This week, Interise alumni are engaging in Ask an Expert: Law in Small Business, learning from the Baltimore program instructor Nicole Cober, Esquire. Small business owners often think needing an attorney means their business is in trouble, but Cober wants to break this stereotype and show that it is important to have an attorney before something goes wrong. She is discussing what small business owners should seek counsel for, as well as best practices for communicating effectively with counsel, how to hire, and when small business owners need full time staff within their counsel.
Employment manuals are an extremely vital part of any business. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, at a minimum your employee handbook should contain the following six items: (1) an employment at-will disclaimer (section 1.3); (2) a statement regarding equal employment opportunity (section 2.1); (3) a policy prohibiting unlawful discrimination and harassment (section 2.2); (4) a section that describes the policy for use of company property and privacy rules (section 3); (5) a section on employment classification and overtime rules (section4); (6) a policy on Family and Medical Leave if you have 50 or more employees (section 6.3); and (7) a section on Safety (section 9). You should also consider including a disciplinary guideline (section 8). Please contact an attorney in your state to help you create and review the local regulations that apply to your business and its individual circumstances.
Teaming agreements are not easy but they are straight forward in terms of...the terms. You and the business partner need to first sit down and stamp out the big picture items--what are you going to do, what are they going to do; for how much; when will you begin; when will you end; what will happen if a dispute arises; who has decision making authority, etc. Once you have this important meeting, WRITE DOWN THE DETAIL SUMMARY. Now...you are ready to call an attorney. You have the facts and details together. You will now present them to an attorney and the attorney will take a template and draft or tailor it to meet your specific needs. The more detail you do upfront on the terms of the agreement, the more focused time an attorney can spend on drafting and counseling. You can ask for flat fees for contract drafting too because at that time, the attorney can now look at your detail summary and give a measured answer about how many hours the agreement will take. Also, find an attorney that focuses on small business and contract law. Those will hopefully focus on the small entrepreneur and want to be sensitive about budgets.
I'd encourage business owners to stop thinking of only needing a lawyer after your in trouble, but thinking of them as an advisor at the beginning of a decision-making process. You will save a lot of money, time and heartache working with a lawyer in a "counselor" role rather than a litigation role." - Nicole Cober, Esquire.
Interise's Ask an Expert series is facilitated by the Interise Continual Engagement program and occurs every month for an entire week. Continual Engagement refers to the programs and resources that Interise offers to alumni of the StreetWise ‘MBA’TM curriculum. It is also a way that Interise works to support partners’ organizational capacity – they can implement programs or best practices from the Interise Continual Engagement team, or gain inspiration to create something that works best for their respective community.
For more, check out Interise's StreetWise 'MBA'TM, a game changing capacity-building program recognized by the World Bank and the US Federal Reserve.