It’s not a situation that any business owner ever wants to be in, but it does happen. Whether due to some accusation of fraud or a failure to meet your legal obligations as a business owner or even due to criminal charges, your business can come under threat from the law.
Whether it’s a false accusation or otherwise, you have to take steps to make sure that you’re protecting yourself and your business’s legal rights to make sure it doesn’t get dragged under.
Here are a few tips on how to do this.
Get an attorney as soon as you can
It’s wise to start working with attorneys as soon as you get your business started. The sooner you partner with them, the sooner that they can start doing the due diligence to ensure that you’re not inadvertently breaking any local or federal laws or neglecting your responsibilities.
However, if you don’t have a lawyer on retainer, then you should take the time to find one now before you take any action. Choose a qualified business lawyer, looking at their areas of practice to make sure that they bring the experience needed to help you. For instance, if it’s an issue with the IRS, you should work with a tax attorney, or if it’s an issue with an employee, you may need an employment lawyer.
Avoid making any public statements
One of the worst things that a business owner can do when they are facing charges or a lawsuit of any kind is to get out and try to change the story by making an announcement or talking about the details of the case. Anything you say or do can be used against you and most people don’t speak with the kind of care that goes into the legal system.
Even if you speak the truth, even if you’re innocent, any information you give can be used against you. As such, it’s important to make sure that you have your attorney to do the talking for you, even for something as simple as a press release assuring the public of your innocence.
What if you get arrested?
In most cases, a business-related legal case is not going to result in the arrest of a business owner or employee. However, there are cases where it can happen. It can be a lot harder to try and mount a legal defense if one of the people important to the case is not accessible for the majority of the time, so you might want to look at bail bonds to get them out.
When out on bail, there are usually restrictions on where a person can go and often a curfew, so it’s important to make sure that these restrictions are followed to the letter or it can endanger the case.
Keep the business clean
Even if your methods are entirely ethical, you should be wary of how it can look to the outside world if you work with anyone who can cast it in a questionable light. Avoid doing business with any other companies that have charges or lawsuits against them, even if your own company’s ethics are unimpeachable. Your company’s name can end up being linked to theirs. Similarly, you should also avoid conflicts of interest as best as possible.
During any court proceedings, it’s important that you are able to present yourself as a business and a business owner with integrity and respectability. Take a look over your existing partnerships and if any seem potentially problematic, talk to your lawyer about them.
Be careful with hiring and retention in future
Employers are responsible for the actions of their employees, especially if they happen on your own premises and in the scope of that individual’s employment. As such, it’s important to make sure that you’re working with those who can be trusted to represent your business.
For one, you can perform a background check to make sure that they haven’t been convicted of any charges that could endanger your business, such as theft or assault. You should also keep a close eye out for any signs of criminal or aggressive behavior in the business. You should use extra special care when hiring workers who have public contact.
Make sure you have some financial protection
A lawsuit, even if you are successful in defending against it, can be a major hassle for a business. Above all else, it can be a significant expense. You shouldn’t let those expenses catch you unawares. Instead, you should make sure that you have liability insurance for the business.
This insurance can cover the costs if someone makes a successful suit against the business, but it can also help you pay for things like the legal costs to defend your business. If you are successful in defending your business, you may be able to recoup some of the damages that have been caused, but this isn’t something that you should expect to rely on.
Take care to ensure ethical conduct in the future
If you manage to disentangle yourself from your business’s legal problems, you should look at all of the steps you can take to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. Aside from being more careful about the employees you work with, you can create ethical guidelines for how you are to do business, creating a code of conduct and offering ethics training. Refresher courses can make sure that your employees keep these guidelines clear in their minds. You might also want to work with HR consultants or workplace safety officers to make sure that, in the future, that you are extra careful in not accidentally neglecting your responsibilities.
The most important tip of all is to recognize that this post doesn’t count as legal advice. You need to make sure you’re working with those who have the authority and expertise to help you. These are just a few signposts pointing at where you can seek help.