Regulatory Compliance.  Those words strike fear in every small business owner.  Why?  Because it’s so hard to know all the rules and regulations that are out there!  Small businesses don’t have the resources that big businesses have and it seems daunting to find all the laws they have to follow. And admittedly, there are A LOT of rules businesses have to follow, no matter what their size.

This article is to break it down a bit so it’s easier to manage.  Instead of one BIG category of “Rules I Don’t Know and Can’t Seem to Find” we’re going to divide them up for you into three smaller categories.  And then we’re going to tell you how to find information about each of them.

But before we start, a word about online research.  We are always warning our clients away from doing legal research from “Dr. Google” because who knows what kind of information you’ll get! But regulatory compliance is one area where we encourage our clients to do online research – but only from the correct authority!  Go directly to the government’s website and bypass all the opinions out there.

There are three sources where regulations come from: (A) the federal government (national), (B) the state government, and (C) local governments (city and/or county).  As you can imagine, the federal level regulates things that have a national impact (think large scale or across state borders).  Local governments regulate things that have a local impact.  Almost everything else is regulated by state governments and they can differ greatly from state to state.

So when you do research, make sure you know the source of your information. If your business is located in Orlando, Florida, it doesn’t really matter what the local or state regulations are for a business in San Antonio, Texas.  The source of the information makes a big difference! It’s surprising how easy it is to find information that doesn’t apply to you.

Now for the three categories of regulations: (1) Profession/Industry-Based Regulation, (2) Location-Based Regulation, and (3) Activity-Based Regulation.

(1) Profession or Industry-Based Regulation. These are the rules that a particular profession or industry must follow. Sometimes it’s obvious that a profession is regulated – like lawyers, doctors, accountants, engineers, etc.  And sometimes it’s not so obvious that an industry is regulated – like auto repair services, pest control, travel agents, etc. 

Most profession or industry regulation is done at the state level of government.  Florida has different agencies that regulate professions and industries within the state.  Some of those agencies are Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (DACS), and Florida Department of Heath (FDOH).  These agencies each have different areas they regulate.  For example, the ones I mentioned earlier (auto repair, pest control, and travel agents) are all regulated by DACS.  When you go to their websites, you can access links that will lead you to information about each profession and industry.

(2) Location-Based Regulation. Most of this type of regulation is about where a business is located – the address and the particular building.  It’s usually done at the local level by either the city government or the county government.  Examples of this type of regulation can relate to zoning, parking, fire codes, ingress/egress, signage, etc.  Cities and counties have an interest in managing the types of businesses allowed in certain areas and what kinds of restrictions are needed to control the public safety in those areas.  Each city or county has information on their website OR they have a number to call to get the information.   This one also includes local taxes that may be imposed on businesses within a city or county (like tangible personal property tax and a local business tax receipt).

(3) Activity-Based Regulation. This one is probably the most elusive because the regulations come from all three levels of government: federal, state, and local. These types of regulations concern certain activities that all businesses may do – like take credit cards, have a website, or advertise.  Depending on what your particular business does, you are likely to have some of these types of regulations to follow.

Keep in mind that you’ll need to look at the federal level if it’s widespread or crosses state lines – like environmental issues (EPA), having employees (Dept. of Labor), advertising/websites (Federal Trade Commission).  It could be something like data security regulations which are mostly regulated by each state.  The main point to remember is that you want to do some research to find out what activities may be regulated, then go to the government directly as a source for that information.

Once you find the information, most of the time your questions are answered.  There are occasions, however, where the information is hard to understand or you’re not sure whether it applies specifically to you.  That’s when an attorney’s assistance can be helpful.  We are trained in how to translate legal language into something that a non-lawyer can understand. 

Just remember, start by figuring out what you’re looking for – what type of regulation? Then figure out which level of government is likely to regulate that, then go directly to that agency’s website to get the information you need.  And be sure to avoid Dr. Google and all the opinions out there!