In last week’s bLAWg post, I discussed the remote working trend and how some industries are adopting it permanently. Remote work is changing the way businesses operate. Obviously, one critical area is employer-employee interaction. Today’s post provides a listicle of some of the compliance and legal issues to consider when preparing a permanent work from home plan for your employees.

The Listicle

Consider the following items and questions if you are considering remote working for your business:

Foreign Business Registration

  • If employees are working from another state, you may have to register your business as a “foreign” entity.
  • Registration requirements are different for each state. If you have to register, then it is a likely bet you will have to consider taxes, and labor and employment laws of the new state.
  • Some states and counties also restrict the type of businesses that can operate in residential areas, so if your employee is going to set-up shop at home, you may have to get a permit depending on what they are doing.

Taxes

  • If an employee is working outside of the employer’s state of operation the employer may have to pay the taxes of that state, for instance payroll and withholding.
  • Employees should review the way they receive benefits from their employer and where they must file income taxes with a tax adviser/preparer.

Labor and Employment

  • Workers’ compensation and general liability insurance
  • TDI
  • Discrimination
  • Disabilities accommodation
  • Occupational health and safety
  • Privacy and HR records access
  • Meal and rest breaks
  • Overtime/wage/compensation
  • Expense reimbursements
  • Benefits
  • Restrictive covenants

Privacy & Security

  • Review the current IT set up and policies to implement for remote working.
  • Are you having employee’s set-up a home office? Are they using their personal devices or a company-issued one?
  • How are they accessing/sharing files?
  • How would your customers/clients feel if they know your workers are accessing sensitive information in a remote location?
  • How are you monitoring communications? Are you having Zoom calls with your workers while family members are in the room?

Employment Agreements and Policies

  • Employment agreements are covered by labor and employment laws; however, employers are legally allowed to contract away liabilities or make other arrangements.
  • What happens to the written relationship when the worker moves to a more protective or less protective state?
  • You may have signed in California, but can you enforce in Hawaii court? What provisions are you enforcing?
  • Workplace policies created to be compliant for one state may not apply to remote workers scattered across the globe.
  • Review, discuss, and revise/amend where necessary.

As Always Do Your Homework and Consult with Others

The above listicle is not meant to be exhaustive. As with everything with the law it will be a case-by-case basis. This is especially so with a highly valued or professional employee negotiating for this change.  It is best that you conduct your research and plan accordingly. You will need to understand all the laws in your home state and the state that the employee will be remotely working in. Especially, when it comes to HR and employment, the labor laws can differ vastly from state-to-state in their worker protections, insurance requirements, etc. Last week’s bLAWg post listed some advisers you should consult with when making this decision.

Thoughts and Questions

Is your business currently thinking of transitioning to permanent remote work? Do you think it is worth it for all the planning needed? Do you have questions about compliance/legal issues? If so, then contact us at admin@hewbordenave.com. Check back next week and I’ll discuss some of the questions I’ve gotten about remote working.

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Generally, when larger companies change their workflow arrangement to comply with new regulations, small and medium-sized businesses tend to follow suit. Remember your email inbox when the largest retailers and social media giants updated their web/app privacy policies in the face of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)? Smaller companies then tended to follow suit by updating their own privacy policies because they were following what bigger companies were doing. Will the same happen for remote working?

Trending Toward Remote Working

COVID-19 has accelerated the work-from-home/remote working trend. First, several of the tech giants (as well as other larger companies) have turned the temporary policy in to a permanent one. Also, newer companies that rely on professional, administrative, and tech workers were already leaning into utilizing less office space to reduce overhead costs.

Many industries have grown and thrived during the stay-at-home orders. Others have re-invented their business due to people spending most or all their time at home. For example, why offer a gym membership, or an on-site gym when customers are buying at home workout equipment?

Our firm allowed for remote working prior to COVID-19 and may continue to allow it into the foreseeable future. Employees in general may in fact enjoy the flexibility working from home allows. I’ve noticed that stay-at-home workers are now launching their Twitch stream, lifestyle YouTube channel, or other streaming platforms. Will workers even want to go back to traditional office settings once things return to “normal?” Answers depend, and may be divided.

Some Food for Thought for Hawaii and Remote Working

The trend causing remote working presents interesting opportunities for Hawaii. As certain industries close and people move away, this will create space for others to move in. It is true that the cost-of-living here is high for current residents. However, for those moving away from even more expensive zip codes or for higher income individuals wanting to return home, Hawaii might now be an option. I find tech workers, lawyers, accountants, and for others who can comfortably do their job almost entirely remotely, that the “cost of paradise tax” is manageable. I discussed potential legal issues with a telehealth specialist who would be directing calls to another state, but operating their practice from their home office here in the islands.

Even prior to COVID-19, the state government was keen on emphasizing other sectors beyond tourism. The question is whether law and policymakers at the state and county governments decide to lure companies and workers by either restructuring compliance issues, or creating new incentives. This is nothing new, as many have presented ways for Hawaii to diversify the economy by offering incentives, such as Act 88, and content production.

Ask for Advice

Businesses must adapt. As a transactional attorney, I have assisted business owners with strategic relationships. I have received inquiries about legal issues allowing employees to work remotely. Usually, in the context of having to alter operations in the face of COVID-19 restrictions. While, remote working is an option, if you are changing the relationship, you should do some research and planning prior to implementing. Permanent work from home can reduce the costs, such as commercial space rent, but presents new challenges. One of the biggest is an employee moving out of state to work, whether temporarily or permanently.

Always consider consulting your usual advisors:

  • Attorney – possibly several due to jurisdiction and subject matter issues
  • Accountant – taxes
  • HR Consultant – best practices for communication, etc.
  • IT – review software, hardware, and internet access needed for remote work

Also, consider speaking to others for insight. Possibly, a mentor or another business owner that took the plunge. Check back next week for my listicle of some compliance issues to consider for remote working implementation.

In the meantime, what do you think? How do you think remote working will impact Hawaii? How are you adapting to deal with changes in the economy and your workers? Contact us at admin@hewbordenave.com to let us know your thoughts.

Last week the City and County of Honolulu announced the expansion of the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund (SBRRF) and has added $75 million to the program. Businesses may qualify for up to $50,000 in reimbursement grants.

Business owners that missed the first round of SBRRF should consider applying this time, and those who applied in the first round can apply for a second time. Wondering if you qualify or when the application opens? See the guidelines below.

Who Qualifies:

  • O‘ahu businesses with $5 million or less in annual revenue
  • Must operate in a commercial space prior to March 2020
  • Farmers and agricultural land or commercial fishing companies may qualify
  • 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(19) nonprofit groups
  • Owner must be Hawai’i resident and business must be located in Honolulu

When to apply:

  • September 21, 2020 – Businesses with annual revenue less than $2 million
  • October 1, 2020 – Businesses with $2 million to $5 million in annual revenue

These grants are a huge help to the businesses that remained closed during the multiple stay-at-home orders. For further information about the Small Business Relief and Recovery Fund visit, OneOahu.org.

Honolulu Plans Re-Opening with Complex 4-Tier System

For Honolulu-based businesses, Mayor Kirk Caldwell announced earlier this week a 4-tier framework for reopening O‘ahu. The tiers are based on the COVID-19 case amounts and positivity rate.

What is reopening in each tier?

  • Tier 1 began today with limited business openings. Some of the businesses opening with restrictions are retail, hair and nail salons, and restaurants. In tier 1 public gatherings of up to five people who are not from the same household is allowed. Keep in mind the exception of restaurants, where parties of only five from the same household are allowed.
  • Tier 2 would allow arcades at 25% capacity, as well as gym and fitness facilities. Personal care services will be allowed.
  • Tier 3 would see many businesses increase from groups of 5 people allowed to 10 people, such as real estate services, restaurants, and commercial attractions.
  • Finally, Tier 4 is still not full capacity and a “return to normal,” but group amounts increase to 25 people for businesses like bowling, tours and skydiving, and restaurants.
  • Unfortunately, bars and night clubs remain closed throughout Tiers 1 – 3, and even for Tier 4 it is TBD.

There is a lot to digest in this tiered-system. It is best to review for your personal, and business choices. To see the full reopening strategy, visit this website.

With many changes in regulations, people may be confused or see potential loopholes/pitfalls. Additionally, business owners have to worry about  noncompliance, and liability to their workers and customers in navigating these tiers.

Do you understand the new reopening 4-tier system? Do you have questions about how it applies to you? Or underlying liability issues?  Let us know by e-mailing us at admin@hewbordenave.com.

Are you considering taking advantage of the President’s Executive Order for payroll tax cut? If so, just understand it defers Social Security taxes till the end of the year. Defer means the deferral amount has to be paid back. So that deferred amount, over 4 months, can create a large tax liability.

For employers, first consider that the deferral is permissive, that you are not required to defer. So business owners should consider continuing to withhold payroll taxes from paychecks as they normally do rather than deferring if the payback is of concern to their employees.

For employees, if you are in a situation where payroll tax withholding is deferred, then it is up you to be accountable by managing your spending, and saving the proper amount to payback the deferred payroll tax. Then for you those of you owners of s-corporations,  that if you are a shareholder-employee, you are also an employee. Therefore, subject to employment taxes and rules.

For general information view this article.

And as always, when it comes to taxes, employee law, HR policies, and structuring agreements consult with your professional advisors.

In last week’s bLAWg: Throwing in the Towel: Legal Issues to Closing Your Business – Part 1, I discussed the duties and obligations of closing a business. If you have recently decided to close your business or are looking for alternative options to closing; the below checklist should provide a basic map of what you need to consider. Remember each business is unique and do not consider the below checklist a substitute for professional advice or as a definitive, exhaustive list.

What steps should I consider to Close my Business?

When closing your business, you want to take time to plan things, and a checklist helps organize that process. In general, the goal is to account for assets and liabilities, and make sure you are using the business assets to pay off its liabilities. You want to eliminate liabilities, prior to dissolving the corporation or terminating the LLC. Consider the following:

  1. If you have advisers, you should talk to them as they can assist or offer advice
    • Attorneys, accountants, Bankers, HR specialists, Financial Advisers, Business Mentors
  2. Sell off your inventory and collect on your accounts receivables – consider during this pandemic you may have to discount or negotiate as cash for others is also tight
    • Finish off your obligations to your clients/customers
  3. Provide notice to the major creditors or those businesses that support your operations;
    • Bank, lenders, suppliers, service providers, and utilities
      • Time your cancellation of credit cards and subscription services
      • Prepare to close your bank accounts
    • Landlord – in this case you may wish to review your commercial lease as these tend to be lengthy conversations depending on the terms
  4. Discuss with your employees and pay them out, and remember payroll deposits
  5. Liquidate everything else possible*
  6. Settle and paying off your debt, as much as possible**
  7. Do Accounting and Recordkeeping
  8. Pay off ALL taxes or prepare what you will need to file for returns
    • For example, in Hawaii, if you sell off all your inventory or certain other assets there is a Bulk Sales Tax Form
  9. Cancel permits and licenses with appropriate government agencies
  10. Consider providing contact information for forwarding purposes related to the closing business so people may contact you if you miss taking care of something
  11. If there is any money or other assets leftover review the internal governance documents (like an Operating Agreement for LLCs) and divvy up accordingly to the business partners – yes, this comes toward the end
    • Overpaying yourself to the detriment of creditors or taxes you owe is again subjugating yourself to personal liability
  12. Dissolve the Corporation or Terminate the LLC – ideally, after this you should be done with your business

What’s with the asterisks? Are there other options?*

Strategically, the decision by a business owner to close just means they are personally done with the business. However, consider just because they do not see value in continuing operations that doesn’t mean there is not value in the business. Consider that you could sell the business or its assets to another. For example, maybe a new restaurant owner wants a deal on kitchen hardware, or the landlord is willing to assign the lease to someone who wants to take over the space. Or consider a budding entrepreneur that sees an opportunity to take an established business and rebrand, so selling off the intellectual property and brand to them.

The bottom line is just closing, selling off assets, and squaring away liabilities, does not have to be the only route. While it is likely the case during COVID-19’s economic downturn that your business will not be as valuable as you want, sometimes you being done with your business does not mean its assets, operations, or brand cannot be of value to another.

What if my Debts and Liabilities are More than My Assets? What about Bankruptcy? **

According to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Hawaii, 151 residents and businesses filed for bankruptcy protection in June (up 22%). In July, Hawaii bankruptcies flattened to 140 which is just two fewer than the previous year’s findings. Although, federal and state assistance programs have helped during the shutdown, filings may continue to rise during the next few months and even into the next years as aid slows down and ends.

In instances, where you are truly underwater and the debts and liabilities appear to be insurmountable and/or the creditors are not budging in negotiations where they are demanding the full amount and you cannot pay, then yes, the other option is bankruptcy. If this is something you are considering, then understand that this is an even more significant decision than just closing your business.

Some of the steps to filing for bankruptcy include compiling financial records, credit counseling and filing the petition. Consider working with a bankruptcy attorney to make sure you understand what is required to file for bankruptcy, and feel free to contact us for referrals in the Honolulu area.

Anything Else to Consider?

None of the foregoing comments and lists are exhaustive. Every business, and its business owners are unique and may sometimes have special circumstances. If you have a situation that needs specific legal advice, then consult with an attorney, as soon as possible.

However, if you are still considering your options or want to learn more about the steps to close a business and alternative options, then consider joining our upcoming webinar – Throwing in the Towel: Legal Issues to Consider for Closing Your Business on Thursday, September 3, at 12 pm HST. Register here!

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect. No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Are you a business owner thinking of closing your store, restaurant, or bar? You are not the only one who has thought about it. In fact, many already have.

In Honolulu, walk around any neighborhood whether it is Downtown, Kalihi, Haleiwa, or Mōʻiliʻili and you will see that some businesses are gone. In some cases, for good. Surveys conducted indicate that approximately 900 businesses in Honolulu have closed either permanently or temporarily since the COVID-19 pandemic has started. Additionally, we know that the pandemic is not subsiding prompting the government to step up its regulations. Just recently bars on Oahu have been forced to close for an additional three weeks due to Mayor Caldwell’s Emergency Order 2020-23.

This post is for those thinking that it might be best to get out of the business they are currently in and some of the legal issues they must consider before “throwing in the towel.”  

The decision to close your business is not something to take lightly. While, you may have been one of those people that woke up one day and said, “I’m going to start a business,” while learning how to run the business along the journey. This wisdom and experience should have also taught you that the process of closing a business is not necessarily easy or straightforward. It is a process.

The worst decision to make is running and hiding from responsibility or closing too quickly without wrapping up your duties and obligations.

What are my Duties and Obligations?

If you’ve been running a business for several years, especially one that has some physicality to it, such as a storefront, inventory, or employees that report to you, then you realize all the responsibilities you have. First, you should make a checklist of the relationships that you as the business owner and the business itself has with others. This will help you map out all the people you will need to deal with as you wind down operations and move to closing the business. Especially, if you have an LLC or corporation that exist, then understand that your limited liability protection comes from the fact these entities are separate legal persons from the owners. The entity is on the hook for some of the contractual obligations and duties set at law.

Ask yourself about these relationships and what contractual and/or legal obligations and duties you have to:

  1. Business Owners – who needs to decide to go through with closing the business? Consider business entities that require votes by the partners, members, or shareholders to formally begin the process.
  2. Customers/Clients
  3. Vendors/Suppliers
  4. Landlord
  5. Financial Institutions, Banks, and Credit Card Companies
  6. Utilities and Service Providers
  7. Other Lenders (e.g. friends and family give you a loan?)
  8. Employees and Contractors
  9. Federal, State and County Governments (e.g. your taxes, licenses, and permits)
  10. Outstanding Lawsuits (if your business is currently in a lawsuit you may have to delay your plans of closing the business till this is resolved)
  11. Business Owners (e.g. if you are Managing-Member of an LLC members group, you have certain obligations to them prior to closing the LLC)
  12. Anyone other creditors

Consider that anyone of these may have a cause of action (lawsuit) against you or the business if you do not properly deal with them. Many of them are creditors and in some instances if you don’t pay or do what you are supposed, they will sue you to attempt collect their money. Did you give your customers coupons to use? Did you buy inventory on credit? Is the credit card paid off? How long is left on the term lease? Do you have enough money to cover payroll? And so forth.

The business owner is responsible to figure out how to end these relationships and the outstanding liabilities on them. However, what you should not do is run to dissolve the business entity first just because the liabilities are so big and onerous.

Why is Proper Notice so important?

Too many times I have seen LLC members think it is a good idea to terminate their LLC when they have not notified their creditors. They don’t understand doing the “hard stuff,” that is notifying creditors is really saving them from personal liability. They have a duty to notify creditors that they are closing to limit debt, not terminate the LLC and run and hide. This latter choice creates personal liability – in effect, you are causing the business entity to cease to exist without taking proper steps, thus eliminating the limited liability shield.

Anything Else to Consider?

None of the foregoing comments and lists are exhaustive. Each business, and its owners are unique and may sometimes have special circumstances. If you have a situation that needs specific legal advice, then consult with an attorney, the sooner the better.

However, if you are still considering your options or want to learn more about how to close a business, then consider joining our upcoming webinar – Throwing in the Towel: Legal Issues to Consider for Closing Your Business on Thursday, September 3, at 12 p.m. Register here!

Also, stay tuned for our bLAWg next week, that will cover: (i) a checklist of steps to consider when closing your business; (ii) other options instead of closing your business; and (iii) what to do when the business’s debts and liabilities vastly exceed its assets.

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect. No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction. Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Can a business add additional fees and charges to a bill due to COVID-19?

Yes. Consider the additional costs to build barricades, close off every other table, provide enough disinfectant, and sanitizer. Also supplying disposable personal protective equipment (PPE) for employees. Obviously, that costs money.

Additionally, for those of you in the food industry you are already aware of the shortages in supplies. For example, COVID-19 has slowed the U.S. meat production for months due to closures: https://www.wsj.com/articles/coronavirus-to-slow-u-s-meat-production-for-months-ceo-says-11589540400.

What does a restaurant owner do in the face of rising costs, mandatory expenses, and limited customer base? Charge additional fees. Some businesses already have begun charging a COVID-19 fee to help cover these costs and expenses. Specifically, it appears as a line item on receipts. The economic justification is the COVID-19 fee is for the things like the PPE, plastic barricades, and other social distancing requirements placed by government regulation.

If the business is being transparent and disclosing the potential customer or client that additional fees will be charged, then the business can pass along those fees. Obviously, there are caveats to this, such as reasonableness and what is sufficient notice prior to the assessing such a charge. For example, kind of like how restaurants would notify you of automatic gratuity charge for parties over a certain size in their menu or putting a sign at the grocery store entrance to charge for providing a bag.

I understand for consumer-minded people that this is a shock, a deviation from the norm. Going from a couple of months of lockdown to added fees for some basic activities like dental cleaninings and haircuts is a bit much.  However, the overall sentiment is that, yes, a business can assess an additional fees due to COVID-19 social distancing expenses.

Isn’t this gouging?

Not likely. The law in Hawaii, which is Hawaii Revised Statute 127A-30 is specific about when it is prohibited to increase of prices during a state of emergency and similar situations. By the very nature that the economy is reopening, that would indicate the emergency is ending. Specifically, HRS 1270A-30 prohibits “any increase in selling price of any commodity, whether at the retail or wholesale level, in the area that is subject of the proclamation [state of emergency] or the severe weather warning;”

In the case of personal beauty service providers it would be hard to argue that their service is a “commodity.”

Additionally, the law makes clear that “any additional operating expenses incurred by the seller [] because of the emergency or disaster or the severe weather, and which can be documented may be passed on to the consumer.” Again, we have that key term “documented”.  So another out for these fees to documenting the decision in how to apply them. Business owners considering COVID-19 fees would be wise to do planning and accounting of how they are derived. Showing the correlation between the fees assessed and the social distancing requirement expenses may be critical in defending the practice.

Business owners should always be aware of actions that may be perceived by the public as unfair or deceptive. The reason is that consumer protection laws do consider unfair or deceptive acts or practices as unlawful. Therefore, a business owner needs to communicate effectively with potential clients and customers about their COVID-19 fees.

Is there an example of this in other industries?

The COVID-19 pandemic aside, disasters whether natural or man-made have always disrupted supply chains and causing problems for business owners. There are industries where detailing out the contractual relationship in these kinds of situation is the norm. One example is contractors and homeowners for the price of supplies.

Consider, if there is a forest fire that destroys a large supply of lumber. Then the lumber supplies for home building decreases, but demand goes up. So the contractor has to source the wood supplies from others. For business lawyers, we would look to see if this situation is in the contract. Is there an Escalation/Unit Price clause? This clause would be show there was an explicit understanding between the parties. It would indicate if the contractor is entitled to adjust the material price of an item due to an event impacting their bottom line. Like short supply of lumber due to a fire disaster.

Stores, restaurants, beauty services, and dental offices unused to such jumps in operating expenses obviously shock their consumers when they pass COVID-19 fees. Obviously, customers and clients also do not an expect a lengthy written contract that spells it out. Instead they just get the bill for it. The business owner then gets a lot of angry comments.

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Where is the Hawaii economy for reopening? Where can an owner get guidance to reopen?

So here in Hawaii the economy is beginning to reopen. In Honolulu, hair, nail, lash, and in general beauty operators and services were allowed to re-open past Friday. In Maui, most businesses will be allowed to reopen on June 1st, whereas in Hawaii island personal services and restaurants (excluding bars and night clubs). On Kauai, salons and barber shops, retail and mails, and cleaning and construction have been reopened since May 22nd.

In general, what is clear is the Hawaii economy is heading toward reopening, with the likelihood of gyms, bars, night clubs, and large gathering places where intimate contact is involved of remaining closed until government officials can come up with plans and guidelines. This is something determined between the governor and the mayors, as the mayors submit their proposals to the governor for approval. Therefore, the industry re-openings are not uniform between the islands.

The best thing for a Hawaii business owner that needs guidance as they consider reopening is to review the State of Hawaii COVID-19 resources, and then depending what county you are in, review the county orders and guidelines. Further, for many industries their trade groups and associations, provide industry-specific guidelines on dealing with these regulations. Finally, of course professional advisors, such as attorneys and human resource companies are there dealing with the customer/client and employee aspects of reopening.

Is there a place where the local rules and regulations are at?

Yes, the State of Hawaii and the 4 counties have websites going over the various order, mayoral proclamations, and guidelines to assist businesses in their reopening and future plans to reopen the economy. Of course this information constantly changes due to the virus. Further, the government frequently issues clarifications on unclear rules or plans as people and businesses provide feedback.

What are some of the specific requirements a business owner needs to prepare for reopening?

For the business owner that is committed to reopening soon, and especially dealing with direct interactions with clients and customers if you’ve reviewed some of the state and counties’ guidelines, then you know there are a number of changes you will have to make. This is especially true for retail, restaurants and food courts, beauty and personal health services. The following are some of the social distancing requirements a business owner in these industries need be keenly aware about:

  • 6-feet distancing;
  •  Limited occupancy;
  •  Face coverings
  • Providing of hand sanitizer and sanitizing products
  • Regular disinfecting; and
  • of course signage to notify all employees and customers of these requirements.

Again, this is a partial and general list and so a business owner needs to spend some research and review time for their business plan to reopen. One Oahu has a Business Guidance Page: https://www.oneoahu.org/business-guidance

CDC Reopening Guidance for Cleaning and Disinfecting Public Spaces, Workplaces, Businesses Schools, and Homes: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/reopen-guidance.html

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

I just wanted to recap my seminar on business partnerships from last week at the Entrepreneurs Sandbox. Entitled All is Fair in Love and War: Navigating Business Partnerships, and playing off of Valentine’s Day, my panel and I discussed the ins and outs of business partnerships. We touched upon of course my focus, business law, as well as estate and financial planning, and marketing issues. I’d like to thank John Roth, esq. of Hawai’i Trust and Estate Counsel, Kai Ohashi, AAMS of Edward Jones, and Thomas Obungen of Slug Media LLC for their participation. Further their insight, knowledge, and personal experiences helping clients in business partnerships proved to be invaluable to the audience. A thorough discussion took place on the issues facing business partners inside and out of their business. Some of the topics included:

  1. Due Diligence of Potential Partner
  2. Choice/Forming Business Entity
  3. Operating Agreements
  4. Restrictive Covenants
  5. Goals & Metrics
  6. Succession Planning
  7. Departing Partners, Death & Disability
  8. Financing a Partnership
  9. Buy-Sell Agreements
  10. Differing Generations of Partners
  11. Partners that Have Competing Marketing/Branding Visions
  12. Communicating Internally and Externally
  13. Change of Business Partners
  14. and many more!

What I Had to Say on Having Business Partners

Attorney Ryan K. Hew enjoying hosting the seminar with a doughnut!
All is fair in love and war, including eating a doughnut while presenting on business partnerships, while the litigation partner is at the office!

Talk it Out

For this recap I am not going over the whole presentation, but instead I would highlight a couple of items. I myself have a business partner, he handles the commercial litigation. So we see a lot of business partnership breakups; it says something when the transaction attorney and commercial litigator both feel the two biggest factors for business divorce:

  1. Lack of communication
  2. Differing Expectations

If you think about it, number 2 is an off-shoot of number 1. If you and your partner have differing goals and fail to talk about those issues, then over time the gap in goals widens. This gap is sometimes too wide to overcome. For example, money issues tend to be the biggest source of complaint. Of course they are, as profit is the nature of what a partnership. If you don’t know what the law defines as a “partnership” check my other post here. Frequently, partners that contribute different amounts of capital have differing exit strategies. Also know that even when the company is making money partners fight. Yes, I’ve seen arguments over profitable businesses because the partners failed to talk about what they would with their success. Distribute? Reinvest?

Then Write it Down

Even if you and your partner have discussed the issues, if you fail to formalize those discussions that is still a lack of communication. The reason being is memories fade, goals change, and in general life happens. What happens is the partners remember conversations differently. Then law firms, like mine, spend countless hours sifting through emails, texts, and images, trying to piece together what could’ve been the agreement. So the next thing to do after discussing and agreeing is writing it down. One of the activities that separates us from other animals is our desire (some more than others) to record things. Mark Kurlansky an author that focuses on interesting history topics, talks about this in his book Paper: Paging Through History.

Not every documentation needs to be a book, but having the formalities is crucial for a healthy business partnership. This is especially true for big ticket items. Consider items such as capital contributions, members’ interest, distributions, profit/loss allocation, and member’ responsibilities and duties. With a professional’s assistance, partners can discuss what they want and then document in a legally, binding enforceable agreement. For LLCs and their members, that is an Operating Agreement. Note: I am mostly sticking to limited liability company (LLC) language just due to the nature of my practice. For partners forming a corporation these items will be discussed, but will have differing terms and restrictions due to the choice of entity.

Operating Agreements & Employment Agreements: Separated or Incorporated

One other thing about why using a professional to assist in drafting your formal agreements is best. The advice on whether to separate or incorporate several relationships and arrangements in one document as opposed to several. The reason I bring this up as an audience member had an excellent question. Their question was:

Should an Operating Agreement contain the members’ employment duties and obligations?

Generally, an Operating Agreement is used to outline the LLC’s financial and functions processes as it relates to the LLC and its members (the owners of the LLC). It acts an internal governance document of the operations with respect to the way the owners interact with each other and the entity as a whole. Yes, in an Operating Agreement duties and obligations can be placed on the members, such as a restrictive covenant for non-competition. However, employment duties and benefits, such as position/title and duties under that position, compensation, vacation may be considered in a separate arrangement, an Employment Agreement. Why?

Consider a partnership were there are multiple members, the membership may elect one of them to be the Manager in a Manager-Managed LLC. Therefore, management authority would reside in the Manager and would be spelled out in the Operating Agreement. However, for their day-to-day tasks, compensation package and benefits, and termination provisions, those may be considered under an Employment Agreement. The reason for this separation is what if the membership wants to “fire” the Manager under the Employment Agreement, but there is an understanding that individual remains a member under the terms of the Operating Agreement. Having one giant document where duties and rights are confused or entangled may be problematic in enforcement or trying to carry out, especially in tense situations. Separation sometimes provides flexibility. Obviously, the trade-off is more documentation.

Last Words: Get it Signed

That was a brief recap of some of the interesting discussions that took place at the seminar. Hopefully, this will prompt you to consider your own business partnerships and what you need to do to improve their health. One last consideration: if you get a formal agreement, then get it signed! There is no point in engaging a professional to draw up a mutually agreed upon contract to then not execute it. It is worst, to then later to get into a dispute over the very subject matter in that formal agreement. Obviously, please speak to your advisers, including an attorney in your relevant jurisdiction. While, it may be costly, consider the costs of miscommunication, then the potentiality of lawsuits due to your business partnership dispute.

I know somber last words, but cheerfully check back for future seminars and similar content.

Thanks for reading!

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

Hey everyone, Happy Lunar New Year!

Lunar New Year and New Seminar

Yes, there’s a delay on my traditional post on laws related to the animal of the year. However, check out last year’s How Can I Hunt Boar in Hawaii? or 2018’s Can a Landlord Charge a Tenant Extra for a Dog? In the meantime, I’ve been busy with a number of projects. First, I’ve been putting together another seminar and panel similar to last year’s Non-Profit November: Formation & Compliance. For this February, it is All is Fair In Love and War: Navigating Business Partnerships.

This seminar will be on dealing with business partnerships, such as formation issues, estate planning and finance, and in general what it is like having a business partner. Joining me will be a panel of subject matter experts. John Roth of Hawaiʻi Trust and Estate Counsel, Kai Ohashi of Edward Jones, and Thomas Obungen of Slug Media LLC. If you are in Honolulu the day before Valentine’s Day, February 13th, 11:30 AM – 1:30 PM HST, then come to Kakaʻako’s Entrepreneur Sandbox. For more information and to buy tickets for this seminar go to Eventbrite.

Web Search Autocomplete Questions Video

So that’s one project. The other project is my staff and social media consulting friends and clients all have been urging me to do more video content. So the staff came up with this fun project.

In the video below, I answer questions to a web search’s autocomplete function. If you’ve ever started typing into an internet search bar, then there are suggestions on what the most common web searches for the word or phrase. In this case, to plug the seminar my, the staff gave me the following web search autocomplete questions:

  1. how are business partnerships |
    • how are business partnerships formed
    • what are business partnerships
    • how business partnerships work
    • how do business partnerships work
  2. why are business partnerships |
    • why are business partnerships important
    • what are business partnerships
    • why business partnerships fail
    • why business partnerships don’t work
    • why do business partnerships fail

For my answers watch the video:

HRS Definition of “Partnership”

By the way, in the video you see me try and quote what the Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) definition of the word “partnership.” Well, here is the specific definition in the law:

“Partnership” means an association of two or more persons to carry on as co-owners a business for profit formed under section 425-109, a predecessor law, or comparable law of another jurisdiction.

HRS §425-101

Obviously, that is the legal definition of partnership, but as you may know (or maybe not, thus the seminar and video) is business people use the term “partnership” very loosely as opposed to the legalese. For instance, someone may say, ” My partner in my LLC.” Technically, “members” is the term for a multi-member limited liability company, that is the owners of the LLC. However, the person would be indicating “partner” as their business partner within the LLC. This is just one example how legal definitions differ from everyday use of words and terms. This post, the seminar, and the video is concentrated dealing with the many issues associated with business partnerships, including definition/use, forming them, and of course, when an attorney is involved, fighting in them!

Thanks for watching and reading. Until next time!

DISCLAIMER: This post provides general information, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained in the post without seeking the advice of  an attorney in the relevant jurisdiction.  Hew & Bordenave, LLLP expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.