SHRM Provides Legal Guidance for Small-Business Owners

By Paul Bergeron August 10, 2020
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SHRM Provides Legal Guidance for Small-Business Owners

​There has never been a more critical time for small businesses to gain sound, affordable legal advice as they navigate through myriad new regulations created as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Federal, state and local regulators are focused on many HR-related situations, creating compliance challenges for employers. SHRM has answered these and other challenges by creating the SHRM LegalNetwork in partnership with LegalShield, a longtime provider of legal plans for small businesses that offers attorneys specialized in small business's concerns.SHRM LegalNetwork

The SHRM LegalNetwork extends the services of SHRM's HR Knowledge Center by providing discounts to companies with 100 or fewer employees seeking guidance from attorneys.

SHRM's HR Knowledge Center has always been able to provide resources and thought leadership to SHRM members at no charge through its team of experienced, SHRM-certified HR practitioners, but it is not authorized to provide legal advice.

SHRM's general counsel, James Banks Jr., said the partnership had been in the works since early this year, and that it couldn't come at a better time.

"Our Knowledge Center has been a valuable member benefit, and now the SHRM LegalNetwork is here to fill in the gap when it comes to speaking to an attorney," Banks said.

Monthly plans are priced between $35 for the smallest companies (based on employee count) and $160 for larger firms. The range for nonmembers is $39 to $179.

The SHRM LegalNetwork includes 39 law firms, 900 attorneys and 4,800 referral lawyers with an overall average of 22 years' experience.

Banks said some of the most common questions from members are about employer and employee rights when the employee fears returning to the office for personal health reasons. Many also are asking about what companies should do if one of their employees tests positive for COVID-19, and whether employees or employers are obligated to take staff members' temperature before work. Additionally, SHRM members are asking about how test results should be reported to supervisors.

HR Knowledge Center Director Amber Clayton, SHRM-SCP, said another popular benefit has been the SHRM LegalNetwork's ability to draft policies, a task that demands an attorney's attention.

"Large companies have their own legal counsels and are able to handle things such as setting policy," Clayton said. "Most smaller companies cannot afford this. It's a benefit to SHRM members that we are able to offer this at a discount."

Among other leading topics for discussion are risky terminations, how to cancel a job offer and determining classifications for exempt workers.

SHRM research found that, of the 7 in 10 small businesses seeking outside advice since the start of COVID-19, some 86 percent sought legal help. The top five business legal services categories are business law, debt collection, employment, contract reviews and landlord-tenant issues.

Other specific, timely issues LegalNetwork has addressed since its launch in June are mask-wearing policies, going-out-of-business scenarios, the Paycheck Protection Program, patrons contracting COVID-19 while on the business's property, disaster loan assistance, landlord-tenant office space lease negotiations, refunds for purchasing items that were misrepresented by the seller, business travel flight cancellations or flights to restricted destinations, and independent contractors filing for unemployment, among others.

"Lately, with COVID-19, we've been bombarded with questions related to employment, evictions, contracts, collections and finance," said Bryan Taylor, product director at LegalShield. "We're here so that business owners don't have to be distracted to deal with legal issues. They should be able to stay focused on running their business."

Cameron Scott, LegalShield's chief marketing officer, said too often he speaks with small-business owners whose first response is, " 'I could never afford an attorney. I looked at the document, and it seemed fine.' Well, now that company is in trouble."

LegalShield has seen significant increases in the use of its small-business legal plan services this year. Participant engagement from January to June 2020 rose considerably year-over-year among small businesses of all sizes:

  • 10 or fewer employees: +37 percent
  • 50 or fewer employees: +15 percent
  • 100 or fewer employees: +61 percent

"Access to legal protection shouldn't be a luxury," said SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, in a press release. "As businesses reopen, smaller organizations will face many unprecedented scenarios and circumstances—where legal guidance will be needed now more than ever. This service enables HR leaders to fully support their employers on the road to recovery with real-time solutions and dedicated legal protection to manage these important issues."

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