Before an exit, founders must get their employment law ducks in a row

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Successfully selling a business has much to do with timing. For many entrepreneurs, it’s the high-stakes end game where they cash out and reap the rewards of their efforts. At a certain point, when both buyers and sellers are working hard to close the deal, negotiations can move very quickly. If you’re the seller, this is not the time to discover unanticipated problems in your business.

Distressingly often, these problems are related to employment. Inattention to employment issues can have a significant impact on deals — from preventing closings and reducing the deal value to altering the deal terms or significantly limiting the pool of potential buyers.

Poor compliance, lack of policies or flawed practices mean potential liability exposure or expensive policy revisions and employee retraining — all of which can devalue your business.

Fortunately, such issues typically can be resolved well in advance with a little forethought and legal guidance. It’s important to get your employment ducks in a row long before you start planning your exit.

What follows is an overview of the three main categories of employment issues that can derail or delay a sale. For the most part, these assume an asset sale, but may vary in the case of a stock sale.

Compliance

By far the most significant problem is general employment law compliance. This means creating strong employment policies and practices that are documented, in place and operating long before you pursue a deal. The key area is wage and hour issues — timekeeping and payroll practices, worker classification issues (employee vs. independent contractor; exempt vs. non-exempt), meal and rest periods, PTO policies and payouts at termination.

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