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Happy New Year! Pardon the delay, but I have had a lot of work and been trying to deliver new interesting content and helpful services for local small businesses and startups here in Hawaii.
So I hope you all are off to a roaring start with your business plan, startup, second round of financing, or expanding your business to new markets.  However, if you were like me you were concerned with the “fiscal cliff” debate that raged with the US Congress at the beginning of the year.  Now in the upcoming weeks, here in Hawaii, as in Washington DC, lobbyists and stakeholders are preparing for a new legislative session to influence lawmakers.  Many of these lobbyists represent consumer advocacy, environmental protection, trade, and business groups.

So this brings me to a new series for Draw the Law, government and business.  I have a background in government, law, business and politics and I find that many small business owners do not appreciate the interaction of government. I realize that many business owners have not had civics in a while, nor did their class cover the nuances of government, regulation, and lawmaking, but that is why I think these posts should bring some clarity. So let’s get to it.

The Federal System

So let’s start with a refresher, our government is a federal system. This means there is a national government, located in Washington DC, and fifty state governments, one of which is the State of Hawaii, with its state capitol being located in Honolulu.  What this means is usually you have to worry about two sets of laws.  For example, your income taxes, you have federal income tax, and a state income tax.  Another area is labor law; federal law prohibits gender discrimination, as does Hawaii state law.  However, each of the states, in some areas, are allowed exceed federal law, such as how Hawaii law prohibits discrimination against domestic violence victims or gender expression.  Finally, there are some areas that federal law only exists, such as the registration of copyright or patents.

Imagine that there are 2 sets of systems, that there is a federal government in black, and 50 state governments in red. When you start a business you start it in a state and are subject to state taxes, as well as federal taxes.

The Three Branches

So we have two levels of government, but within these layers there are three parts of each government.  There is the Executive branch, which has the United States President if it is the federal government and the Governor of Hawaii if it is the state.  The Executive branch is responsible for carrying out laws. For example, the US Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service is the public health agency responsible for ensuring the safety of meat, poultry, and egg products is safe. At the state level the Department of Commerce of Consumer of Affairs of Hawaii is under the governor and is responsible for registering your corporation or limited liability company with the state.

The Judiciary is made up of the courts, which have judges that rule on cases. We have federal courts and state courts, and there are specific rules and procedures that allow a court to have jurisdiction over your case (i.e. they have power to hear your problem).  So for a business, if their product or service injures a customer and the customer goes out, finds an attorney, and then sues the business they will get this resolved in a court.  Another example is if you were an independent contractor and did work for a client for $3,000.00, but never received payment, you could consider suing the client in Small Claims Court.

Finally, there is the Legislative branch, which in my personal opinion most people find confusing, unless they are a politico.  This is the case because of the politics played among all the personalities of senators and representatives. For the United States Congress there is the House of Representatives and the Senate, similarly Hawaii has a bicameral (2 chambers) legislature.  The sole goal of the legislative branch is to make laws.  Therefore, many businesses, by trade or industry, bandwagon together to lobby for the creation of laws that are favorable, such as the US Chamber of Commerce, the National Restaurant Association, as do other groups, such as unions, like the ILWU or HGEA, as they interact at the two levels of government.

The executive branch (blue) is responsible for enforcement, such as through the department of taxation (taxes). The legislature (red) creates laws and lawmakers are subject to lobbyists, voters, and stakeholders influencing them. Finally, the judiciary (green) decides on cases through laws made by the legislature, such as class actin law suits.

Upcoming Weeks

In future weeks, I will go over how public policy affects management of businesses, lobbying, where nonprofits fit in, and how legislation is driven by stakeholders, as well as other topics that business owners interested in government may be interested in.

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.  Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

So the option that won from the poll was to do a brief overview of employee legal issues.
As it is a huge topic, I will only really briefly touch upon large aspect of the employer-employee relationship.   To keep this as brief as possible, I am going to focus on just employment of non-unionized employees.  In addition, today’s focus will be about how to think about dealing with employee legal issues with a HR perspective.  I will follow-up with a couple more Draw the Laws that focus on narrower aspects of employment law it will also be poll-based.

The Puzzle that is Employment Law

In general, employment law cares about the interactions of the business with its employees.  Both the state and federal governments have created laws to regulate hiring, workplace conditions, wages, and the like.  Due to our system though we have many laws that overlap, further exceed, or just contradict with each other.   In many times, the HR function of a business is playing puzzle-maker trying to get pieces to fit together that do not quite match.

So there are multiple ways to try and figure out how to be in compliance with employment laws.  Here are some ways to cope with dealing with the law.

Size

If you are a small business, generally the owner-operator is handling the HR function (along with marketing, operations, and everything else).  Due to the fact that you are so tiny, many laws do not affect you, as the have an employee threshold.   You can kind of think of the business as a growing bubble, as you add employees the more laws the bubble comes in contact with and must comply with.  For example, most of the federal anti-discrimination laws cover employers of fifteen or more, whereas Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA) is 20 or more, and something like Family Medical Leave Act is 50 or more.

Other times a law will cover an employer based on its gross annual volume of business, such as Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Equal Pay Act (EPA), and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA).

Finally, there are laws that always affect you no matter how small or big you are like Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994 (USERRA) and Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA).

Timing/Process

Where are you in the process of dealing with the employee?  Are you hiring a new employee?  Did you hire the employee and are now training them?  Is this an older employee that has been with the company for a while?  Or is this an employee you may want to terminate?

Certain laws come into play depending on what stage of the process you are in.  In this case, you can kind of think of the laws interaction with your business in stages with on and off switches representing what you can and cannot do at certain stages of the process.

Never Enough Time

I have barely scratched the surface of employment law, but I hope today’s Draw the Law has helped give you a couple ways to think about them.  In general, it does seem there is never enough time for dealing with this type of law.  However, there are some great resources on the web, and I have some links on my site to help out.

Plan Ahead: Policies, Procedures, and Handbooks

A business’s best tool when dealing with employment laws is plan ahead.  It will save you some stress and worry later.  For me (as seen by these Draw the Law) I like to diagram and sketch things out, as it gives you a kind of map to navigate the issues. If you feel you do not have the energy or skills it is best to hire someone to help develop strategies for you to deal with your worker issues, as noncompliance can lead to penalties by the government and lawsuits from employees.  Due to the complexity of employment laws an attorney can advise and help draft your handbooks on polices and procedures.

As always if you like this post or any of my other series please “Subscribe” to this blawg to receive e-mail updates.  In addition, follow me on Twitter and “Like” me on Facebook.  If you need to contact me directly, please e-mail me at Ryankhew@hawaiiesquire.com.

*Disclaimer:  This post discusses general legal issues, but does not constitute legal advice in any respect.  No reader should act or refrain from acting based on information contained herein without seeking the advice of counsel in the relevant jurisdiction.  Ryan K. Hew, Attorney At Law, LLLC expressly disclaims all liability in respect to any actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this post.

I would just like to inform my readers that this blawg post will be delayed till later tonight, as I have been busy working on some other projects.  However, it will definitely be up today (6/21/11) and will discuss more from the employee’s perspective about their social media usage at work.

Access to Justice Means Giving People the Tools to Get There

In the mean time, here is some food for thought.  Lately, I have been trying to get more involved with access to justice here in Hawaii.  If you read my Civil Beat article, then you know I supported the passage of the increase to ILAF to fund organizations that do good work in terms of making justice accessible for the community.

However, as I stated I believe that there is an information gap as we continue to expand our laws and create a civil society.  Those who do not have access typically are also behind the curve when it comes to technology use because let’s face it, obtaining computers and smartphones may be relatively inexpensive for professionals, but not for others.   The Governor of Hawaii has made a drive to adopt and upgrade our technologies, and I support him in this endeavor.

In my humble opinion, I would like to see as his term continues on a stronger an investment in tools and infrastructure.  Namely,  I really think that we need to get cheap laptops and computers into our impoverished communities, and set-up free wifi spots throughout the State.  Why?  I don’t believe you get to access justice if you do not even know what is going on or where to look.  With infrastructure in place, kids are pretty smart once you give them some educational training, they can then begin seeking out all the knowledge that the web has to offer (i.e. like the information on this blawg).

Communication devices and the infrastructure to support them will bring greater access to justice because the population will be more knowledgeable and have skills needed to survive in this age of digital information.  Simple searches on an easy to use laptop through a public wifi network will bring them one step closer to getting answers or at least asking the right questions, which as many attorneys know all apart of the law.  Just my thoughts on social justice and public expenditures.

Anyway, see you later with my Social Media and the Law post!