracts:
❏ Attorneys’ Fees: It is far more likely that a customer will breach their contract with you, than you fail to do the work – and if you fail to do jobs for clients, you are not going to be in business for very long, anyway. Thus, every contract or invoice that you provide your customers should have an attorneys’ fees clause, so that if the contract has to be enforced, the prevailing party will receive reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.
❏ Jurisdiction. The contract is to be interpreted according to the law of your jurisdiction. You know, for better or for worse, your jurisdiction’s laws – you don’t always know the other jurisdiction’s laws.
❏ Integrated. The contract is “integrated” – meaning that the written contract is the complete contract. This prevents alleged oral modifications like “she said that we don’t have to pay until . . . “ from easily being incorporated into the contract (good attorneys might know how to get them in).
❏ Inventory. Has the business inventoried its physical assets? This is especially important for assets that can easily “walk away” like cell phones and laptops. All such assets should be marked with the name of your business and a landline telephone number. Programs are available to track mobile devices by GPS or other means. An inventory should be kept for insurance and tax purposes. Track, at the least, the model of the inventory, purchase date and purchase value.
Why you should care: Cell phones and laptops have confidential business information, and those who lose them are often afraid to mention it. Marking these devices improves the chance they are returned. Keeping an inventory in a safe place can be good for insurance purposes.
❏ Marking Physical Assets. All substantial physical assets – especially those that can easily walk away --should be marked with a non-removable tag with the business name and phone number. Two places among many to buy such tags is here or here. (Bay Oak Law doesn't endorse or vouch for these companies; their presence is illustrative).
❏ Marking Intangible Assets. It is easy to understand the importance of marking physical assets like computers, but it is also vital to mark as “Confidential” intangible assets like company information. Every balance sheet, every accounts receivable list, every customer list – every document that, if it falls into the hands of your competitors, could hurt or destroy your business, should be marked as “Confidential.” It is easy to add titles and footers to the firm’s regular forms that are regularly used, so that they get copied into future documents. Send a company-wide email quarterly, reminding everyone of the importance of keeping such information secret.
❏ Software. Does the business have licenses to use all of the software on all the computers in the office? Do you have the registration numbers for all the licenses in a safe place, so that should your office burn down, you do not have to buy more software?
Why you should care: If licenses are missing, it is cheaper to handle this now than after a software developer contacts you and demands thousands of dollars.
❏ Trademarks. On a rainy day when people are sitting around, go through your promotional materials, brochures, website, business cards and the like. Have you registered trademarks for your business name, all your logos, slogans and the like? A typical trademark registration costs less than $2500 – should anything have a trademark registration? Even if you decide not to, run a search on an internet search engine using any word mark that you are using – make sure that your firm is not infringing someone else’s mark – and make sure someone isn’t infringing yours. For each trademark, use the proper marking: “®” for registered marks, and “™” for unregistered marks. Tivo has a good webpage on how to use trademarks properly (hint: you can never “tivo” “Desperate Housewives” – or anything else.)
❏ Copyright. If you produce copyrighted works like books, films, video games or the like, you need to register your copyright. It is easy to do, and takes only a few minutes. Even if you do not, every brochure, white paper, or website you have should have “© 2012, [Name of Company]” on it. While the owner of a copyrighted work has rights as soon as it is published, it doesn’t hurt to remind people of that. Also, make sure that you always have the right to use the works of others on your works, like photographs.