Complying with Local Regulations
by JamieD, Former Moderator
- Created: July 7, 2009, 3:34 pm
Regardless of their structure, industry, or size, all businesses must comply with many different government regulations. Non-compliance with these regulations can result in a wide variety of penalties: additional fees, operational restrictions, and a bunch of other hassles you don't want to deal with. As a federal government community, it would be easy to focus only on federal regulations. However, it is important to understand and comply with all state and local regulations as well.
Similar to many federal requirements, state and local governments often have compliance requirements for issues regarding safety concerns, environmental protection, record-keeping, employment practices, and financial accountability. If you don't know where to start, finding the correct laws and regulations for your business can be a daunting task - especially considering that Alabama's requirements are different from Hawaii's whose are different from Maryland's and so and so on. After you determine the appropriate regulations required by your state, you'll need to find and comply with local laws including county and city requirements.
Let's Start With State Compliance
State compliance requirements for your business should be taken as seriously as federal compliance requirements. Because many small business owners don't feel confident in their ability to navigate the complex world of regulations, many chose to hire a consultant or a labor attorney for guidance. Regardless of your choice to hire help or go it alone, a general understanding of what's expected from your business is always beneficial. There are many resources provided by the U.S. Government that are available to help you find that understanding.
Business owners can reach out to assistance resources for free counseling provided by their state Small Business Development Center, SBA Regional or District Office or SCORE chapters. Your state's Training and Assistance Guide will give you contacts for each of these organizations in your area. Also, a database of appropriate business related state agencies can be used to find additional contacts in all fifty states.
To do some digging on your own, Business.gov's State and Local Resource section is a great place to get started. By clicking on your state, you'll find a comprehensive guide, including starting and operating information, for small businesses located in that area.
For example, if Matilda is operating a business in Massachusetts she would use the Massachusetts Small Business Guide. By clicking on the Starting a Business section of her state guide, she would find the correct legal requirements for naming and registering a business, how to register to pay state taxes, and where to find all state licensing requirements. In addition to these resources, Matilda would find links to the Massachusetts state business portal, the Massachusetts Department of Business Development, and many general guides that will help all businesses comply with state regulations. In the Operating a Business section, she would find links to record-keeping guidelines, pay state taxes online, comply with employment and labor laws, and find workplace safety, environmental permitting, and state insurance requirements.
OK - Now Thinking Locally
Once you have gone through the process of finding all state compliance guidelines, you must focus your attention locally. County and City governments also have jurisdiction to regulate business conducted within their limits. Like state governments, the laws and regulations that govern these areas cover a wide range of issues and vary from place to place.
Back to our example, after Matilda establishes her state responsibilities, she'll need to find out what is required by her local governments, Norfolk County and the City of Weymouth. She can use the Massachusetts cities and counties section of the state guide to find official pages for each of these governments. Through her county and city websites, she will find business licensing applications, zoning ordinances and forms, planning board applications, business registration information, and contact information.
Many local governments require some sort of business license. County and municipal licenses are commonly issued by local governments and all businesses must check if their location requires one.
Depending on your industry, your local governments may require special licenses or permits. Auto mechanics, plumbers, electricians, and real-estate brokers are all common examples of businesses that often have special requirements. If your business sells certain products, such as liquor, lottery tickets, gas, and firearms, you may also be subject to additional regulations. To find out if you need special licenses, contact your local government and business licensing department. They should be able to provide all the information you need on these requirements. You can also check your state's guide for the cities and counties section, which includes official websites for all local governments.
Be sure to follow rules for displaying your licenses and permits. Most states and localities require businesses to prominently display their business licenses so customers can see them. Remember, if you are considering expanding your business, whether by expanding your building or launching a new product or service, you may be required to obtain additional business licenses.
Business owners can further utilize available resources by joining local trade and professional organizations that relate to their industry. These organizations can help businesses stay up-to-date on their compliance regulations and any changes that may have taken place. They are all a great place to network with other businesses members of your field.
Business.gov's Permit Me tool is a great resource to find license, permit, and registration requirements on federal, state, and local levels. You will also find links for each state's business license office.
Comply With Business Laws provides resources for small businesses to find federal compliance resources.
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Legal terms and rules explained