Finally Reopening? Legal Guidance a Must for Small-Business Owners



After a more than three-month forced hiatus, small businesses are more than ready to open their doors. But for many of them, getting back to business brings a host of legal vulnerabilities and concerns they may have never faced and may not be prepared to handle on their own.

Even before the global health crisis turned the economy on its side, the demand for external legal advice had grown exponentially. The latest SHRM survey of small-business owners revealed 7 out of 10 have sought external legal help, and 86 percent of those have done so during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Until now, many HR professionals have depended on SHRM’s HR Knowledge Center. And, although the center can provide guidance and resources to members on a variety of HR-related topics, our advisors are not attorneys and can’t offer legal advice.

SHRM has responded to the increasingly complex legal landscape with a brand-new resource: SHRM LegalNetwork.

Launched in June and backed by LegalShield, a longtime provider of affordable small-business legal plans, SHRM LegalNetwork comes at a critical time when legal protection could mean the difference between staying in business or closing for good.

A Roller Coaster of New Legal Scenarios

At the start of the pandemic, employers needed help determining whether their businesses could continue operations in a remote-work capacity. Many also inquired about coverage under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) and, for example, their obligations to provide paid leave under the new act and how best to coordinate it with other federal, state and local paid-leave laws.

Small businesses also contacted us for help with understanding loans and other relief offered under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act). Businesses forced to close wondered how to handle furloughs and layoffs. And, now that businesses are starting to reopen, they want to understand their responsibilities and potential liabilities in keeping the workplace safe for employees, customers and visitors.

All of these questions come with legal considerations. So every organization, no matter the size, should have access to affordable legal protection. Such advice serves an organization’s best interest, especially regarding job applications; employment contracts; and agreements for nonsolicitation, nondisclosure and severance.

Terminating and recalling employees have become more complex during these unprecedented times, and employers may worry about lawsuits. For example, a company may have had to let an employee go around the time the employee requested leave under the expanded Family and Medical Leave Act under the FFCRA, or after a workers’ compensation claim was filed. Or an employer may have had to make difficult decisions such as recalling only certain employees, which could pose a legal risk, depending on the factors used to make those selections.

Employees’ participation in recent protests has also brought up questions on the actions employers could take if they know these employees did not social distance or wear a mask. And what if an employee was arrested during a protest? The employer should receive legal counsel before denying employment or terminating employees based on arrests, convictions or information found on social media.

While SHRM’s long-established HR Knowledge Center is always available to our SHRM members as part of their member benefit package, the SHRM LegalNetwork can provide specific legal advice, analysis and guidance that represents the next level of service, which small businesses need at an affordable cost.

SHRM LegalNetwork is available to HR and other professionals representing businesses with 100 or fewer employees. Learn more.



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