It’s All About Compliance

Part 2 – Import Classification 

By Susan Kohn Ross

This Alert is one in an occasional series of articles providing tips about various topics which come up routinely with import and export transactions. These articles/tips are published with the intention to provide suggestions to aid international traders in their on-going efforts to get their declarations right the first time, and are based on situations we commonly see arising. Whether it is reasonable care on the import side or not self-blinding on the export side, compliance is a key for many different reasons, including protecting your bottom line.

Part 1 of this series addressed how to value goods correctly, and can be read here. This edition provides import classification tips.

Under U.S. law, imported goods are classified for duty assessment and statistical reporting using the Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System. This compilation of 97 Chapters and approximately 5,000 product descriptions, known in the U.S. as the Harmonized Tariff Schedule of the United States (HTSUS), provides a single modern structure for product classification and is used by more than 200 countries as a basis for their customs tariff and collection of international trade statistics. The first six digits and their corresponding product descriptions are enacted by the countries World Trade Organization member countries. The remaining digits in any tariff number (which total 10 in the U.S.) and their corresponding duty rates are set individually by each country. The HTSUS in the U.S. has 99 chapters, with the two unique ones intended to cover product specific provisions, such as American goods returned, products assembled abroad, special rules imposed on given products (for example, temporary quotas), and so on.

Tariff classification of goods under the HTSUS is governed by the General Rules of Interpretation (GRIs) which are analyzed in order until one applies. In so doing, don’t forget to also check the additional U.S. rules of interpretation. (more…)

Don’t Look Back: California Restricts Use of Salary Histories

October 24, 2016

By Erica Parks

In August, we alerted you to  several measures around the country that may indicate a trend towards restricting employers from seeking or relying upon applicants’ wage histories, including then-pending California Assembly Bill (“AB”) 1676. Recently, Governor Brown signed AB 1676 into law. Fortunately, unlike earlier drafts of AB 1676 and the Massachusetts statute discussed in our August Alert, the new California law does not prohibit employers from seeking wage history; rather, the new law, which can be read in full here, will amend California’s Fair Pay Act (“CFPA”) to preclude employers from relying on an applicant’s salary history as the sole justification for a wage disparity, stating that “prior salary shall not, by itself justify any disparity in compensation.”

The Governor has also signed into law Senate Bill (“SB”) 1063, the Wage Equality Act of 2016, which expands the CFPA’s prohibitions beyond gender-based wage differentials to encompass wage differentials based on race and ethnicity. SB 1063, which can be read in full here, mirrors the gender-related provisions of the CFPA, and prohibits employers from paying “employees at wage rates less than the rates paid to employees of another race or ethnicity for substantially similar work when viewed as a composite of skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.” Similarly, employers bear the burden of establishing that any wage differentials is based upon a seniority system, a merit system, a system that measures earnings by quantity or quality of production, or “a bona fide factor other than race or ethnicity, such as education, training, or experience.” Like the gender-related provisions, a “bona fide factor” must not be based on or derived from a race or ethnicity-based differential and must be job-related and consistent with a “business necessity,” defined as an “overriding legitimate business purpose such that the factor relied upon effectively fulfills the business purpose it is supposed to serve.” Similarly, one or more of the factors relied upon must account for the entire wage differential. The new law also incorporates the amendments made by AB 1676, such that employers are precluded from relying on an applicant’s salary history as the sole justification for a race or ethnicity-related wage disparity. Finally, the SB 1063 includes an anti-retaliation provision nearly identical to the CFPA’s gender-related anti-retaliation provisions, including significant protections for employees who disclose, inquire, or discuss their wages.

These new laws go into effect on January 1, 2017.  Before the new year, businesses that operate in California  should take steps to ensure that their hiring practices conform to the CFPA, as amended by AB 1676 and SB 1063.

Please contact MSK if you would like to discuss whether changes to your recruiting or pay practices are advisable for your business.

Make Your Hanjin Bankruptcy Claims Now!

By Susan Kohn Ross

There is a lot of press coverage about the Hanjin bankruptcy, but very little of it provides tangible facts for traders to rely on.  One thing we know for sure is Hanjin filed a Chapter 15 bankruptcy in the U.S. What that means is the U.S. bankruptcy court will defer to the Korean bankruptcy court regarding how the case will proceed. The U.S. court will limit its orders to cargo in the U.S. or touching the U.S. Most importantly right now, if you think you have a claim against Hanjin, you need to file that claim in the Korean bankruptcy proceeding, and you must do that between October 11 and 25, 2016. If you miss that claim deadline, you will be out of luck.  There are a handful of Korean lawyers representing the interests of cargo owners and other potential claimants in Korea and they should be contacted immediately. Referrals are available.

Beside this one fact, there are a lot of pending questions. The Federal Maritime Commission is accepting consumer claims, but can only facilitate a discussion, as it has little jurisdiction in this context. It does have the bully pulpit, but seems reluctant to use it. (more…)

The Regs They Are a-Changin’: Are You Ready?

October 10, 2016

By Anthony Amendola and Melvin Felton II

FLSA: Employees Must Earn More To Qualify For Overtime Exemption

The U.S. Department of Labor’s long-expected amended regulations to the Fair Labor Standard Act (“FLSA”) will become effective on December 1, 2016. Under these new regulations, employees across the nation must earn at least $913 per week (or $47,476 annually) in order to qualify for any of the “white collar” (executive, administrative or professional) overtime exemptions. This minimum salary will be adjusted annually to an amount equal to the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for full-time salaried workers.  Although lawsuits have been filed seeking to block the regulations, at this time, employers should be prepared for implementation on December 1.

Under existing law, in order to be properly classified as exempt from overtime under any of the white collar exemptions, an employee must meet both a duties test (i.e., his or her primary job duties must meet certain minimum requirements) and a salary basis test (i.e., he or she must be paid a fixed salary each week that is not subject to deduction based on the quantity or quality of work). For many years, the minimum weekly salary to meet the FLSA salary basis requirement was only $455 per week. (more…)

Proposed IRS Regulations Could End Most Valuation Discounts for Family Entities

By Allan Cutrow, Jeffrey Eisen and S. Eva Wolf

On August 2, 2016, the Treasury Department issued proposed regulations under Section 2704 of the Internal Revenue Code. The proposed regulations, if adopted in their current form, essentially will eliminate all minority discounts or lack of control discounts and lack of marketability discounts for transfers between family members of interests in family-controlled businesses.

The proposed regulations accomplish this result in complex ways. But here are some points to consider as you decide whether to act quickly.

  1. The regulations are “proposed.” This means that they are not currently in effect. The Internal Revenue Service has scheduled a public hearing on the regulations in Washington, DC on December 1, 2016. They take effect when the IRS announces that they are “final.” Thus, these regulations could take effect shortly after the hearing, sometime in 2017, years from now, or never (in theory). The IRS may change the regulations in meaningful ways before adopting them as final. (more…)

It’s All About Compliance

By Susan Kohn Ross

Part 1 – Value

This Alert is one in an occasional series of articles providing tips about various topics which arise routinely with import and export transactions. These tips are published with the intention to aid international traders in their ongoing efforts to get their declarations right the first time, and are based on situations we commonly see occurring. Whether it is reasonable care on the import side or not self-blinding on the export side, compliance is a key for many different reasons, including protecting your bottom line.

Given the ever increasing attention being paid by the U.S. government to compliance by companies of all sizes, and especially in light of the recent informed compliance letter sent out by CBP’s Regulatory Audit in Houston, TX, now is the time to review how to value goods correctly.

The same basic value code is used throughout the world, at least among all the World Customs Organization member countries, although most assess duty on the C.I.F. value of the imported goods, whereas the U.S. assesses duty on the F.O.B. cost of goods. While admittedly each country has its own interpretation and they vary a tad, the basics are: (more…)

Immigration Tips for Startups

By John E. Exner IV

10 tips to prepare for the most frequent immigration scenarios faced by startups:

World map created with passport stamps, travel concept

  1. If the company will be owned, in-whole or in-part by a foreign investor, immigration planning should start as early as possible – even before the company is established. There are visas available to foreign entrepreneurs who are investing a significant amount of money into a new U.S. business. This visa application process should be handled in concert with the creation of the business.
  2. If the U.S. business will have a foreign office (parent, subsidiary, or affiliate) the managers, executives, and essential personnel from the foreign office(s) may be able to travel to the United States on multinational transferee visas.
  3. If the U.S. business is recruiting from local U.S. universities and colleges, many of these candidates may be foreign nationals on U.S. student visas. These individuals may be eligible for at least one year of employment authorization in the U.S. following graduation. (more…)

Corporate & Business Transactions Tips for Startups

By Bryan Wasser

When venture capital (“VC”) firms or private equity (“PE”) firms invest in start-up companies their goal is to work with management to strengthen operations, accelerate growth, enhance profitability and position each portfolio company to become a market leader.  One of the most important advantages of a company being owned (or minority or majority-controlled) by such a VC or PE firm (referred to as a “portfolio company”) is the strength and focus of the directors of the portfolio company that are appointed by the VC or PE firm. However, senior management must stay focused as the day-to-day decisions will rest solely with them. To help senior management, we have put together the following set of principles that start-up companies can utilize to forge the strongest possible partnership between their management and the VC and PE firms that they partner with.

The most effective CEOs and CFOs are sophisticated communicators. They understand their role in managing the flow of information between the VC or PE firm and the other members of the management team. and can quickly communicate developments in the business to the VC or PE firm’s representatives. Investors expect their CEOs and CFOs to be straightforward and open about the challenges the portfolio company faces. what management is doing about those challenges and the likelihood of successful outcomes. (more…)

Important New Guidance on Charitable Remainder Annuity Trusts


By David Wheeler Newman

The Internal Revenue Service has issued important new guidance that can allow a charitable remainder annuity trust (CRAT) to qualify under Internal Revenue Code section 664 in a low-interest environment.


Section 664 confers substantial tax benefits on charitable remainder trusts that meet its requirements. These are irrevocable trusts that during their term distribute a formula amount to one or more non-charitable beneficiaries, with the remainder distributed to charity upon termination of the trusts. There are two allowable formulas. A charitable remainder unitrust (CRUT) distributes a fixed percentage of the value of trust assets determined every year. There are some allowable variations for CRUT distributions, but in general this means that distributions from a CRUT can go up or down from year to year, depending on increases or decreases in the value of trust assets. While CRUTs are by far the more popular of the two main varieties, some clients and donors prefer the CRAT, which distributes the same amount every year during its term, which is fixed at the time the trust is created and which must be at least 5% of the value of assets contributed to the trust. (more…)

Labor and Employment Tips for Startups

By Samantha E. Becker

Here are 10 employment tips to prevent labor-and-employment-tips-imageyour start-up from losing ground before it gets started:

  1. Make sure you understand the differences between employees and independent contractors and follow all legal requirements when it comes to wages, benefits and terms of employment. Distinguishing employees from independent contractors is complex and fact-specific (the IRS uses a 20-factor test!) and errors can result in costly litigation down the road.
  2. Don’t classify employees as salaried to avoid paying for overtime and/or other benefits. Most employees in a company should be paid on an hourly basis and even salaried employees can later try to sue for unpaid wages and overtime, penalties, and attorneys’ fees.
  3. You cannot pay equity to avoid paying minimum wages. Make sure you pay employees for their regular and overtime hours worked based on the rates set forth by state and federal laws. (more…)