Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

February 2011 Archives

5 Small Business Tax Write Offs for 2010

Small businesses can always use a few good tax write offs. So we recently came up with 5 tax write offs for 2010. Let's jump right in:

Create jobs, get a deduction
If you hired new workers between Feb. 3, and Dec. 31, 2010, that didn't merely replace people who left and who had been unemployed for more than 60 days, you can save 6.2% of your payroll tax. You can also get another $1,000 business tax credit in 2011 if you keep the new employees for 52 weeks or longer.

Can My Employees Form a Union?

The Midwest is up in arms over the collective bargaining rights of state workers, and the whole country is watching. Whether you agree or disagree with the proposed changes, as an employer, you need to understand what your duties are should your employees decide to form a union.

The National Labor Relations Act governs the rights and responsibilities of both employees and employers with regards to labor unions. Overall, the statute is designed to protect and encourage collective bargaining, guaranteeing most of America's workers the right to form a union.

This, however, does not mean that your employees have the right to a union.

Top 3 Small Business Slip and Fall Accident Tips

Avoiding slip and fall accidents at your business is crucial to limiting your liability. In order to do so, it is imperative that you and your employees take affirmative steps to reduce your risk.

Here are three key areas to watch out for to avoid slip and fall accidents. If you fail to monitor them, your business might find itself on the wrong end of a lawsuit.

Small Business Tax Deductions: Top 2010 Tips

Tax season is upon us, which means it's time to start pulling out records and paying the government. While no one enjoys this process, it's possible to make it a little bit friendlier on your pocketbook. With these five tips and a little work, you can master the art of small business tax deductions.

1. Choose Wisely. Often times the law offers two accounting methods for small business tax deductions. For instance, if a business owner has kept impeccable records, it's possible to deduct the actual costs associated with business-related vehicles. However, the law also allows a business owner to deduct a pre-set mileage rate. The second choice may seem easier, but the first one may be more beneficial. When given options, it's necessary to determine which provides a larger deduction.

Can Employees Refuse to Work for Political Beliefs?

The Arizona shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords was a tragic and emotional event, which is why, despite being trained to handle disasters, local firefighter Mark Ekstrum refused to go to the Safeway parking lot.

He spent the two hours before his unit was dispatched to the scene of the Arizona shooting watching the events unfold on television, reports CNN. As an avid supporter of Gabrielle Giffords, he was distraught, and felt that he would be unable to perform his duties.

Mark Ekstrum communicated this to his Captain, but in a poorly-worded manner. The report, according to CNN, states that Ekstrum said he did not want to participate in the "political bantering" and that he was going to go home sick. It was recommended that Ekstrum receive a 20-day suspension.

All US Businesses: Immigration Papers in Order?

A recent crackdown at Chipotle Mexican Grill serves as a good example as to why you should make sure your business is complying with U.S. small business immigration laws. Chipotle was employing a number of undocumented workers and found itself the subject of immigration audits.

"We have been subject to audits by immigration authorities from time to time," said Chipotle's 2009 annual report which was filed in February 2010, Reuters reports.

How to Hire Family Members: Top 3 Tips

Although 80% of all businesses are family owned, only about 13% are ever run by the third generation. The desire to bring family members into the mix is strong, but may not always be the best decision for the business. It's thus important to understand when and how to hire family members, and what to do when they're brought into the fold.

Here are the top 3 tips on how to make this process easier.

1. Draft a Family Employee Policy. To help family members understand their place in the company, it's important to put expectations and qualifications in writing. Not everyone is cut out for the family business, so you should set out hiring requirements. Do family members need specific skills or a set amount of outside experience? What are the educational prerequisites?

Why You Can't Discriminate Against Unemployed

With so many people unemployed, new job openings often receive hundreds of replies. It's difficult to sort through so many resumes, let alone spare the time and money to do so. To help whittle down the applicant pool, a lot of businesses are requiring applicants to be currently employed. While it may seem like a brilliant idea, the fact is that when you discriminate against unemployed persons, you may actually be breaking the law.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced this week that it is looking into whether employers are unlawfully requiring job applicants to be currently employed. Though the Commission does not have much data, reports The Wall Street Journal, employment lawyers say it isn't as widespread as it is claimed to be. If you discriminate against unemployed persons, or are thinking about it with that next job opening, consider the following.

Want to Sell Your Company? It's Complicated

When an owner decides to sell a company, there are a few things he must do before the company is put on the market. First, all records need to be put in order, including financials, leases, legal documents and licenses. Then the business must be appraised--a reasonable price is best for all parties. After that, the owner may want to employ a broker to help get the word out and handle the negotiation side of any dealings. During this process, the business must continue to grow.

If all goes well, a deal is reached, financing is acquired, and a closing date is set. And when that date comes, the deal is completed and both parties think they got a good deal.

Sounds pretty cut and dry, right? It used to be that this process was as easy as it sounds, deals going through with little trouble and yielding high payouts. Not anymore. Expect complications if you decide to sell your company.

Obama's Budget to Cut Small Business by 45%

We recently wrote that it looked as if the Obama administration is planning to gut the Small Business Administration. We now know that President Obama does in fact intend to make dramatic cuts to the SBA budget, after the President released his budget proposal.

"We have to tighten our belt, too, and we have to make tough choices," SBA Administrator Karen Mills said in a conference call with reporters, CNN Money reports.

New SBA 8(a) Certification Rules

The first overhaul of the Small Business Administration 8(a) Business Development Program has been completed, with revisions to the SBA 8(a) program taking effect on March 14, 2011.

The program, designed to improve the success rate amongst minority and other disadvantaged businesses, has changed for the better. New regulations are designed to combat waste, abuse and fraud, as well as clarify portions of the SBA certification process.

How to Evaluate a Franchise: Top 3 Tips

Deciding whether or not to invest in a franchise is a big decision that requires a lot of leg work. Franchise business plans are designed to lure you in and sell the virtues of the company, painting a picture of longevity and high revenues.

But just because it looks good on the surface, doesn't mean an investment will net you enough income to pay you and the franchisor.

It is thus important to make a thorough franchise evaluation that looks in between the lines. The following are the top 3 things you should consider when it's time to evaluate a franchise.

Calif. Merchants Can't Ask for Customers' Zips

"One cookbook and one set of wine glasses. That will be $120.17. What is your ZIP code?"

"My ZIP code? Why do you need that?"

"We put it in the computer for all transactions."

"Oh, alright. It's 92117."

Sound like a familiar routine? Lots of stores make it a routine to ask customers for their ZIP codes. But is that legal? Under the Song-Beverly Credit Card Act of 1971 retailers cannot record a customer's "personal identification information." But is a ZIP code personal identification information?

Congress to Gut Small Business Administration?

Not the Small Business Administration!

It's sad but true. We live in a time of budget cuts, and Karen Mills, the head of the SBA was asked to look into the programs in the SBA "that you believe could be eliminated or substantially reduced without undermining the S.B.A.'s ability to serve the needs of small-business owners." 

Don't blame any particular political party, either. The letter to Mills regarding the potential SBA cut was drafted by both a republican and a democrat, Senators Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana, and Republican Olympia Snowe.

Have to Pay Overtime on Federal Holidays?

Managing payroll is a big part of running a business, as well as one of a business' biggest legal challenges. Labor laws are strict, and violating them will only cause you trouble. This is why it's important to understand when you must pay your employees and how much.

With President's Day (aka Washington's birthday) coming up, many business owners are wondering if they must pay overtime on federal holidays. The short answer is no. But there are a few exceptions.

Women-Owned Small Business Rule Enacted

For women, small business may be a chance to work in a female-friendly workplace. But for many of those women, small business is also difficult to see to fruition.

Women-owned small businesses have a hard time in the market place, facing closed doors and glass ceilings. This is why many women in small business are praising the implementation of the Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) Federal Contract Program.

Small Business Should Look to Exporting

Are you looking to grow your business? (Who isn't?) Have you considered exporting? If not, you probably should, as 95% of your potential customers live outside the United States, USA Today reports.

As the American economy has struggled over the past few years, small business exporting is increasing as companies go global in order to compete. Looking to the future, small business and exporting world trade is almost certain to become increasingly important to the health and strength of the US economy and businesses.

How to Protect your Business' Trademark

What should you do once you've created a trademark?

As a business, your trademark is your biggest asset--it tells consumers that something in the marketplace is yours and that it lives up to the quality you strive for. It's thus important to protect your business' trademark.

To start, a trademark is a name, word, device, symbol, or any combination therein, that is used to distinguish a company and its goods and services from another company's goods and services. Most commonly, a trademark is a brand name or logo.

How to Get into Trouble for 'Unfair' Advertising

When you're marketing your small business, you might be tempted to push the envelope. You may want to exaggerate your product's effectiveness or fluff up its quality level. But be wary. There's a line you shouldn't cross. You don't want to accidentally run afoul of fair advertising rules.

So it's good to give yourself a quick reminder now and then about the basics of fair advertising.

Here's a quick rundown of what you need to know:

Could Breastfeeding Areas Cost Your Business?

With new times come new laws. Often the changes are a step forward, though businesses may be concerned that they hurt their bottom line too much. The new laws requiring mandatory breastfeeding areas are no exception.

Breastfeeding is considered a healthy practice for mothers of growing children. However, while most mothers start off breastfeeding after taking parental leave, many of them stop earlier than doctors recommend. According to studies, one of the reasons is a lack of accommodations at work, MSNBC reports.