Opening a small business requires all sorts of preparations such as raising capital, writing a business plan, finding a suitable premises, hiring staff and myriad other tasks. But even the best planning and care will mean nothing if your venture is saddled with fees and penalties or is forced to close down because it was operating illegally.
Make sure you get things right from the beginning. Approach the legal aspect of opening a business systematically. What are the laws pertaining to launching a business? Are you required to get a business license? If you are you planning to hire employees, what laws apply? What kind of taxes will you have to pay? Make sure that you consult with qualified professionals who are required to keep themselves current on any changes in the business law environment.
Here are a few legal areas to consider:
- Company Law. Your new company constitutes a separate legal entity. In the event that you are a director of a company, the Companies Act 2006 states your legal responsibilities, including your obligation to act in good faith in the best interest of the company.
- Tax Laws. Familiarize yourself with the various tax laws including regulations pertaining to the filing of tax returns. If you are selling merchandise, look into the issue of sales tax. There are additional taxes such as withholding taxes, corporate taxes, pass through taxes and both state and local taxes. Consulting with a CPA will help you to understand the complex issue of taxes and your own obligations.
- Employment Laws. If you are planning on hiring employees, there is a wide range of laws with which you must become acquainted. The Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (enforced by the Health and Safety Executive) defines your duty as an employer to ensure the safety and wellbeing of your employees. It is illegal to discriminate against people because of their gender, race, belief, sexuality, disability or age when hiring, employing or firing them. Relevant laws in this area are: Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Equal Pay Act 1970; Race Relations Act 1976; Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003; Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003; Disability Discrimination Act 1995; Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006. You may be obligated to pay your employees Statutory Sick Pay (SSP) if they become ill for a period of between four and 28 days. If the duration of their illness exceeds this period, they may become eligible for an Incapacity Benefit.
- Environmental Laws. Businesses are obligated to protect the environment according to the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The law stipulates the sensitive management of waste products and enacts controls regarding emissions into the environment (including noise). This act applies only to direct pollution. The current law does not obligate businesses to behave in an environmentally friendly way.
- Zoning Laws. Zoning laws are usually local ordinances that regulate the type of business that is allowed to be conducted in a specific area, how the land surrounding the business is used, parking, advertising and other details. When in doubt, turn to the local Chamber of Commerce for assistance.
These are only a few of the many federal and local laws that may apply to your new business. Again, as ignorance does not exempt you from adhering to the various laws, seek the advice of tax and legal professionals who can inform you of the particular laws affecting your specific business.