While your best option for getting and staying in compliance is with the guidance of an attorney, for now, let’s take some of the mystery out of this topic with a brief overview. Let’s discuss the common compliance areas where small businesses tend to have issues and some practical ways to minimize your risks.
As a startup or other small business, one of the most daunting challenges (and certainly one that evokes the most fear) is the issue of compliance–effectively, how to stay on the right side of laws and regulations relevant to your business. As a small business owner, understanding and adhering to legal requirements is crucial to protect your company from potential fines, penalties, and legal liability. Unfortunately, there’s a lot to keep up with, even for basic business structures–and depending on the nature of your business, you may have industry-specific requirements as well. It’s all too easy to be out of compliance and not even know it.
Essential Compliance Areas for Small Businesses
Let’s start by exploring the most crucial compliance areas where small business owners need to pay attention.
Employment law governs the relationship between employers and employees, ensuring that workers are treated fairly and protected from exploitation. Key aspects of employment law that small businesses must comply with include:
- Wage and Hour Laws: Ensuring that employees are paid at least the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher, and receive overtime pay for hours worked beyond the standard workweek.
- Discrimination and Harassment: Preventing discrimination and harassment in the workplace based on protected characteristics such as race, gender, age, and disability.
- Family and Medical Leave: Providing eligible employees with job-protected leave for specific family and medical reasons.
- Workplace Safety: Complying with Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations to maintain a safe and healthy working environment.
Small businesses are required to fulfill various tax obligations at the federal, state, and local levels. Key tax compliance areas include:
- Income Tax: Filing/paying income taxes on time, based on the company’s business structure (sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, or LLC).
- Sales Tax: Collecting, reporting, and remitting sales tax on the sale of taxable goods and services.
- Employment Taxes: Withholding and remitting payroll taxes, such as Social Security and Medicare, on behalf of employees.
- Unemployment Tax: Contributing to state unemployment insurance funds as required by law.
Data Privacy and Security
As businesses increasingly rely on digital technology, safeguarding sensitive data is more critical than ever. Small businesses must comply with applicable data protection laws and regulations, including:
- Data Collection: Obtaining consent from customers and employees before collecting personal information and informing them about how the data will be used, stored, and shared.
- Data Storage: Implementing robust security measures to protect sensitive data from unauthorized access, theft, or loss.
- Data Breach Notification: Notifying affected individuals and relevant authorities in the event of a data breach, as required by law.
Businesses that operate in certain sectors must also comply with various industry-specific standards put in place by federal and/or state authorities. Examples include the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) for healthcare businesses; the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS) for companies that process credit card payments; and various state and federal environmental and emissions regulations for companies that manufacture products.
Developing a Compliance Program: Steps and Best Practices
The best way for small businesses to manage compliance risks effectively is to develop and implement a comprehensive compliance program that protects them proactively. The following steps can help:
- Identify your compliance obligations: Know the specific laws and regulations that apply to your business based on its industry, location, and activities.
- Develop compliance policies and procedures: Create clear and concise policies and procedures that outline how your business will meet its compliance obligations.
- Appoint a Compliance Officer: Designate a responsible individual to oversee the compliance program, ensuring that all employees understand and adhere to the established policies and procedures.
- Train your employees: Provide regular training and education to employees on relevant compliance topics, emphasizing their roles and responsibilities in upholding the company’s commitment to compliance.
- Do self-monitoring and assessment: Implement systems to monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of the compliance program, identifying and addressing potential gaps or areas for improvement.
Seek Legal Guidance from an Experienced Attorney
Every business is different, and therefore each business has to focus on different compliance matters. The best way to ensure you’re legally protected is by seeking the initial advice of an attorney and having an attorney periodically review your business for compliance issues. An experienced business lawyer can evaluate your situation, help you identify areas of risk in your business, and advise you on the best strategies to avoid compliance issues. They can also advise you on tailoring a compliance program to your company, assist with preparing, drafting, and filing required documents, and provide ongoing guidance and support in managing complex legal matters and mitigating your risks. And finally, should your business face legal action or regulatory inquiries, an attorney can provide valuable representation and guidance throughout the process.
Most mid- to large-size companies rely on in-house General Counsel for this type of guidance, but startups and small businesses usually don’t have this luxury. That’s why Hood Venture Counsel focuses on affordable legal assistance for these businesses, both on a case-by-case basis and with several affordable legal packages that include compliance assistance. To learn more about how we can assist with your compliance issues, contact us here.