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By Roy Schneider, Esq.

A lawsuit can damage more than just the bottom line of your business. In addition to costing money that could be put to better use, a lawsuit is also an unwelcome distraction for the owner, managers and employees. It can also do irreparable damage to business relationships and reputation.

It may not be possible to avoid any and all legal conflict during the life of your business, but by considering the following advice, you should be able to minimize the resources you have to devote to litigation – which means more time and money available for your business operations and investments.

1.  Don’t rely on a handshake. Reduce all business agreements to writing, even if they are with your oldest and dearest friend. Be clear about terms and expectations.

2.  Keep a written record of all communications.

3.  Keep the lines of communication open, especially when a business relationship starts to sour.  Aggressive communication may be able to cure the damage before a lawsuit becomes necessary.

4.  Don’t put your head in the sand. If a threat appears that could lead to litigation, respond quickly, thoughtfully and thoroughly.

5.  Check your compliance with relevant government regulations. Import/export? Check the laws.  Using hazardous materials? Check the regulations. Don’t allow shortcuts.

6.  Create a business culture that rewards employees for reporting violations of any laws or government regulations. Your employees on the ground can be your best resource for uncovering potential hazards that could lead to litigation.

7.  Put cure provisions and mediation provisions into your contracts with vendors.

8.  Complete a business succession plan to minimize or eliminate disputes over exit strategies.

9.  Conduct regular safety checks of the physical premises, including vehicles used for company business.

10. Conduct criminal background checks on prospective employees that comply with the law.

11. Provide regular health and safety training for employees.

12. Provide ongoing training for human resources personnel.

13. Review whether your employees are properly classified as exempt or non-exempt workers to comply with California’s Wage and Hour Laws.

14. Review whether any independent contractors should be reclassified as employees to comply with the State and Federal classification and payment requirements.

15. Respond promptly and thoroughly to complaints from employees, customers or vendors.

16. Use email, the internet, your company website and social networking media with caution.  Assume that any information shared via these platforms will be publicly accessible until the end of time.

17. Seek outside advice when necessary. Don’t let your ego be your downfall. If you don’t understand your legal obligations and rights in a particular circumstance, consult a qualified commercial law attorney.

You company needs a solid team made up of an attorney, CPA and insurance broker to keep it out of trouble and make sure it is kept abreast of the law and other matters that carry substantial risk if there is inattention or misinformation. 

Please contact Schneiders & Associates, L.L.P., for a review of your contracts, leases, OSHA compliance and employment arrangements.  A stitch in time will definitely work toward preventing lawsuits. 

About the Author
Theodore J. Schneider practices in the areas of business and corporate transactions, employment law counseling, municipal and public law, real estate and land use, and homeowner associations. Ted began his legal career in 2002 when he joined the Los Angeles office of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, L.L.P. before relocating to Ventura County to join his father in practice.