When Government Knocks, Answer the Door

If there is one piece of advice I’d give to people dealing with the government, it would be to open the door when government knocks. You don’t have to, and in fact I wouldn’t recommend, pushing the door wide open. But open it a crack, see what they want, and decide what you need to do in response.

Too many people, when dealing with government, go out of their way to avoid engaging on government matters. They ignore phone calls, they don’t open mail, or when they do, they don’t take action necessary to address their situations. The strategy doesn’t help and is guaranteed to make things worse.

I saw a recent example of a business owner who was contacted by the Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) for failing to file quarterly reports of employee hours. An L&I agent tried contacting the owner to file the report, to no avail. After multiple efforts to get the owner to file quarterly reports, the agent issued an assessment against the business based purely on estimated figures. The estimates, as you’d expect, substantially overstated the number of employee hours, and the amount owed to the government. The business owner was sent this assessment which included notice that he/she had 30 days to appeal. Had the business owner been in communication with the agent in this process, the estimated numbers could have been corrected. Had the business owner acted on his/her appeal rights based on the letter received, the numbers also could have been corrected. The business owner did neither and the estimated hours became final, resulting in business owner owing several thousand dollars.

This situation is hardly unusual. A couple months ago, I was contacted by a potential client who received notice that he owed the government more than $100,000, again based on estimated amounts because the client failed to cooperate in the audit. The government issued its assessment, the client never appealed, and now is being trailed by a $100,000 fine that is a final government order, and that can no longer be appealed. He is therefore stuck with a $100,000 bill that likely could have been many tens of thousands of dollars less had he engaged with government in the audit process.

So if you’re avoiding dealing with the government because you’re afraid of the consequences, do consider how exponentially worse the consequences could be if you choose not to engage. Disengaging typically never ends well.

Please note that I’m not recommending that you go it alone when dealing with the government. Some matters you’re able to handle yourself; for other matters you will need experienced legal counsel to help you navigate the legal issues. But it all begins with you taking that call, opening that letter….

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