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When It Comes to FTC and Regulations, the Devil's in the Details

Be compliant or face the consequences. Such is life in a world with FMLA and other regulations. Here, we take a look at regulations that are relevant to small-business owners.

No matter the size or type of your business, chances are you’re subject to some forms of regulation. As a small-business owner, the buck stops with you, so you must be aware of all of the regulations with which you must comply. Ignorance is not a valid excuse for noncompliance. In this article, we’ll introduce you to some of the most common federal laws.

Please note: depending on where you’re based, state and local laws may come into play as well. Always speak to a certified legal advisor before making any legal or regulatory decisions. The following article does not constitute legal advice.

Employment Regulations: Keeping Straight with Your Workers

If you have even one employee, or are planning to hire one, this section applies to you. Among the most important regulations:

  • National Labor Relations Act (NLRA): This law guarantees workers’ rights to organize. It applies to unionized and non-unionized employees; major exceptions include government employees, agricultural workers and independent contractors.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): This law bans discrimination against disabled workers or applicants in employment decisions, including hiring, firing, pay and promotion. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces this law and many other anti-discrimination laws covering age, race, sexual harassment and more.
  • Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA): This complex law entitles employees to take unpaid leave without risk of losing their jobs for specific family and medical reasons (e.g., childbirth, caring for a sick family member or serious illness).

Advertising Regulations: Keeping Honest with Your Customers

Promoting your product or service is crucial to the success of your business. You need to do it legally, however; laws governing advertising apply to nearly all businesses.

The Federal Trade Commission enforces advertising laws. Some key FTC requirements for keeping your advertising aboveboard include:

  • No false or deceptive claims. Don’t mislead consumers with information (or omitted information) important to their purchasing decisions.
  • Back up your claims. Have objective evidence to prove what you say. Customer testimonials don’t count.
  • Avoid “bait-and-switch” or deceptive pricing. For example, no enticing buyers with a low-priced item but selling them a higher-priced item instead; and no jacking up the price of a product so you can sell it for the original price and call it a “bargain.”

Environmental Regulations: Keeping Your Business Clean

Environmental laws protect human health and the environment. While the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency makes and enforces federal regulations, states have their own environmental agencies and rules. See a list of state and territorial agencies here.

Whether you’re subject to environmental regulations depends largely on what you do. For instance, a small house-painting company will need to know how to properly handle solvents and safely remove and dispose of lead paint. A neighborhood auto-service shop will need to know how to handle all that used oil from customers‘ cars.

If your business is subject to environmental laws, you’ll probably need permits to carry out your work legally. Permits are usually issued at the state or local level.

This gives you an idea of the scope of federal regulations, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. As always, there’s no substitute for professional legal advice from an attorney familiar with your specific circumstances.

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