Events Aim to Educate Asian-American Business Owners
In an effort to prevent New York's small business owners—particularly those from foreign countries—from inadvertently running afoul of state and local laws and regulations, the New York County Lawyers' Association has joined with the Manhattan District Attorney's Office to host an informational series on compliance.
Aimed, in particular, at the Asian-American community, the first session of the five-part series will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. tonight at the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association Chinese Community Center, 62 Mott St. in Manhattan. The presentation will focus on maintaining books and records.
Four additional events will be held at the same time on successive Tuesdays—three at the community center and the final one at the NYCLA's 14 Vesey St. headquarters. They will cover proper filing of state and city business taxes; immigration issues; complying with requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, Wage Protection Act and the New York Construction Fair Play Act; the rules governing workers' compensation; and obtaining necessary operational licenses and permits through the city Department of Consumer Affairs and Department of Buildings.
"The goal is to assist small-business owners, including many immigrant business owners, in understanding and complying with the most relevant laws that tend to get small businesses in trouble: tax, labor, licensing," said Barbara Moses, president of NYCLA and of counsel to Morvillo Abramowitz Grand Iason & Anello.
Representatives from various city agencies, as well as pro bono attorneys from NYCLA, will present how-to's at each event and answer questions. Foreign language interpreters will also be available.
In addition to preventing crime and criminal prosecutions, the workshops will also educate immigrant communities on recognizing financial scams they often fall prey to, said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. Friday.
"I just understand that these are very complicated laws, in particular when we're dealing with a different culture," Vance said. "And so it is our obligation and our opportunity to reach out to the Asian-American community to explain how they can navigate these issues and who they can go to if they need help."
This is the first time NYCLA is partnering with the prosecutor's office for a pro bono project. The group's pro bono committee voted in March to approve the project after members were approached by prosecutors from the District Attorney's Office's money laundering and tax crimes unit. That unit has seen numerous cases involving immigrant business owners who repeatedly break laws due to lack of education on the necessary compliance protocols, leading to investigations and fines.
"We all know that ignorance of the law is no excuse, but due to pronounced cultural or language barriers, it may not be as easy for these business owners to access the kind of information they need to comply with the laws," said Yang Chen, executive director of the Asian-American Bar Association of New York, which helped connect NYCLA to the city's Asian-American community.
The walk-in sessions are confidential and require no sign-in or prior registration to attend. That anonymity is meant to create an open, honest environment where small business owners feel comfortable asking questions without fear of getting in trouble, Chen said.