Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog


When some small businesses see the holiday season approaching, their eyes get as big as dinner plates, looking forward to a boost in sales. Other small business owners might start sweating, anticipating numerous time-off requests, and wondering whether they have to pay extra for the employees that do stick around.

Whether you're anticipating big things for your small business in the coming months or anxiously awaiting February, 'tis the season to start making those holiday plans. Here's how:

By all accounts Harvey Weinstein left a trail of sexual harassment, assault, and rape a mile and decades wide before being fired by his company's board of directors this weekend. The board claims it only just found out about Weinstein's behavior, but his excuse -- "I came of age in the 60's and 70's, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different. That was the culture then." -- would appear to undercut that assertion.

And by many accounts, Weinstein's behavior, while abhorrent, is not unique in corporate culture. So what lessons can small business owners take from the scandal that the Weinstein Company board of directors may have missed? Here are a few:

The majority of employment arrangements are at-will, meaning an employer can fire an employee for any reason or no reason at all. But there are exceptions to that rule, and some reasons for firing are illegal. And there may be some hoops an employer must jump through before firing a union-member employee

So while it might seem like an easy answer to say "Yes, you can fire an employee for shopping at work," the answer gets a little more difficult if the employees were union members whose termination didn't go to arbitration first. If that's the case, you may end up in federal circuit court.

Most entrepreneurs have a laser focus on their companies, and that doesn't leave a whole lot of time to keep up with the latest legal cases. (After all, that's what they pay their attorneys for.) But small business owners are going to have a big interest in what's going on in the Supreme Court this term, with cases touching on just about every aspect running a business, from employee unions to customer discrimination to patent and intellectual property law.

Here are the three biggest:

October is National Women's Small Business Month, and at a time when the news concerning women employees getting equal pay might be depressing, the news concerning women entrepreneurs and small business owners is a bit more hopeful. "National Women's Small Business Month is a time to recognize and applaud the talented, dedicated and driven women whose entrepreneurial spirit helps drive our nation's economy forward," said National Women's Business Council Chair Carla Harris. "Women's entrepreneurship has evolved from a growing trend to an inarguable contributor to the economic success, job growth and innovative backbone of this country."

Indeed, the trends of female small business ownership, funding, and success are on the rise, and hopefully that continues. Here are three other reasons to celebrate women small business owners this month:

At this point, it's pretty safe to assume that every tech company, from Google and Twitter to that virtual reality "unicorn" you never heard of, is being sued for gender discrimination. And the claims are all pretty similar: female employees, especially engineers, are paid less than their male counterparts and given fewer opportunities for advancement, all with a little harassment. The names may change, but the song remains the same.

Well, add Oracle to that ever-growing list. Three female ex-engineers are suing the database software giant, claiming they were all paid less than men for "substantially equal or similar work."

If you have employees, chances are you have to pay state unemployment insurance taxes. Exactly how much you'll pay will depend on where your business is located and how much you're paying your employees.

Penny pinching employers may be thinking they can reduce that tax burden by cutting back on their employees' hours, but does it necessarily work out that way? Here's a look.

California's recreational pot law goes into effect in January, and the state's largest metropolitan area wants to be ready. On Monday, the Los Angeles city council approved new cannabis industry rules and regulations for growers, manufacturers and sellers of marijuana, including licensing requirements, operating hours, record-keeping, and security measures.

And as with any new industry or new regulation, there are going to be some growing pains. Here's what L.A.'s legalized pot industry may look like.

If small businesses don't have their intellectual property in order and legally protected, they could be in big trouble. That's why we normally take patents, trademarks, and copyrights so seriously around here.

But every now and then we run across an IP story so weird we have to share it. So here are seven of the strangest stories involving patent and trademark law:

It's one of those terms you hear in business circles, but have a hard time defining: silent partner. It sounds pretty cool, but what does it actually mean?

And if you know it means someone who backs a business financially while backing away from the day-to-day operations, you may know just enough to get yourself into trouble. Here's what you really need to know about bringing on silent partners to your small business.