Key Reasons to Create an Employee Handbook— or at least appropriate policies

An Employee Handbook organizes and contains company policies and procedures. There are numerous reasons for employers to choose to issue an Employee Handbook or Employer Policy Manual. Although there is no federal or Florida law requiring private employers to provide a handbook, there are some communications you are required to make to your employees.

Each month, we receive numerous calls form clients with employees who would like to make a change in how they handle anything from payroll to work hours to ethics matters and use of computers, mobile phones, tablets, internet, social media and websites. Without policies and procedures in place, and without a clear statement of expectations, clients often find themselves stuck on making changes and communicating expectations.

Policies are governed by both federal law and state specific law and regulations. Compliance with both is a necessity. The Federal Department of Labor has a terrific tool called E-laws Adviser. At the Walk Law Firm, we recommend our clients review and use that tool in addition to calling us for advice. It covers wage and hour laws as well as other important matters such as determining if someone and independent contractor or an employee.

At the Walk Law Firm, we pride ourselves in assisting our clients with practical advice that is compliant with the law. Not every decision is black and white and when making decisions to eliminate a position or downsize in general, it is important to seek quality advice. We represent employers primarily, but have also assisted many executives as well as employers with executive compensation matters such as stock bonuses or stock incentive plans or other equity incentive plans, separation agreements and employment agreements.

Employee Handbook FAQs:

  • An Employee Handbook introduces new employees to the company, gives the company a chance to set forth your expectations for your employees, and provides an introduction to the company;
  • An Employee Handbook makes it easier to ensure that all employees receive notice of the company’s policies;
  • An Employee Handbook creates a centralized place for employees to look for answers and guidance on your company’s practices and expectations, and what to do in various situations; and
  • An Employee Handbook and signed acknowledgments of receipt can assist in an employer’s legal defense, such as when non-compliance leads to termination of employment or another kind of adverse employment action.

Do Not Inadvertently Create a Contract

  • Employee Handbooks must be drafted in a manner that does not create legal obligations that the employer did not intend, and contain provisions reserving certain employer rights. Preparation of the handbook or at least review by your counsel is crucial.

Maintaining a Handbook

  • Employers must review Employee Handbooks periodically to ensure that all policies are current and lawful. At a minimum, a handbook must be reviewed and revised, if necessary, when there is a change in the law, employer policies or procedures, and when the employer expands into new states.Employer

Florida Annual Report for LLC’s, Corporations and Partnerships due by May 1

Many of you have corporations and limited liability companies domiciled in Florida and other states. As you know, to keep those companies active, it is necessary in most states to file some variety of an annual report or franchise report. You will likely receive emails or mail to your principal address listed in the state records, but often it looks like junk mail that can be ignored, or is sometimes set aside and just simply forgotten. There are also companies that send very official looking letters offering to update your records for a fee. These updates are advertisements and may or may not include filing your state annual report. You can tell if they are advertisements by looking carefully at the fine print.

For those of you doing business in Florida, the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations requires each organized business doing business in the state, whether a corporation, limited liability company, or partnership, whether domiciled or just licensed to do business in the state, to file an annual report between January 1st and May 1st of each year in order to maintain an active status in Florida. The annual report is used to confirm or update the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporation’s records, including information related to the managers, members, officers and directors, the registered agent or registered office, the principal address or mailing address, and the federal employer identification number. For other states, similar reports and fees will also be required. The timing varies and it is important to check the dates so that you do not miss important deadlines.

If the annual report is timely filed between January 1st and May 1st, the reporting fee is as follows: $150 for a profit corporation; $61.25 for a not for profit corporation; $138.75 for a limited liability company; and $500 for a limited partnership or limited liability limited partnership. A $400 late fee will be assessed for any report filed after May 1st for profit corporations, limited liability companies, limited partnerships and limited liability limited partnerships. Failure to file an annual report by the third (3rd) Friday of September will result in the administrative dissolution or revocation of the business entity on the records of the Florida Department of State.

In addition, the Florida LLC Act has been revised and restated in whole. Effective January 1, 2014, any new limited liability company formed will need to be formed pursuant to the new Act. Any existing entity will need to amend its operating agreement and articles to reflect the new Act no later than December 31, 2015. With that in mind, we are recommending to clients that the amendments be done now and that the Annual Report filing be made reflecting the new Act requirements, specifically, the elimination of the concept of Managing Member. We also recommend filing a Statement of authority recognizing those in your company authorized to act on behalf of the LLC. This may avoid the need to file additional amendments during the year.

We are ready and able to assist you in amending your operating agreements and answering questions regarding the new Act. We are also available to assist you in properly filing your annual report in Florida and assisting you with other states.

The annual for Florida report can be submitted electronically on Sunbiz.org. Annual reports filed using credit card, debit card or Sunbiz E-file Accounts through the E-Filing tab on Sunbiz.org are processed immediately and should be posted on Sunbiz.org within twenty-four (24) hours. Check and money order payments must be submitted by mail and are processed within twenty-one (21) days, so e-filing is the preferred method of filing. For Delaware companies, the annual reported can also be submitted by following this LINK.

The e-filing process is very simple and can be completed in minutes. An Overview and Step-by-step instructions for completing the annual report can be found HERE.

If you have any questions or concerns, please let us know and we would be happy to assist you with completing the annual report.

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What is a Business Divorce?

Last month, I wrote about the not so odd couple – business divorce. In continuing my educational efforts and with the hope we can help folks in business avoid some of the most difficult issues faced when breaking up with a business partner, I am continuing my blog series on Business Divorce….

Business Divorce comes in many forms but has one common characteristic — the owners are at odds, or in agreement, and want or need to attend to the separation of their business interests. The typical reasons include, but are not limited to:

  1. Generational transitions;
  2. Owners are deadlocked on a material matter preventing the business from moving forward;
  3. The owners have different visions for the future;
  4. One or more owners needs or wants to cash out;
  5. A partner has become disabled or divorces and there are no contractual provisions which are triggered;
  6. One of the owners of a business is divorcing or separating from his or her spouse or life partner, which triggers one or more clauses in governance documents of a company;
  7. An owner becomes a debtor in a bankruptcy;
  8. An owner has committed fraud or has taken corporate assets as their own without the consent of other owners;
  9. An owner manager has committed waste;
  10. An owner is no longer contributing or supporting the business as part of management or financially.

When these matters come to me as a lawyer, I still deploy my mediator skills to seek an amicable resolution whenever possible. As a mediator, I employ my extensive knowledge of business law and my creative energy to find middle ground that brings the matter to resolution. As an attorney and mediator, I look to the governing documents (Bylaws, operating agreements, partnership agreements, shareholder agreements, actions by the Board and Management …. ) and governing law to advise my clients and to navigate the often treacherous waters.

I am often surprised that lawyers and clients have failed to address some of these items up front when creating the business. My clients know that we always discuss the “Parade of Horribles” when drafting governing documents, with the hope of avoiding undue conflict at the time the business is sold or owners separate.

In future articles, I will focus on the specific concerns that arise in business divorce and ways in which owners might avoid these issues with some up front planning.

Business Divorce – The Not So Odd Couple

Recently, I added the certification of family law mediator to my already extensive list of mediation certifications to the surprise of many of my friends and associates. It should not be surprising that an attorney with an active mediation practice would mediate family law matters in addition to other business, insurance, bankruptcy, patent and intellectual property and other disputes, it’s just that my law practice has been heavily focused on business matters and it appears that I have never been engaged in the area of family law, but actually I have.

My typical practice involves representing businesses and their owners in all aspects of business life.  I have been the Chief Legal Officer and Chief Administrative Officer for public and private companies, have navigated Boards of Directors and CEOs through Chapter 11 Bankruptcies, hostile take overs, mergers, acquisitions and a variety of other crises. Sometimes those crises and matters include the addition of new owners, the separation of executives and owners, disgruntled minority owners and overcoming deadlocks. In my post “big” business life, I have started a law firm that offers the same quality and level of service provided to our nation’s biggest companies to small and middle-sized businesses on a fee structure that smaller businesses can afford. The issues are no simpler; the legal services no less complex, and the need to protect business assets, confidentiality, dignity and reputation at least as challenging.

Complicating the business of small business today is the close relationship between business partners and life partners. I am finding often that the break-up of life partners can cause mass disruption to unrelated business interests and partners, especially when there are no provisions in operating agreements or shareholders agreements covering these issues. Sometimes, life partners are business partners as well. Even without the complication of life partners, I am finding that business people go into business with others without adequate diligence and without formalizing agreements at all. In the last six months alone, I have been engaged or consulted as either a mediator or lawyer in at least a half dozen situations in which business partners are seeking a “business divorce.” And I must say, my skills and knowledge gained through family law mediation combined with my business law knowledge and acumen has come in pretty handy.

If I can help you as a mediator confidentially settle your business disputes, or help you as an attorney negotiate your deal with your partners, please contact me by completing the form below or calling our office at 813.999.0199.

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Florida Legislature Passes New Revised Limited Liability Company Act – Important Reading for Members and Managers of LLCs

Intro

On May 3, 2013, the Florida House of Representatives unanimously passed the new Florida Revised Limited Liability Company Act (the “New Florida LLC Act”).  The Florida Senate unanimously passed a companion bill a week earlier.  Governor Scott approved the bill without issue or opposition on June 14, 2013.  Since LLCs are the most common form of business in Florida, this article is important reading for all business owners, especially owners seeking to protect their LLC assets and personal assets as soon as 2014. The New LLC Act will be codified as Chapter 605 of the Florida Statutes and will govern limited liability companies (“LLCs”) within the state of Florida.  The New Florida LLC Act is materially different, in both form and substance, than the Existing Florida Revised Limited Liability Company Act (the “Existing Florida LLC Act”), which is codified in Chapter 608 of the Florida Statutes.  If you or your company is an existing Member or Manager of a Florida LLC, or if you plan to become one in the near future, it is extremely important to understand the New Florida LLC Act and how it may impact your existing and future operating agreements and other governance documents.   The summary below is not a comprehensive review of the new LLC Act and is not intended to replace the advice of an attorney, but rather is designed to help you assess your own LLCs and potential need to take action.

When will the New Florida LLC Act become effective?

 The New Florida LLC Act becomes effective on January 1, 2014 for all LLCs formed in Florida on or after January 1, 2014.  For all LLCs in existence prior to January 1, 2014, the New Florida LLC Act will not become effective until January 1, 2015; however, the members of an LLC may elect to have the New Florida LLC Act become effective as early as January 1, 2014. To do so, the governing documents of the LLC will need to be amended.

How will the New Florida LLC Act impact my LLC?

 The New Florida LLC Act, like the Existing Florida LLC Act, and like most business organization statutes, is a default statute, which means that it provides a set of standard rules governing LLCs and how they are organized, how they operate, and how they are governed.  These standard rules may be modified, with limited exceptions, through specific language contained in either the Articles of Organization or the LLC’s operating or management agreement.  Like all LLC statutes, the New Florida LLC Act specifically prohibits the LLC from including language that modifies or supersedes certain statutory provisions (these are often referred to as “non-waivable provisions”).  This is significant because the New Florida LLC Act expanded the number of provisions which are now,  non-waivable and may not be altered by agreement of the members.

What changes were made in the New Florida LLC Act?

Expanded Non-Waivable Provisions.  The New Florida LLC Act has clarified that an LLC’s operating agreement may not remove certain rights, obligations and authority granted by the Act. Some of the provisions which an operating agreement may not change include:

  1.  The ability of the LLC to sue and be sued in its own name
  2. The right of a member to maintain a direct cause of action against the LLC, another member, or a manager in order to enforce such member’s rights and otherwise protect such member’s interest
  3. The right of a member to maintain a derivative action
  4. The right of an LLC to refuse to relieve persons, including members and managers, from liability if such persons acted in bad faith or committed willful, or intentional misconduct or a knowing violation of the law
  5. A Member’s or Manager’s duty of care, duty of loyalty, or obligation of good faith and fair dealing The  power of a member to dissociate from the LLC
  6. Statutory requirements with respect to the  contents of a plan of merger, plan of interest exchange, plan of conversion, or plan of domestication, plan of dissolution, articles of organization, statutory agents and other similar provisions
  7. The applicable governing law of the Florida LLC

Managing Member Eliminated.  Under the Existing LLC Act, there are three potential management options:  (1) Member managed, (2) Manager managed, and (3) Managing Member managed.  The New Florida LLC Act has effectively eliminated the concept of Managing Member managed.  It is possible that your operating agreement may need to be amended in order to avoid confusion, unintended results, and unintended personal liabilities, and to make very clear which of the remaining options you intend to use for your LLC.  For example:  once the New Florida LLC Act becomes effective, for those LLCs that are Managing Member managed, the Managing Member may no longer be able to act alone and may require all authorized actions to be subject to a member vote in accordance with the operating agreement.  In order to avoid an unintended result, you should revise your operating agreement and governance documents to reflect the intent of the members.

New Statement of Authority.

The New Florida LLC Act allows an LLC to file a statement of authority with the Florida Department of State as a way of providing constructive notice to third parties regarding persons authorized to act on behalf of the LLC.  The Statement of Authority will be effective for five years from the last amended or filed Statement of Authority, unless terminated earlier in accordance with the New Florida LLC Act.  You should consult with an attorney to determine the implication of filing a Statement of Authority and whether such Statement of Authority would be beneficial for your LLC.

Other Changes.

  •  Non-US entities are now permitted to domesticate as a Florida LLC
  • Non-economic members (members that don’t or are not obligated to contribute) are now permitted
  • The new Act includes specific service of process rules for LLCs

What should I do with my existing operating agreement?  Moving forward, how will my operating agreements be different?

If you or your company are a member or manager of an existing LLC, or are planning to enter into a new LLC, you need to understand the New Florida LLC Act and all the changes that were recently made.  At minimum, you should review your operating agreement with a qualified business attorney. LLC Agreements need to reflect how the members desire to operate the business. An experienced and practical business attorney will help you navigate the new Florida LLC Act in a way to help you amend your operating agreement to be consistent with your intent and operations.

The Walk Law Firm is available to review your operating agreement and help you understand the impact the New Florida LLC Act will have on your Florida entity. Operating reviews can be handled on a Flat Fee or Fixed Fee basis.   As experienced Florida business and commercial law attorneys, we have studied the New Florida LLC Act and can work with you to revise, amend, restate and draft new provisions for your LLC management and operating agreements eliminating unintended confusion or results.

 

Business Identity Theft: What is it? And how do I protect my business assets?

What is it?

Business identity theft is the fraudulent and unauthorized use of an entity’s identity.  It’s not just an information security breach. Rather, like consumer identity theft, business identity thieves impersonate the business or hijack the business’s identity in order to steal money or property, often by establishing lines of credit with banks and/or retailers. A corporate identity is an asset that needs protection!

Who is targeted?

The potential for more lucrative results has spawned an evolution of identity theft.  Rather than targeting a consumer, identity thieves are targeting unsuspecting businesses because businesses tend to have larger bank account balances, higher credit limits, and larger purchases made on behalf of a corporate entity generally don’t set off bells and whistles.  Small businesses are particularly vulnerable because they don’t have resources to constantly monitor accounts and records, and because they don’t have the structured security that large businesses have.

What is the result?

Generally, the damage that results from business identity theft is more severe than the results from consumer identity theft.  In consumer identity theft, the consequences tend to reach only the consumer targeted.  In business identity theft, the consequences affect the targeted business, but also the business’s employees and subcontractors, the business’s creditors, and the economy at large.

You might struggle obtaining a line of credit, which could impact operations. The cost of repairing or cleaning up the aftermath of a business identity theft can be costly with legal and accounting fees.

The terrible irony is that few businesses and business owners think about identity theft prevention as asset protection. But it actually is the most important asset protection plan a business can have.

How to prevent it?

At the Walk Law Firm, as Tampa small business attorneys, we advise our clients to take the same actions that public companies take:

  1. Protect your business information records – treat your EIN and Tax ID numbers like they are your social security number and limit access to all corporate records
  2. Monitor your corporate filings – many secretaries of state, including Florida, have email alert systems that notify you of any and all activity – enrolling in this service can provide early fraud detection
  3. Segregate Duties – accountants and auditors will tell you that no employee should be given access to all banking information as well as typical bank logins and passwords; segregate the duties relating to account access from those handling payroll and accounts payable
  4. Monitor your accounts and bills – frequent monitoring and reporting of suspicious transactions will limit your liability significantly
  5. Monitor the business’s credit report – routinely obtain a business credit report and review it for suspicious activity
  6. Train your employees to protect business information and to be aware of these crimes
  7. Be wary of phishing scams
  8. Install and utilize a firewall on your business computer and network
  9. Contact your creditors to ask about unusual activity

 

The Benefits of Year-End Corporate Record Keeping

With the end of 2012 fast approaching, it is an excellent time to review your record-keeping practices and make sure your records are updated.  As a small-business owner, you invest a significant amount of time and money to ensure your company’s progress and success, and taking the time now to update your records can help in a number of ways.

How to go about updating records?

Regardless of the form of entity, the manner or process for updating your records is fairly simple and straightforward.  First, it is important to review the entity’s governance documents – yes, the documentation you received and may not have read or reviewed since the time you organized your company – because this documentation will advise you as to how to proceed with corporate changes and updates.  So, if you have a corporation, this will be your articles of incorporation and your bylaws; if you have an LLC, this will be your articles of organization and your operating pr management agreement; and if you have a partnership, this will be your partnership agreement. You may have a shareholders’ or close corporation agreement, too.

Even if you have already implemented transactions, changes and updates in and to the business, it is important to ratify those actions by the manner or process defined in the governance documents.  Why?  In order to record the changes or updates and to evidence the fact that such modifications were authorized by the entity.   Failure to ratify and substantiate a change to the business can create issues like stalled or failed business transactions in the future or undue questions from the IRS or State when they audit. It is much easier to make these recordings contemporaneously with the actions so that later partners and outsiders do not question that authority. Also  as some of our clients will attest, the cost of recreating the history of the company years down the road so that you can sell or move or enter into a significant transaction is costly and time consuming.

Subject to the language in your governance documentation, many updates and changes can be authorized in writing.  Other updates may require a meeting – a board meeting, or a meeting between managers, members, or partners – and a vote.  In the event that you call a meeting, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Be Prepared and Provide Sufficient Notice to Appropriate Parties
  • Make Sure You Have a Quorum or the Necessary Number of Voting Parties to Take Action and Know What Vote is Necessary to Approve the Actions Desired
  • Have an Agenda and Include Potential Ratification of Past Actions, and Other Potential Actions
  • Record Actions Taken at the Meeting and to whom Future Duties were Assigned
  • Get Feedback to Improve Meeting Process and Record-Keeping
  • Contact Outside Counsel in advance of the meeting if you have any questions and consider having counsel present if you anticipate a contentious issue or needing assistance documenting or explaining the situation

~ Rochelle Friedman Walk, Esq. and Matthew A. Welker, Esq., Walk Law Firm, PA