Sure, most people think of January as the beginning of the new year, but I always see September as a time to make new business plans and look at some disturbing legal trends that will be effecting small businesses. There are ethical issues, then there is privacy and regulations that have an uneven impact on small businesses.

The ethical issues that have arisen are in regards to equality based on gender and sexual orientation. The implication does trickle into business. What do to when there are allegations of employee discrimination? How can you protect your business and your clients? Even the smallest of companies should consider an employee handbook that should include the ethical standards your business wishes to emulate. These ideals should permeate the whole business- website, retail level and statements. I had a great experience at my local Lens Crafters where they fixed my sunglasses for free and suggested I make a donation to Gifts of Sight, a charity they support.

Privacy and protection of information is paramount. This is a topic that should be addressed in an employee handbook. Some thoughts are –what type of security do you have on your computers? Are doors locked? Are passwords changed from time to time? Is there a list of who has access to what? What happens if there is a breach? It is important to have a plan in case the worst happens. Something to consider is an application like Last Pass https://lastpass.com/enterprise_overview.php which provides password management with encryption software.

Being the LITTLE GUY is difficult with federal regulations and with legal matters. If you have a business that has connections with federal oversight- like the EPA for example, then you want to make sure you are aware of upcoming regulations that can affect you. Watch the Federal Register: https://www.federalregister.gov/. Since I do some landlord/tenant work, I am keenly watching a state bill that may have an impact on my clients. It is easy to join association or have online membership to different groups that can provide information that will help or hurt your business. Following on social media can also be a great source.

Lastly, law suits are expensive, and the cost only increasing. Think about conflict management and less expensive ways to handle your disputes. Using mediation and referencing it in your contracts and employee handbook can be an easy way to avoid costly litigation. Contact True North Business Consulting about employee handbooks and mediation today.

Cynthia Pasciuto is an attorney, consultant, mediator and educator in Massachusetts who has taught at Bentley University, NIWH and NESA.