Brief Overview of Texas and Federal Whistleblower Laws

All employers must respectfully interact with employees who report alleged wrongdoings in the workplace. Often referred to as “whistleblowers,” these individuals are trying to correct illegal practices or behaviors they believe are harmful to many. Although some whistleblowers may have improper motives, you always ignore them at your own peril – especially since there are Texas and federal laws designed to protect them under certain circumstances.

The following information about whistleblower laws and related activities can help you better understand why an employer must obtain timely legal advice from a Houston business law attorney once any employee threatens to file this type of complaint.

The Texas Whistleblower Act

This statute is found in Sections 554.001 (and following) of the Texas Government Code. It only provides protection against employer retaliation for public employees – not private ones. The law expressly forbids public employers from suspending, terminating or otherwise imposing adverse personnel actions employees who report alleged legal violations by the employer or co-workers.

However, the complaining party – who must report the alleged wrongdoings to the appropriate law enforcement authority – must undergo (exhaust) all employer grievance or appeals processes before being allowed to sue the employer. Under the Texas statute, all whistleblower lawsuits must be filed within 90 days of the reported wrongdoing.

Damages may include obtaining a legal injunction against the employer – as well as receipt of all back pay owed if the employee was terminated (or demoted) in a retaliatory move. Successful whistleblowers (who meet all statutory requirements), are also entitled to receive full reinstatement, all fringe benefits owed, full seniority rights, actual damages, reasonable attorney fees, court costs and a set maximum of possible other compensatory damages.

Furthermore, a supervisor found to have violated the complaining employee’s rights under this Texas statute (Section 554.008) can be forced to pay up to a $15,000 civil fine.

While the burden of proof is on the whistleblower, the possible penalties can be formidable.

Federal laws often relied upon by various whistleblowers

  • The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (passed shortly after all the illegal Enron activities). It mainly addresses the penalties available in the wake of fraudulent accounting practices.
  • The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.
  • OSHA violations. Many construction workers and other employees file “whistleblower” complaints based on these Occupational Safety and Health Administration statutes and regulations.
  • Various Department of Energy laws and statutes.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laws and regulations.
  • Federal airline regulations.
  • The False Claims Act (as recently updated).
  • The Fraud Enforcement and Recovery Act of 2009.
  • Hazardous waste regulations.
  • The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — and other government statutes related to the provision and receipt of proper medical care.

While this list isn’t intended to be comprehensive, it provides a general overview of the types of statutes and regulations often referenced in many whistleblower complaints.

The following information reviews the most common types of illegal retaliation some employers take upon learning that a whistleblower complaint has been filed.

Forbidden, retaliatory actions taken by some employers

  • Job termination. Far too many employers look for “clever” ways to fire complaining employees once they learn a whistleblower complaint may be filed.
  • Demotion. An aggrieved employee may be called in and told that there have been long-standing complaints about his/her performance – requiring demotion to a lower position with considerably lower pay.
  • Thinly disguised harassment on the job.
  • Retaliatory discipline. This may include the placement of highly negative performance reviews in an employee’s file – making it much harder for the workers to receive any future promotions or favorable recommendations upon leaving the job.
  • Blacklisting. Some employers will “discreetly” contact their peers throughout the same industry, purposefully designating the specific, complaining employee in hopes of preventing that person from every landing another job in that same field.

Two high-profile whistleblower events help explain how such actions often unfold

One of the best ways to gain a stronger understanding of whistleblower activities is to read all you can about how former Enron employee Sherron Watkins reported her concerns about her employer. You may also want to learn more about all the late FBI agent W. Mark Felt (“Deep Throat”) did to expose President Richard Nixon’s illegal activities tied to the Watergate scandal.

As one Texas Monthly article puts it, the Enron scandal involved highly questionable financial practices that included the creation of financial entities to help Enron conceal the company’s growing debt from Wall Street, regulators and the general public. The book Power Failure provides an in-depth look at how all of Enron’s troubles began and how its illegal activities ruined the lives of so many.

Conclusion

Always make sure your company (or government office) provides all supervisory personnel with comprehensive training on the proper ways to respond once a whistleblower complaint has been filed (or is referenced by an employee). And remember that retaliatory acts must be avoided since they’re illegal and often very costly.

If you believe an employee is preparing to file a “whistleblower” complaint against you, please contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys right away. We can explain your legal rights to you and help you take the proper steps to respond appropriately. Timely intervention can prevent critical misunderstandings and unnecessary litigation.

Many People Start New Businesses After Age 50

A large percentage of Americans launch new companies and careers after turning fifty. In fact, the term “encore entrepreneurs” has been coined to describe this steady trend. In her book, “Your Life Calling: Reimagining the Rest of Your Life,” Jane Pauley profiles some rather amazing people who’ve transformed their “retirement years.” Many of them are now realizing personal dreams that are helping others both locally and in distant parts of the world.

In a recent New York Times article addressing this topic, one man in his early sixties said that he’s so happy with his new company (which creates educational and training videos) that he may never retire. Fortunately, many larger cities often have “incubators” designed to help people get new companies off the ground — and venture capitalists who are eager to consider funding start-ups with a strong likelihood of success.

Texas remains a great state for new businesses

Every year, many media outlets rank multiple Texas cities as great places to design and build new companies. Be sure to review our Texas governor’s office publication entitled “Texas Business Incubators.”

Once you’ve got a great idea for starting a business, consider scheduling an appointment with your experienced Houston business law attorney to obtain the valuable legal advice you’ll need.

Here are some additional facts and figures that can provide useful insights into some of the best fields to enter (and others to avoid) as you move forward with getting your new company up and running.

Facts and statistics about older Americans starting new companies & becoming self-employed

  • Fifty-one percent (51%) of new start-up business owners are between the ages of 50 and 88. In fact, those aged 35-49 only start about 33% of new companies — and those age 35 or younger only form about 16% of them. Fortunately, you don’t often need a lot of money to get a new company off the ground. Many older entrepreneurs start their companies with $2,000 or less.
  • The Dallas Morning News reports that during each month in 2017, roughly 400 out of every 100,000 Texans became entrepreneurs. A large percentage of those individuals were seniors. Many of their businesses were formed in Austin, Dallas and Houston.
  • About 80% of new Texas business entrepreneurs start their businesses based upon immediately available opportunities – rather than the simple need to find work.
  • Between the year 2000 and 2016, the number of self-employed New Yorkers rose by 63.7 percent. While the country’s economic downturn back around 2008 certainly influenced that trend, it clearly isn’t the sole or main force behind it.
  • About 69% of Americans start their businesses at home.
  • Roughly 42% of all new businesses are formed as S-corporations and 23% are LLCs. Of course, a very large number of small businesses are simply run by solo entrepreneurs.

Which types of new businesses tend to succeed the most often?

  • Those offering insurance, real estate or financial services. After four years, about 58% of these are usually still viable.  Businesses in the financial realm often offer tax preparation, bookkeeping or payroll services.
  • Companies renting or leasing automotive equipment.
  • Legal service businesses.
  • Medical, dental and other healthcare services.
  • Religious organizations.
  • Specific types of administrative or company management services.

Types of new businesses that frequently fail sooner than others

  • Stores selling beer, wine and liquor
  • Auto dealerships
  • Oil and gas extraction service companies
  • Grocery stores
  • Beverage manufacturers
  • Furniture stores
  • Companies selling lawn and garden equipment

After going over your business plans with trusted family members or friends, consider reading more about the different types of business structures you can choose from and what’s normally involved with starting a new Texas company.

Hopefully, you’ll decide to join the many other Texans who’ve discovered that running a business when you’re older can be a very gratifying experience – one that can add even greater purpose to your life.

Our law firm invites adults of every age to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys for legal advice when either starting a new business – or simply needed help with one that’s already thriving.

Why It’s Often Wise to Moniter Employee Computer Usage

While all employees benefit from believing that their companies trust them, they must still accept the modern workplace reality that certain privacy interests must be carefully weighed against protecting valid business interests. Furthermore, employers have a need and a duty to make sure that all employees are putting in their fair share of time while completing assignments. No one should be allowed to waste valuable work time surfing the Internet or responding to personal emails while others are shouldering their proper tasks.

Do many employers regularly monitor computer and Internet usage?

At present, about 80% of large companies carefully monitor how their employees use workplace computers. They also routinely review all company website and social media postings and randomly review email exchanges and software downloads. Internet usage is also closely monitored. These practices can often help businesses avoid future lawsuits and financial losses.

Once your company decides to begin monitoring practices, you really should talk with your Houston business law attorney about all the legal concerns that can develop.

Before addressing other key issues involved with monitoring your employees, it will be helpful to note how many companies provide notice to their workers that their computer usage and Internet activities will soon be regularly reviewed.

When and how do employers bring up computer and Internet monitoring to employees?

  • At the time of hiring. You can make this a condition of accepting employment;
  • When all periodic performance evaluations are conducted. At the end of these sessions, you can produce a carefully worded document, asking for the employee’s written consent for monitoring their computer usage and business communications. It may be helpful to note how this can help protect some of their own interests — and limit the harassment that some employees might otherwise engage in if no such monitoring existed;
  • Include several paragraphs on the topic in your employee handbook. Always be sure that you later ask each new employee if they have any questions about this policy;
  • Place a warning above the company’s computer network sign-in page. This warning might reference the employee handbook – or the written consent form you should have already obtained from each employee;
  • Include a very clear and obvious “Notice” paragraph at the bottom of each outgoing email. This is an attempt to provide notice to third parties (such as non-business contacts who may include workers’ friends and family members who write to them at work – that any or all such emails are subject to monitoring and review).

Your signed consent forms should remind employees (along with the company employee handbook) that certain types of improper communications and usage of the Internet can result in disciplinary actions – and even firing.

As the following information indicates, your careful review of how employees are using their computers can prevent many serious workplace conflicts.

Harmful activities pursued by some using company computers, email and the Internet

  • Harassing behaviors. Making illegal and damaging statements in emails may constitute sexual, racial – or other forms of harassment;
  • Likewise, some types of email (or typed letters) may contain defamatory comments or illegal threats against others. No employee has the right to make serious threats against other employees or outside email recipients. These negative communications may simply imply that a specific person may lose his or her job if certain improper demands aren’t met;
  • Critical company information (like trade secrets and intellectual property) may be stolen and then shared with others;
  • Employees may download and then share copyrighted material or software, allowing others to make additional copies. This can also include the illegal download of porn materials — that are then sent off to others – or stored on your business databases;
  • Workers may accidentally share harmful email and general computer viruses while using their computers in unauthorized ways;
  • Employees may spend lengthy time periods surfing the net — unrelated to legitimate work assignments. Many companies wind up paying significant amounts of money each year for time that employees spent playing online games or enjoying other unauthorized Internet activities;
  • Some workers may maliciously sabotage company files and data for no apparent purpose;
  • Other employees may use their work computers and printers to complete tasks for their separate, private business needs.

Do employers have broad rights to monitor all employee activities at work?

Federal, state and even global laws can limit these rights. Also, most employers do not have the right to invade employee privacy by placing intrusive cameras or audio devices in restrooms or lunchrooms. However, they do have some specific rights to monitor how employees use equipment provided to them. And under certain circumstances, companies can even monitor how employees use their own personal computers while logged on to company networks and databases.

In general, any efforts you make to monitor employee communications must agree with the provisions of the federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA). Fortunately, it does allow certain types of monitoring that fall within an acceptable “business purpose exception.” In other words, your monitoring efforts must have a direct tie to protecting a “legitimate business purpose.”

As already noted above, it’s crucial to discuss all these matters with your attorney to be sure your approach to computer monitoring will not subject your company to any employee or third-party privacy lawsuits.

What global, federal and Texas laws address all these various legal topics?

Keep in mind that companies regularly interacting with international clients or companies must be prepared to observe all the following types of governing laws.

  • The European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) – and the laws passed by many of its members’ individual states;
  • The Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)
  • The Stored Communications Act
  • Various federal wiretapping laws
  • Texas statutes and case law that your lawyer can review with you

Some general guidance is also available on the Texas Workforce Commission website.

Conclusion

Companies of every size must give all these issues considerable thought before buying any types of computer monitoring software. You’ll also need to decide which DLP (data loss prevention) solutions or strategies are most likely to meet your company’s unique needs. For example, do you want to prioritize software that helps with network traffic monitoring, keystroke logging, natural language processing – or other methods? You’ll also need to consider what types of data encryption practices may be useful to you.

Fortunately, there are many outside consultants who can help you carefully evaluate all the current computer monitoring software that’s available – so you can find the best products that fall within an affordable price range for your company.

Please feel free to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys so we can address your current questions about monitoring your employees’ business communications and usage of the Internet. We can also help you draft the types of privacy consent forms and other paperwork that can help you more proactively safeguard your company’s business interests.

Protecting Seniors & Disabled Loved Ones Against Financial Abuse

At present, there are 3.2 million Texans (12% of the total population) who are age 65 and older. By the year 2050, that percentage is expected to rise to twenty percent (20%). Our state also has an unusually large number of disabled citizens – close to 11.7 percent of our population fits into this category.

All these individuals are at a higher risk of being financially abused than others. Furthermore, a highly regarded MetLife Study found that the annual cost of elder financial abuse equals about $2.9 billion – and that number would be far higher if we added in the losses incurred by the disabled population

For this reason, all honest adults should do whatever they can to help their older family members and friends protect themselves against being defrauded of their money and possessions.

Defining financial abuse – and noting who most often commits this type of crime

Before reviewing how the elderly and disabled can protect themselves against financial abuse and scams, it’s important to define “financial abuse” more precisely. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this type of abuse involves the improper or unauthorized use of an older person’s resources for the wrongdoer’s personal profit, benefit or gain

Sadly, ninety percent (90%) of those who commit fraud against the elderly (and disabled) are already people known to them. A February 2018 article published by AARP entitled, “Fraud in the Family,” provides highly useful information on this topic.

Financial safety tips to share with the elderly and disabled regarding financial fraud

  • Each person should put together a small “team” of professionals who will help them manage their funds – and meet with them every few months for this purpose. This team should include two or more of the following individuals.
  1. A reputable Houston estate planning attorney
  2. A highly trusted family member – or friend
  3. A geriatric (or disability) case manager, social worker or therapist
  4. A bonded accountant or bookkeeper

           Advise your elderly or disabled friends to meet quarterly with their small group – and

           make sure their Durable Power of Attorney, Advanced Directive for Healthcare and other

           legal documents clearly indicate that no major life decisions should be made without the

           added input of the individuals named within those documents;

  • Always confer with others before making any major purchases, sales or life decisions. Never rush into to making any new financial investments or decisions about moving into a new home or senior care facility;
  • Keep important items either in a desk or safe at home. Put copies of the person’s Will and all other estate planning documents in their desk at home – making sure that at least one family member or close friend knows where they can be found in case the person becomes suddenly ill. It’s also wise to place all blank checks and major credit cards in a locked safe at home – and only take them out on days when they will be needed to make purchases. These actions can help the senior or disabled person greatly minimize chances of fraud and identity theft. All older bills and bank statements should always be shredded;
  • Never accept any phone calls from strangers. If the person accidentally takes a call from someone they don’t know and is asked to make some type of donation, tell the caller donations or only made by check – and only in response to a written request received by mail. Never, ever give out any bank or credit card information over the phone to such callers;
  • Seniors and the disabled should always ask a family member or friend to help them run a comprehensive background check on anyone them would like to hire as a caregiver in their home or current residence;
  • All routine bank and investment statements should be reviewed with a family member, a bonded bookkeeper or a trusted close friend. Any suspicious withdrawals from such accounts should be reported right away;
  • Consider having all credit reports frozen if any unauthorized credit card accounts are opened in the person’s name. Also, find out which type of fraud alert or security watch program is best suited to daily monitoring all larger financial accounts;
  • Never readily make gifts or loans to family members or friends – especially if they are currently battling drug or alcohol addictions. Ask other people to help address this problem;
  • Finally, advise the senior or disabled person to create a workable monthly budget, allowing for unexpected medical fees and limited travel and entertainment expenses.

If you or a senior friend or disabled person need additional advice and help with these issues, please contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have concerning this topic.

Legal Documents Often Needed by Caregivers

Careful planning is required once you agree to act as the legal caregiver of a family member or close friend. Always make sure the person making this request promptly provides you with copies of properly executed legal documents that will help you address their most critical needs on a timely basis.

Fortunately, your Houston estate planning attorney can help you decide which legal documents may be required by the person needing care. These documents can help you make such crucial decisions as where the person needing care may want to live — and choose the types of medical care they’re willing to receive from specific healthcare providers.

Depending on if you’re personally named in all the required documents, you may also need to handle burial needs – and make sure that all money and possessions are properly transferred to the correct beneficiaries once your loved one or ailing friend passes away.

Here’s a brief overview of the types of legal documents you’ll need the person you’ll be taking care of to obtain from a lawyer.

Key documents to consult while taking care of an ailing friend or family member

  • Power of Attorney. While many older or ailing adults can still often make sound decisions for themselves – they may want you to stand ready to step in and handle key business transactions for them with various companies should they become too ill to manage these matters on a temporary basis;
  • Durable Power of Attorney for Healthcare. This may also be called an Advance Directive for Healthcare and other similar terms. Its purpose is to clearly indicate the types of medical care the named party is open to receiving – and when certain types of life-extending treatments should be discontinued when the party named in the documents is suffering from a terminal or irreversible condition. The document also clearly provides authority for the person named as the Medical Power of Attorney to have full access to all medical records required while making decisions in coordination with doctors and other healthcare providers;
  • A Living Will. This document is different than an Advance Directive because it states how the person needing medical treatment wants their medical care to be handled – as opposed to the Advance Directive which states how another person (the agent) should handle the ill person’s medical treatment needs when that person is unable to do so. This type of Will also often addresses whether life support procedures should be provided under specific circumstances;
  • A Basic Will. This sets forth the name of the executor who’s been chosen to manage the ill person’s estate once they pass away — so the chosen beneficiaries will receive all the designated wealth and possessions. Hopefully, the person you’re helping will remember to ask their lawyer if they need to create one or more trust accounts so that all or part of the estate can be easily transferred without going through the probate process.

Be sure the person you’ll be taking care of informs their lawyer about any unusual or special circumstances that may need to be addressed in all the documents named above.

You may also want to obtain a document sometimes referred to as an Appointment of Agent to Control Disposition of Remains. This will allow the older or disabled person needing your care to state who will handle their remains once a funeral home has prepared them for burial (or placement in an urn). Many people today who’ve chosen to be cremated obtain this form, so they can state the location of a specific cemetery or columbarium where their remains will be interred.

Please feel free to have the person who’s asked you to act as caregiver to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys so we can help prepare all of these important legal documents. We are always available to respond to any questions you may have regarding any of these documents and the entire estate planning and probate process.

Pursuing Federal Government “Set-Aside” Contracts

If you’re looking for new ways to “grow” your small business, you may want to learn more about qualifying to bid on federal government “set-aside” contracts. The Small Business Administration (SBA) says there are two basic types of these set-aside contracts. Both can result in highly lucrative contracts that might otherwise have been awarded to far larger companies

The difference between “sole-source” and general competitive bidding set-aside contracts

This “sole-source” type of set-aside contract is often awarded through a non-competitive bidding process when the government believes that only one single business can meet the contract’s requirements. Companies seeking to bid on these types of contracts must first register with SAM (the System for Award Management). Occasionally, these types of sole-source contracts may be managed so that competitive bids will be accepted.

However, most small businesses try to submit bids after qualifying for one of four main federal government set-aside contract programs that always consider competitive bids. Here’s a closer look at each of them.

The four main types of federal government set-aside contracting programs

  1. Women-owned companies. Each year, the federal government tries to award at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars to Women-Owned Small Businesses (WOSBs).

The goal is to try and help women gain access to more business contracts now since male-run companies were often favored during past decades.

  1. Companies owned chiefly by a disabled military veteran. At present, the SBA states that the federal government seeks to award about three percent of all federal government set-aside contracts to disabled-veteran owned businesses;
  2. 8 (a) business development program entities. These businesses are usually run by socially or economically disadvantaged owners. In some cases, they’re helped by forming joint ventures with more established companies. An SBA specialist may be assigned to help the owners gain a better understanding of how the federal government contracting process is designed to work. Each year, at least five percent of all federal contracting dollars are awarded to owners of these types of businesses;
  3. HubZone certified small businesses. For your company to qualify to bid on this type of set-aside federal government contract, it must be at least 51% owned and controlled by a U.S. citizen, an agricultural cooperative, a Community Development Program, an Indian tribe or a Native Hawaiian organization. The principal place of business for a HubZone company must be located in a qualified HubZone area. In general, these businesses are viewed as “distressed” and are often found in underrepresented rural or urban populations.

If you’d like to find out if your company can be certified to bid on federal government contracts under one of these four competitive set-aside programs, plan on meeting with your Houston business law attorney. You can then discuss the various challenges you may encounter while trying to become a small business contractor with the federal government. You can also ask how you might submit bids to any state government contracting programs.

After speaking with your lawyer, you may also want to pursue a special SBA training program. Even if your business cannot currently qualify for certification under one of the set-aside programs described above, you can still try to obtain specialized training that can help you better manage your employees while expanding your customer base without doing business with any government programs.

Please feel free to contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys about your current interest in bidding on specific types of government or private enterprise business contracts. In addition to providing you with our best legal advice, we can also help you create the formal paperwork that you may need.

Basic Facts: Special Needs and Pooled Trusts

If you want to give money to a disabled family member receiving government benefits like SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and Medicaid, consider setting up a special needs trust and naming that person in your Will. Careful planning is required since disabled people can lose their eligibility to receive certain benefits if their net worth and assets increase.

Once you’ve created the proper type of trust account, your disabled family member will be in a better position to: (1) start receiving an added monthly stipend or inheritance from a family member; (2) accept a large sum of money after surviving a serious vehicle accident caused by another person’s negligence; or (3) receive funds from another unusual source.

Here’s additional information about creating SNTs – special needs trusts. You may want to set up a third-party or first-party SNT – and possibly even a pooled trust.

Here are some of the unique features offered by third-party SNTs (special needs trusts)

The American Bar Association says that this type of SNT, also referred to as a supplemental needs trust, can be used to help a disabled beneficiary receive a gift or inheritance from a third party such as a relative. However, it should never to be used for any assets or money that already belong to the beneficiary.

Based on the general terms you set forth in the trust, your trustee will then determine the exact way all funds will be used to help your beneficiary (or loved one). While many of these types of trusts are considered testamentary (part of someone’s estate), they can also be used for inter vivos transfers of gifts (those made while the person making the gift is still alive).

Like the third-party SNT described below, this first-party type should be set up so that the recipient’s government benefits remain their primary source of income — and these types of added funds are simply a supplemental source.

What are some of the unique attributes of a first-party SNT (special needs trust)?

While sometimes referred to as self-settled special needs trusts, these are mainly created to receive assets that are the beneficiary’s legal possessions. As is true of most SNTs, you’ll need the help of a highly experienced Houston business law attorney to help you create one since the multiple state and federal laws governing them can periodically change.

What’s most unique about this type of trust is that it must include a provision stating that when the beneficiary dies – depending on the exact amount of assets still contained in the SNT — Medicaid must be repaid for all funds that were ever spent on the beneficiary.

Those who most often benefit most from these types of first-party, special needs trusts usually fall into one of the two following categories.

  • They are under age 65 and want to receive funds worth more than $2000 (or more than the net worth amount currently allowed by law) – while remaining eligible for government benefits — or
  • They have received (or will receive) an unexpected financial windfall – possibly as the result of a personal injury lawsuit following a car accident.

Keep in mind that first-party SNTs can only be established by a parent, grandparent, legal guardian or court for a special needs person.

If you can’t afford a trust administered by a paid trustee – ask about “pooled” trusts

When funds are limited, you can ask your attorney to create what’s often referred to as a “pooled trust.” This type of account containing a disabled person’s money can be added to funds that have been deposited for other special needs individuals.

All of these accounts are then monitored and administered together by a non-profit board or agency. Among other tasks, your attorney may need to create a joinder agreement (or review one offered to you) as you start applying to various types of appropriate pooled trust groups.

Many disabled adults prefer this approach since they can personally help establish their own “pooled trust” with an organization set up to administer such accounts – without the help of other family members.

Whatever else you do, try to avoid simply giving extra funds to a family member so that person can later provide for all the disabled person’s needs. Given human nature, that money may never wind up being spent to benefit the person with special needs.

Please contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys so we can use our lengthy experience creating special needs and other trusts to protect your disabled loved one’s financial interests — both now and in the future.

General Steps to Take While Preparing to Sell Your Business

Selling your company at the proper time can provide you with greater freedom and added income as you pursue other business or personal goals. Whether you’re a sole proprietor who can move forward alone — or someone who must confer with business partners or a corporate board of directors, there are basic steps you can follow that can help streamline the process.

As you further contemplate this move, give serious thought to timing and be ready to explain why you’re making specific choices to prospective buyers; They’re sure to ask why you’re selling your company now. Also think about whether you should hire a professional business broker, especially if you don’t want to manage the sale on your own and are concerned about locating the best potential buyers.

Each of these key topics are discussed further below.

Are you prepared to tell qualified buyers why you want to sell your business now?

If sales are dropping or you’re currently losing a sizable portion of your customer base, you may want to postpone the sale for six months or a year. During that time, you may be able to rebuild the company and make it more viable.

Of course, business owners often want to sell their companies for many other reasons, including the following ones.

  • They’re eager to retire and simplify their lives – letting go of business activities.
  • They have current disputes with partners, co-owners or corporate board members, so they would just like to move on. Obviously, you’ll need to reference these issues in a very tactful yet honest manner if you have no other reasons for selling.
  • The sole owner (or another party) is facing a serious illness or impending death.
  • You want to keep working — but in a less stressful capacity. Be ready to share this in as upbeat a manner as possible – while being open and honest about the pressures of running the business.
  • You’ve developed a keen interest in a different business field and are eager to get your new venture up and running.

These are just a few of the reasons why people often choose to sell a business. Whatever you decide to tell prospective buyers – be as honest as possible since a failure to disclose current problems is unethical and could damage your reputation in the community.

If your business is losing value, be prepared to tell potential buyers (after carefully qualifying them) how they might reverse that trend. You can also explain why they may still want to simply purchase all your valuable vehicles and equipment.

Decide whether you should sell the business yourself – or hire other professionals

  • Legal advice can prove crucial. You’ll also need help drafting the various legal contracts and documents required to support a sale.
  • You’ll want to work closely with your accountant. All your business and tax records must be fully updated.
  • A business appraiser can prove very helpful. This individual can help you determine a fair asking price for your company.
  • Even a brief consultation with a business broker can benefit you. This person knows how to locate a healthy pool of potential buyers. This process can prove extra challenging if you do not want to run any public advertisements.

Be prepared to locate or create various documents while trying to complete a viable sale

You must be prepared to share all your basic financial statements and records for the past three or four years. It’s also crucial to create a comprehensive list of all your company equipment and fixed assets tied to your business accounts. (Be prepared to spend the necessary fees to repair all valuable vehicles, equipment and other goods involved with the final sale).

It’s also important to create a detailed list of your ongoing sales transactions and the names of the companies that currently provide all your company’s most critical supplies. Copies of all current contracts and leases should also be made available so qualified buyers can review them.

Be prepared to carefully decide which buyers may be the most dependable ones

Many business owners prefer to sell their companies to close family members, trustworthy employees, friends or current customers. You’ll need to choose wisely, especially since this type of sale often takes from six months to two years. 

Of course, never disclose private information about your business to potential buyers until after they’ve each agreed to sign non-disclosure agreements and qualified for financing plans that meet your requirements.  Be prepared to negotiate carefully – or ask your attorney to handle the negotiations on your behalf.

If you’re ready to sell a business – or just want to learn more about all the various legal and practical steps referenced above, please contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys. We look forward to answering all your questions.

Small Businesses Often Make Crucial Legal Mistakes

Even highly competent employees sometimes make serious legal errors while handling human resource, management, accounting and other business tasks. Since federal, state and local laws are constantly being updated, you must regularly speak with numerous employees to be sure they’re making timely and lawful decisions.

Should the feedback you receive concern you, it’s always best to consult with your Houston business law attorney to be sure you know how to promptly correct any possible errors. Lawsuits are often filed over very basic legal mistakes.

What are some of the most common legal errors that businesses keep making?

Most mistakes are made when employers try to be flexible with their rules. While compassion can go a long way toward helping you get along better with your employees, clarity and consistency are crucial. Always exercise caution when addressing the following issues.

  1. Each employee must be properly classified. You need to look at each position separately, based on all pertinent state and federal laws. If you simply decide to treat everyone as an “exempt” employee, you might be sued if you fail to provide proper overtime pay or adequate rest periods.
  2. Lunch breaks must be provided when required by law. Some employees may be entitled to a meal break after completing a specific number of hours during a shift.
  3. Make sure you’re properly labeling workers as either employees or independent contractors. You may hear from the IRS if you make this type of mistake. Take the time to speak with your lawyer about how you should carefully interact and communicate with independent contractors. Once a worker has strong legal grounds for believing that “employee” status has been conferred, you can be sued for specific benefits.
  4. You must be sure all employees understand what constitutes “sexual harassment.” If you’re sued in this field, one of your strongest defenses will be that you promptly trained all new managers and employees to help create a healthy work atmosphere. You must also develop a secure way for employees to submit complaints before problems escalate.
  5. You cannot punish or fire an employee for simply taking a leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). To protect yourself, keep accurate records of all employee evaluations being conducted at routine intervals. If you’re particularly concerned about the behavior of someone taking FMLA leave, ask your attorney when you should sit down with that employee to discuss why you’re carefully monitoring their work performance – before letting them go.
  6. Be sure to issue final paychecks on a timely basis to all employees who are leaving. Find out if you’re required to provide this type of check even before an employee has returned all employer-provided equipment, vehicles or other materials.
  7. You must handle making loans to employees in a very careful manner. While this is often a kind gesture, you must set up a formal repayment schedule. Never simply deduct a portion of what’s owed from each future paycheck.
  8. Be sure to properly handle all employer obligations under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). You may need to make appropriate work accommodations and should always treat such workers fairly. Most disabled workers take great pride in being highly dependable and productive workers.
  9. COBRA healthcare coverage must be offered and administered properly. Give serious thought to creating a comprehensive package of this medical insurance paperwork so that it’s immediately ready to be given to qualified employees when they leave. Timing is critical so potential coverage won’t lapse.
  10. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) must be explained and handled appropriately. Employees have a right to privacy regarding their medical data and information – be sure you’re adequately protecting it while processing claims.
  11. Pension concerns must be addressed in a timely and proper manner. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) is a complicated law that requires extreme attention to detail. Always request legal advice when uncertain how to administer it.
  12. You must carefully handle all responsibilities under the Consumer Credit Protection Act (CCPA). You may need expert help calculating all your employees’ paycheck deductions for lawful wage garnishments – including those for child support and student loans. Look for highly respected software that may help your most experienced workers.
  13. Equal Pay Act. This law must be carefully followed since too many businesses keep failing to pay men and women fairly when handling similar work.
  14. Title VII concerns. Your company must avoid discriminatory practices when hiring, laying off and firing employees. Many businesses are learning to use multiple interviewers with highly diverse backgrounds so that fairness can be readily achieved.
  15. OSHA laws. You must make sure to keep adequate records covering all workplace accidents and injuries for an appropriate number of years — if you employ ten or more workers.

Should you have any questions about these topics, please contact your Murray Lobb lawyer to discuss your concerns. We have extensive experience providing legal advice to our clients so they can can readily comply with all federal, state and local laws.

The Basic Steps for Forming a Texas Corporation

Although running a business can be very challenging, it’s often invigorating to reach a point when you may need to incorporate your company. This process is often begun by discussing what can be gained or loss by making this move with your business partners. You should also consider speaking with your Houston business lawyer so you’ll fully understand all the legal implications of making this decision.

The following material reviews the main reasons that many companies choose to incorporate their businesses. It then notes the most common steps that must be taken prior to filing a certificate of incorporation with the Texas Secretary of State’s Office.

Potential advantages that are often acquired by incorporating a business

  • Improved legal liability status. Creating a corporation can provide each individual business partner with added protection against personal liability for the actions of all other executives or employees. It can also offer greater protection for business assets;
  • Critical, everyday activities can be simplified. Upon incorporating, it can become easier to add new owners and investors while still maintaining the same level of control over your company;
  • The company can more easily transact business all around the world. It’s often easier to conduct business in a corporate form in many other countries;
  • It can help you one day take your company public. While your corporate executives and employees may always want to conduct business privately, a time may come when it may be to your financial advantage to take the company public and sell stock.

Those are just a few of the main reasons why many business executives decide to incorporate their current companies or partnerships.

Common steps you must take when you’re ready to incorporate your business

  1. Name the corporation. Try to choose a name that suits your business and helps raise your profile. You and your lawyer will need to conduct a formal search to see if any of the names you’d like to choose are currently available in Texas;
  2. Select a registered agent and office. Be prepared to designate a trustworthy party to serve as your registered agent and name the city where that person will keep his or her office;
  3. Choose which parties will be named as the corporation’s organizers or incorporators. The names and addresses of each of these individuals must be listed within the certificate of formation;
  4. Designate your corporate directors. After the certificate of formation has been filed, the directors take over running your business. These highly knowledgeable executives must also have strong management and interpersonal skills that will help them successfully negotiate all future decisions and transactions;
  5. Draft a brief statement, indicating the corporation’s official business purpose. While this may sound rather straightforward, it’s often wise to run this description by your lawyer to be sure you’ve fully covered all key aspects of your intended business transactions;
  6. Consider obtaining professional help with the completion of your official certificate of incorporation. Like other states, Texas has specific expectations for the precise information that must be included. Since these requirements can change periodically, it’s often wise to ask your lawyer to review the contents of your certificate of incorporation;
  7. Pay the required fees. These should normally be posted on the Texas Secretary of State’s online website. If you prefer, your lawyer can submit your fees and certificate of incorporation for you.

While this list of common steps isn’t intended to be fully comprehensive, it should clearly indicate the basic steps that you and your business partners should take if you decide that it’s time to incorporate your business.

Please feel free to contact the lawyers at Murray Lobb so we can answer any specific questions you may have about this process. We’ve helped many clients incorporate their businesses over the years – and we’re ready to put that experience to work for you.