The job market continues to be volatile, and businesses are willing to take more risks to hire proven talent. That means taking the best people from their competition. Business owners therefore need to start preparing for when (not if) a key employee leaves to join a competitor.
Below are some ideas to help you prepare for a key employee’s potentially sensitive exit to a competitor and ensure your business is protected: begin preparing and setting up a plan of action so you are prepared to handle.
• Review current restrictive covenant and confidentiality agreements. This is particularly important right now because non-compete laws are changing in Illinois and in other states in the US.
• Update confidentiality agreements to require employees to submit information about their digital footprint on their personal devices, including making those devices available for a forensic review upon the employee’s exit.
• Consider implementing phantom equity programs or bonus plans.
• Evaluate your hybrid-work environment and focus on flexibility.
• Audit your IT protocols and ensure your most important data is being monitored and its confidentiality maintained.
• Limit which employees get access to sensitive information – gone are the days that every employee gets access to all your information.
When an employee leaves to join a competitor, employers should immediately take certain preliminary steps to identify possible wrongdoing:
• Preserve the employee’s email and activity logs. This data is often auto deleted unless you place a hold on the information.
• Review emails sent to personal email addresses.
• Review all emails sent with attachments.
• Review activity logs.
• Preserve any devices used by the employee.
• Conduct an internal investigation to determine if there has been any other unusual activity.
• Retain a computer forensic expert.
Once these preliminary steps are completed, consider sending a cease-and-desist letter to the former employee and the new employer to ensure any damage is contained. Depending on the circumstances, filing a lawsuit (including seeking immediate injunctive relief) may offer the best protection for your business.
The attorneys at Levin Ginsburg can help businesses prepare for and react to the departure of key employees so that any impact is mitigated. For additional help navigating these issues, feel free to contact Walker R. Lawrence, a partner in the employment law practice at Levin Ginsburg, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (312) 368-0100.
You, the business owners, have just signed a “Letter of Intent” to sell your business for $10,000,000, “subject to buyer’s due diligence”. Before you start making retirement plans, let’s determine what that means.
The buyer will require copies of all your accounting and financial records, as well as all agreements and written contracts with your vendors, customers, employees and others with whom you do business. The buyer will forward you a rather lengthy list of items they require. Then, if something does not meet with their satisfaction, they may either terminate the potential transaction, or demand a reduction in the purchase price.
How can you, as the seller, prepare the business so that there are no “surprises”?
Many business owners may come to the point where they feel it is time to sell their business and “take it easy”. Having built and operated a successful business for decades, most owners are very knowledgeable about all aspects of their business. However, most owners have never before acquired or sold a business.
Selling a business is a process. Prior to finding a buyer, the seller should conduct its own due diligence. The seller, together with its legal, accounting, and other advisers, considers the following:
• Whether all organization documents are up to date, such as Articles of Organization, Bylaws (or operating agreement), minutes, and ownership records;
• Whether “key employees” are bound by appropriate confidentiality and non-compete agreements;
• What agreements are in place with key suppliers and key customers;
• Whether employee records are up to date;
• Whether there is a union;
• Whether there are any existing or potential claims against the business;
• Whether the lease for the business premises is satisfactory, and the condition of the business premises;
• Whether there are any environmental issues;
• What obligations the business will have after it is sold;
• Whether there are any issues with accounts receivable or accounts payable; and
• Whether there are any licensing or permit issues.
The foregoing items are just examples of some of the things a seller should be examining before entertaining offers to purchase a business. It is better that the seller recognizes any issues affecting the business before a buyer points them out (and asks for a reduction in the price).
Levin Ginsburg regularly represents both sellers and buyers of businesses. We have developed detailed “due diligence” checklists to help sellers and buyers navigate the sale process. If you would like to discuss a sale or purchase of a business, please contact Morris Saunders or any of our partners in our mergers and acquisitions practice.
The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act (SECURE Act) is now effective. The Act made various changes to rules regarding qualified retirement plans as well as some changes to 529 plans. The following are but a few of the changes:
IRAs and other Qualified Retirement Plans
Under the SECURE Act, the general rule is that after an employee or IRA owner dies, the remaining account balance must be distributed to designated beneficiaries within 10 years thereafter. This rule applies regardless of whether the employee or IRA owner dies before, on, or after the required beginning date, unless the designated beneficiary is an eligible designated beneficiary.
An eligible designated beneficiary is: (1) the surviving spouse of the employee or IRA owner; (2) a child of the employee or IRA owner who has not reached majority; (3) a chronically ill individual; or (4) any other individual who is not more than ten years younger than the employee or IRA owner. Under the exception, following the death of the employee or IRA owner, the remaining account balance generally may be distributed (similar to present law) over the life or life expectancy of the eligible designated beneficiary, beginning in the year following the year of death.
Previously, an employee or IRA owner had to withdraw required minimum distributions (RMD) in the year they turned age 70 1/2. The SECURE Act increases that age to 72.
Employer-sponsored retirement plans are now available to long-term part-time workers, with a lower minimum number of hours worked. The SECURE Act drops the threshold for eligibility down to either one full year with 1,000 hours worked, or three consecutive years of at least 500 hours.
Under Internal Revenue Code section 529, a person may contribute to an account for a designated beneficiary’s qualified higher education expenses. Distributions (including any attributable earnings) from a 529 plan are not included in gross income if such distributions do not exceed the designated beneficiary’s qualified higher education expenses. For distributions made after Dec. 31, 2018, section 529 education savings accounts may cover costs associated with registered apprenticeships, and up to $10,000 of qualified student loan repayments (principal or interest). A special rule for qualified student loan repayments allows such amounts to be distributed to a sibling of a designated beneficiary (i.e., a brother, sister, stepbrother, or stepsister). The deduction for interest paid by the taxpayer during the tax year on a qualified education loan is disallowed to the extent the interest was paid from a tax-free distribution from a 529 plan.
If you would like to discuss any of these changes or if you have other questions regarding retirement planning or 529 plans, please contact Morris Saunders or any of our partners at Levin Ginsburg, 312-368-0100.
As the owner of a corporation, when you set up your business, you and your lawyer believed that you had taken all necessary steps to protect your personal assets. After all, the primary reason you set up a corporation was to shield your own assets from your business’s creditors. In order to ensure that your assets are safe from the corporation’s creditors, you need to do more than just fill out the Secretary of State’s paperwork. The corporation must conduct itself as an entity separate and apart from you as the owner.
A recent decision provides a “textbook” example of how an owner of a corporation can put his own assets at risk simply by the way he conducted his company’s business. In Puntillo v. Dave Knecht Homes, the plaintiffs were a married couple who entered into a contract with a home builder, a corporation. The defendants, David and Karen Knecht, were the beneficiaries of a trust that held the home builder’s shares of stock. They were, in essence, the owners of the home-builder corporation. After the home was completed, it was riddled with defects and the couple obtained a judgment against the corporation. Thereafter, the corporation dissolved and the couple was unable to enforce their judgment. In the midst of all of it, a new corporation, Dave Knecht Homes, was created with similar ownership, management, staff, purpose and resources as the now asset-less builder. The defunct builder and the new company used the same line of credit. Beginning in 2006, Dave Knecht’s personal line of credit began funding the now defunct builder’s operations. After the new corporation, Dave Knecht Homes, came along, it also used the same credit line. After being unable to collect on its judgment against the out-of-business builder, the plaintiffs sued Dave Knecht Homes and its owners Dave and Karen Hecht personally. The plaintiffs claimed the new company was merely a successor to the defunct corporation and the corporate veil between the individuals and the successor, Dave Knecht Homes, should be “pierced,” allowing the plaintiffs to go after the individual owners for a corporation’s debt.
Generally, a corporation that purchases the assets of another corporation is not liable for the debts or liabilities of the selling corporation. There are, however, four exceptions to this general rule of successor corporate nonliability: (1) where an express or implied agreement of assumption of the liability exists; (2) where the transaction amounts to a consolidation or merger of the purchaser or seller corporation; (3) where the purchaser is merely a continuation of the seller; or (4) where the transaction is for the fraudulent purpose of escaping liability for the seller’s obligations. In this case, the plaintiffs successfully argued that Dave Knecht Homes is a “mere continuation” of the former company and the court agreed. The continuation exception applies when the purchasing corporation is “merely a continuation or reincarnation of the selling corporation.” In other words, the purchasing corporation maintains the same or similar management and ownership, but merely wears different clothes. The Illinois Supreme Court has made it clear that “[t]he exception is designed to prevent a situation whereby the specific purpose of acquiring assets is to place those assets out of the reach of the predecessor’s creditors.” To determine whether one corporate entity is a continuation of another, courts consider “whether there is a continuation of the corporate entity of the seller—not whether there is a continuation of the seller’s business operation.” Thus, the plaintiffs were permitted to look to the assets of the new company to satisfy their judgment. Unfortunately for the Knechts, it didn’t end there.
The plaintiffs also argued that the out-of-business corporation served as the Knecht’s “alter ego” and that the court should pierce the defunct builder’s corporate veil and impose individual liability against the Knechts. A court may disregard a corporate entity and pierce the veil of limited liability where the corporation is merely the alter ego or business conduit of another person or entity.” This doctrine imposes liability on the individual or entity that “uses a corporation merely as an instrumentality to conduct that person’s or entity’s business.” In Illinois, courts use a two-prong test to determine whether to pierce the corporate veil: “(1) there must be such unity of interest and ownership that the separate personalities of the corporation and the individual no longer exist; and (2) circumstances must exist such that adherence to the fiction of a separate corporate existence would sanction a fraud, promote injustice, or promote inequitable consequences.
The court found that the Knechts exercised control over the new builder and treated the company’s assets as their own, causing the company to pay significant sums of money for their own personal expenses including federal and state income tax payments, landscaping for their personal residences; personal life insurance premiums and attorney’s fees. Moreover, the Knechts caused the failed company to pay their personal expenses using David Knecht’s credit line. By causing Knecht’s former company to pay their significant personal expenses, the Knechts treated the company’s assets as their own. The court pierced the corporate veil of Dave Knecht Homes (who it imposed successor liability upon) and allowed the plaintiffs to enforce their judgment against David Hecht Homes and the individual defendants.
In order to insulate yourself from personal liability, as a business owner, the way that you run the business is as important as setting up the corporation in the first place.
For more information, please contact:
Howard Teplinsky at: email@example.com or 312-368-0100.
“For the times they are a-changing’.” Illinois Supreme Court rules that the Implied Warranty of Habitability does not apply to subcontractors.
For over 30 years, since Minton v. Richards Group of Chicago, 116 Ill.App.3d 852 (1st Dist. 1983), subcontractors in Illinois have been potentially liable to homeowners for breach of the implied warranty of habitability even though there was no contract between the subcontractor and owner. The implied warranty of habitability is a judicially created doctrine used to protect residential homeowners and buyers from construction latent defects that interfere with the habitability of their home. Specifically, this implied warranty was created to protect an innocent homeowner’s expectations of a defect free property by holding a contractor or its subs accountable for latent defects that made the premises uninhabitable.
That all changed on December 28, 2018. In Sienna Court Condominium Ass’n v. Champion Aluminum Corp., 2018 IL 122022, the Illinois Supreme Court set aside over thirty years of established law and held that the implied warranty of habitability does not apply to a subcontractor unless it has a direct contractual relationship with the homeowner or buyer.
Sienna Court was a dispute regarding the habitability of a two-building 111 residential unit development located in Evanston, Illinois. The units and common areas in the building contained several latent defects that affected the habitability of the units and common areas. The condominium association filed suit against several parties including subcontractors, for breach of the implied warranty of habitability. The condominium association did not have a direct contractual relationship with the subcontractors. The trial and appellate courts allowed the lawsuit to proceed on this theory of liability following Illinois law under the Minton case.
On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled that the implied warranty of habitability had its genesis in contract law as opposed to tort law. Accordingly, for the condominium association to proceed on a theory of a breach of the implied warranty of habitability against a subcontractor, there would have to be a contractual relationship between the parties. Because no such contractual relationship existed between the condominium association and the subcontractor, the claim for breach of the implied warranty of habitability was dismissed.
The times have now changed. Subcontractors no longer need to be fearful of being sued by a homeowner or buyer under the implied warranty of habitability for latent defects to a property unless they have an actual contract with the party – something that is rare.
For more information regarding construction litigation, please contact:
Roenan Patt at: (312) 368-0100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the purchase and sale of real property which is leased to tenants, sellers and purchasers must pay particular attention to the allocation of rent collected both before and after the closing. A typical purchase and sale agreement will include, among other things, language addressing the allocation of rent by the parties for the current period as well as the collection of delinquent rent after closing which is attributable to the seller’s period of ownership prior to closing. In negotiating a contract, the parties will need to determine whether the purchaser is responsible for attempting to collect pre-closing delinquent rents and the rights of the seller to pursue tenants after closing for any such pre-closing delinquent rents.
Collection of pre-closing delinquent rent can be a complicated issue for purchasers and sellers to resolve. On the one hand, the purchaser may be reluctant to allow the seller to undermine the financial condition of a tenant by pursuing lawsuits against a tenant that may be paying current rent to the new landlord. On the other hand, a former owner does not have a full range of typical landlord remedies at its disposal to effectively induce tenants to pay delinquent rent as the former owner cannot assert an eviction action against a tenant and terminate the tenant’s right of occupancy.
The tension between purchasers and sellers with respect to pre-closing, delinquent rent is further complicated by a recently decided opinion issued by the Illinois Appellate Court in 1002 E. 87th Street LLC v. Midway Broadcasting Corporation (2018 IL.) App. 1st 171691, June 5, 2018). In that case, the Court upheld a lower court ruling that Illinois law does not permit the purchaser of real estate to pursue claims against a tenant for pre-closing, unpaid rent under a lease assigned to the purchaser at closing. The purchase and sale agreement between the purchaser and seller in that case contained standard provisions confirming that the “landlord” under the lease included any successors and assigns. It also provided that all obligations and liabilities of the original landlord were binding on the purchaser, as successor landlord. That would include any pre-closing landlord defaults that remained uncured. Notwithstanding the successor landlord’s assumption of the lease, including, potential liability for pre-closing defaults of its predecessor, the Court ruled that the successor landlord did not have the right to recover pre-closing rent. The Court specifically stated that the rule in Illinois is that rent in arrears is not assignable.
The lesson to be learned from the 1002 E. 87th Street case is that it is important to negotiate and set the expectations of the parties with respect to pre-closing delinquent rents at the time of contract. Since a predecessor landlord may have little power other than initiating litigation (which is not desired by the successor landlord) against a tenant for delinquent rent and the successor landlord is unable to maintain an action for that delinquent rent, parties must give careful thought to the method of addressing the collection of pre-closing delinquent rent. Fortunately, there are a number of different approaches that the parties may employ to coordinate and enhance the collection of pre-closing, delinquent rent.
For further information regarding the purchase and sale of commercial real estate as well as matters involving the rights of sellers, purchasers and tenants, please contact:
email@example.com or 312-368-0100.
Under the City of Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinance (“RLTO”), owners and landlords of residential property located in the City of Chicago must notify their tenants of a foreclosure action within seven (7) days of being served with the foreclosure complaint. If the foreclosure action is pending at the time the lease is executed, the owner or landlord must disclose in writing to the tenant that the foreclosure complaint is pending.
The notice must comply with the following requirements:
- Be in writing;
- Be sent to all tenants of the premises and to any other third party who has a consistent pattern and practice of paying rent on behalf of the tenant;
- Identify the court in which the foreclosure action is pending, the case name, and the case number; and
- Include the following language: “This is not a notice to vacate the premises. This notice does not mean ownership of the building has changed. All tenants are still responsible for payment of rent and other obligations under the rental agreement. The owner or landlord is still responsible for their obligations under the rental agreement. You shall receive additional notice if there is a change in owner.”
If an owner or landlord fails to provide the required notice, the tenant may terminate the rental agreement upon thirty days (30) written notice to the owner or landlord. Additionally, in a civil lawsuit, the tenant can recover $200 in statutory damages, plus any other actual damages incurred as a result of the owner or landlord’s failure to provide the requisite notice.
If you have any questions about your obligations under the RLTO, or would like assistance in issuing a foreclosure notice to your tenants, please contact:
(312) 368-0100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.