Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

June 2013 Archives

Are 'No Photography' Policies Legal?

"No photography" policies sound like the province of museums, live theater, or Dr. Frankenstein revealing his monster to the public. But many retail businesses enforce no-photo policies as well.

Are these policies legal?

Generally speaking, yes. Your business can use a no-photo policy to protect the privacy of your customers, or even to protect your trade secrets.

5 Legal Tips Before You Lay People Off

When you're running a business in a sluggish economy, layoffs may be inevitable. But before you hand out those pink slips, you may want to consider a few legal tips first.

As you probably know, wrongful termination claims are among the most common types of employee lawsuits. That's why it's important to make sure you're complying with federal and state employment laws.

So before you make the difficult decision to let your employees go, here are five legal considerations to keep in mind:

Court's DOMA Ruling May Affect Small Businesses

The Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). It's a major victory for the gay rights movement, as legally married same-sex couples are now entitled to certain federal benefits. But what does this mean for small business owners?

If your company hasn't done so already, your employee benefits package may need to be updated to include married gay or lesbian employees who are eligible for federal benefits.

Do You Need a Social Media Customer Service Team?

Is your business on social media? Do you have a customer service team? If so, it might be a good (read: great) idea to combine forces and think about incorporating a social media customer service team into your business rubric.

Let's face it: Even if you don't quite understand the purpose of social media or find it to be a waste of time, social media is increasingly crucial for businesses. The point is, if you're not on it, you're behind the times. Just think of the sheer number of current and potential customers who are on Facebook and Twitter.

With that said, here are a few reasons why it may be a good idea to have a devoted social media customer service team:

For Summer Help: Intern, Contractor, or Employee?

When it comes to hiring summer interns, contractors and employees, it's important for business owners to know the legal implications of each type of worker. The lines can understandably get blurry, but it's important to know the different categories.

Here are some of the pros and cons of hiring each type of worker:

Urban Outfitters Sued Over ZIP Code Collection

Urban Outfitters Inc., which owns the Anthropologie line of stores, is being sued in federal court for requesting customer ZIP codes in violation of the District of Columbia's consumer protection laws.

According to the complaint, which was filed last week and obtained by the Blog of LegalTimes, Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie have been asking customers for ZIP codes in a way that misrepresented the company's ultimate purpose.

Urban Outfitters had allegedly been requesting customer ZIP codes, implying that it was necessary to complete any credit card transaction. In reality, they were used for marketing purposes, the lawsuit claims.

For Discrimination Suits, Who's a 'Supervisor'?

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that supervisors are those individuals empowered by an employer to make "tangible employment actions" for purposes of Title VII suits for harassment.

In a 5-4 decision in Vance v. Ball State University, the Court determined that businesses could not be held strictly liable for employee harassment where that employee had no ability to hire or fire, reports the Associated Press.

For business owners, this means more protection from Title VII suits for harassment due to employee misconduct.

Paula Deen's Firing: 5 Lessons for Businesses

Celebrity chef Paula Deen has been fired by Food Network, which is declining to renew her contract when it expires at the end of this month. The news, of course, stems from leaked court documents that revealed Deen's use of derogatory slurs, including the N-word, among a whole slew of other offensive behavior and language.

Deen's firing comes almost two years after the 66-year-old celebrity chef's other "scandal," wherein she revealed her Type II diabetes -- but only because she was a paid spokeswoman for an insulin company.

Aside from her penchant for drowning everything in butter and scandal, what can business owners take away from Deen's public ordeals? Here are five potential lessons to be learned:

Are Interview Brainteasers More Like Time-Wasters?

Every employer has their own particular style when it comes to interviewing. But some business leaders think that "fun" interview brainteasers have no value at all in selecting new employees.

Google's Senior VP of Operations, Laszlo Bock, found that asking things like "how many golf balls can you fit into an airplane" is a "complete waste of time" and not a good predictor of anything other than how smug the interviewer is, reports The New York Times.

Here are some arguments to consider before you test your potential hires with interview brainteasers.

Going on Vacation? A Business Owner's Checklist

Even business owners need a vacation -- especially now, with the weather heating up and the days getting pleasantly longer. Not only is a vacation a great way to decompress, but it can often be beneficial for your business. You'll come back recharged, and your business will be more valuable than ever as a result.

But before you make a mad dash to pack your bathing suit and snorkel gear, remember that you're still leaving a business behind temporarily, and there are things that need to be taken care of beforehand.

So if you're going on vacation, here's an out-of-office checklist for business owners:

Bada Bing! Business Tips From Tony Soprano

With the passing of James Gandolfini, the man who played the troubled and ruthless mob boss on the HBO series "The Sopranos," it might be time to take a second to learn a thing or two from Tony.

Here are a few tips to keep the "bada-bing" in your business:

Men's Wearhouse Ouster: 5 Lessons for Founders

Men's Wearhouse has ousted Executive Chairman George Zimmer, the face of the company he founded 40 years ago, sending its shares down as much as 6%.

Remember the guy with a smooth husky voice, who appears in TV commercials and closes with the slogan, "You're going to like the way you look. I guarantee it"? That's Zimmer.

The board gave no reason for the ouster, but Zimmer suspects it was to silence him because he expressed concerns over the direction the board was taking his company, Reuters reports.

Founders should take Zimmer's sorrowful corporate tale as a fable. Here are five lessons every founder should keep in mind:

McDonald's Franchise Sued Over Payroll Debit Cards

A McDonald's franchise is being sued over an issue every employer should know about: wages placed on debit cards. Suffice it to say, some workers are not lovin' it.

A former Pennsylvania McDonald's employee is trying to trim the fat from payroll debit card fees. The lawsuit centers on the fees she says she'll be charged to get her McDonald's wages from a debit card.

Single mom Natalie Gunshannon has filed suit over bank fees that allegedly include $1 to check her balance, $1.50 to withdraw cash, and $15 to replace a lost card, reports the Associated Press.

Do Twitter Disclaimers Protect Your Business?

Many media and tech companies are requiring disclaimers on their employees' Twitter accounts, possibly in the hope that it will shield the company from future lawsuits.

The benefits of requiring such disclaimers may seem obvious. After all, if your employee goes on a politically incorrect Twitter rant that gets retweeted around the world, you probably don't want it associated with your company.

But will requiring a disclaimer for your employees' tweets really protect your business?

Whole Foods Says 'Adios' to English-Only Policy

Whole Foods has changed its controversial "English-only" policy for workers after drawing ire from customers, thousands of whom had vowed to boycott the upscale retailer.

The original language policy, which allegedly caused two New Mexico employees to be suspended, had limited employees to speaking only English when "on the clock and discussing work-related tasks or subjects," reports NBC News.

While Whole Foods' English-only policy is no more, was it even legal in the first place?

Gordon Ramsay Lawsuit Serves Up 5 Legal Lessons

Outspoken celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's company is being sued by some former servers and baristas over alleged wage and hour violations. What can employers take away from this lawsuit?

Four women, who were all employees of The Fat Cow in Los Angeles, are accusing the restaurant and Ramsay's company of not compensating them for overtime hours or working through breaks, among a whole slew of other complaints, reports Radar Online.

Let's make sure that what happened to our moody chef doesn't happen to you at your business. Here are five causes of action from the Ramsay lawsuit that employers will want to pay attention to:

Using 'Boilerplate' Contracts? 3 Legal Risks

Boilerplate contracts may be easy to find and convenient to use, but there are many legal issues that may come with them.

First off, what are boilerplate contracts? Also known as standard form or template contracts, you can often find them online for free, or for a modest fee.

Business owners are often tempted to use boilerplate contracts as a cost-saving measure, or as an alternative to hiring an attorney to draft a contract for you. But be careful. Here are three legal risks that you should watch out for when using a boilerplate contract:

Dunkin' Donuts Rant: Receipt Guarantee at Issue

A customer's Dunkin' Donuts rant over the store's "receipt guarantee" has gone viral, and raises the question of whether such policies are worth the trouble.

If you haven't already seen it, check out how Taylor Chapman goes (do)nuts trying to take advantage of the franchisee's policy of giving customers their orders for free if they don't get a receipt at the time of purchase.

Business owners often implement receipt guarantees as a mechanism to prevent cashiers from skimming cash at the register. But it may also embolden conniving customers like 27-year-old Chapman.

Unpaid Interns May Cost You in Court

Using unpaid interns at your business this summer could land you in court, after a reminder by a federal judge that unpaid internships are not the same as free work.

U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley ruled Tuesday that Fox Searchlight Pictures violated state and federal minimum wage laws by not paying the interns who worked on the film "Black Swan."

Make sure that your business avoids being sued by knowing the proper way to handle unpaid interns.

Paternity Leave Policies: An Employer's Checklist

For employers, an updated paternity leave policy might make the perfect Father's Day present for employees.

Bouncing babies and static policies don't mix. Even if your company isn't subject to state or federal laws on paternity leave, having a tailor-made policy is a good idea.

Here are five questions you should add to your paternity leave policy checklist:

NYC Restaurant Bans Tips to Benefit Servers

Restaurants banning tips? This is apparently the norm in many other countries, and now a New York City restaurant is taking up the same model.

Sushi Yasuda, in Midtown Manhattan, is no longer allowing workers to collect tips, and has opted to pay their workers a set salary instead. So instead of a blank line on the bill where the customer would normally leave a tip, there is a note about the restaurant's unconventional tipping policy.

Any tips still received will go straight to the restaurant, rather than the staff, according to Salon. Is this even legal? Why would a restaurant want to do this?

Working a Wedding? How to Avoid Getting Sued

The sun-soaked summer wedding season is upon us. As bridal businesses know too well, with summer weddings, come lawsuits.

For a business owner who wants to avoid donning the other kind of wedding suit, it's crucial to have clients say "I do" to clear and thorough wedding contracts.

If you're working a summer wedding, here are a few ways not to get sued:

Telecommuting? 5 Potential Legal Issues

Do you allow your employees to telecommute for work? If so, there are a myriad of legal issues that may arise.

In many cases, it's just more practical, more convenient, and preferred by both the employee and the employer -- especially if the job doesn't involve clients coming into the office.

But like any list of pros, there are some cons that accompany telecommuting as well. Here are five potential legal concerns to watch out for if you plan to allow telecommuting at your business:

Equal Pay Act for Employers: 3 Reminders

As an employer, knowing the Equal Pay Act of 1963 is essential to having a wage policy within the boundaries of the law.

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this week, the Equal Pay Act prohibits wage discrimination based on gender. It applies both to public and private employers.

Here are three reminders about the Equal Pay Act that every employer should keep in mind:

3 Ways to Prevent Data Theft by Contractors

Many companies want to hire contract employees but are worried about the potential theft and leaking of sensitive company data.

Even the National Security Agency experienced such a leak from its own former contractor Edward Snowden. Snowden, 29, has identified himself as the primary source of leaked information about NSA surveillance, reports The Washington Post.

Your business may not be as critical to national security as the NSA, but your trade secrets still deserve to be safeguarded from contractor theft. Here are three things you may want to consider:

'Epidemic' of Wage and Hour Violations: Labor Dept.

According to a lawyer from the Department of Labor, there is currently an onslaught of wage and hour violations. Companies need to ensure that they are in compliance with federal wage and hour law.

"Right now I think what we see is nothing short of an epidemic," said the department's solicitor, Patricia Smith. Low-wage workers all over the country are being denied even their minimum wage and overtime, Smith said.

The Labor Department found wage-and-hour violations in 79% of investigations based off complaints, and in 71% of direct investigations, Reuters reports. For business owners, here are a three reminders to ensure that you're not one of these violators:

Restaurant Bans Kids: Smart Move for Business?

Not allowing kids in your restaurant or business may sound elitist, but a simple age limit policy should be legal.

Proving it isn't impossible, a sushi restaurant in Virginia made a big splash even before it opened, going public with its "no patrons under 18" policy, The Huffington Post reports.

Is a "no kids allowed" policy right for your business?

Employee Smoke Breaks Can Be Costly, Study Finds

Employee smoke breaks can be costly, and not just for the smoker. According to a new study, the cost to businesses is about $5,800 per year for every smoker. That includes not only health care costs, but also work lost during all those smoke breaks.

Other considerations include a lower productivity because of withdrawal symptoms and health risks attributed to smoking, NPR reports.

What can employers do about this?

'Price Is Right' Spins Into Workers' Comp Fraud

A bad way to continue a workers' compensation claim is to show up on "The Price Is Right," as a North Carolina woman learned after pleading guilty to fraud in federal court this week.

Postal worker Cathy Cashwell lied on her September 2011 workers' compensation paperwork, claiming that she was incapable of standing or reaching. This is despite a 2009 appearance on "The Price Is Right" in which she reached up and spun a giant prize wheel twice, reports The Huffington Post.

Cashwell is not alone when it comes to workers' comp fraud, but in most cases, employers may not be lucky enough to catch their "impaired" employees on a TV game show.

Counterfeit Wine: 5 Signs You're Sipping on Fraud

Counterfeit wine is becoming the toast of the fraudulent town. As a recent lawsuit reported by Wine Spectator shows, damages can skyrocket into the millions.

If you're a business owner in the food or beverage industry, you'll want to do your due diligence to make sure you're getting what you paid for.

An insider's guide to counterfeiting wine featured in Businessweek gives a rundown of the collectible scam. Here's what to watch out for when it comes to five types of counterfeit wine:

Taco Bell Employee Busted for Licking Shells

Ever swap spit with a Taco Bell employee? Think twice before answering -- especially if you've had food from the restaurant recently. Taco Bell is now investigating a photo that was posted to the fast food chain's Facebook page of an employee licking a stack of taco shells.

According to a representative for T-Bell, they immediately contacted the particular restaurant that this photo was taken at to stop serving the food. On top of an investigation, action will be taken against all parties involved.

Many comments on the Facebook page are defending the employee, and even Taco Bell itself has said the likelihood that this is just a prank. Maybe the pic showed taco shells that were meant to be thrown out. Regardless, what can other small businesses learn from this unsanitary (real or not) practice?

3 Ways You Can Legally Refuse Service to Customers

You should be familiar with the “We reserve the right to refuse service” placard in restaurants, and you may even sport one in your own small business.

But is your “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service” policy legal?

Here are three legal ways that you can turn a troublesome customer away.

Is Starbucks' Outdoor Smoking Ban Legal?

It's official: Starbucks' outdoor smoking ban is in full effect, as of Saturday at all company-owned stores. It is already common knowledge that smoking is generally not allowed indoors at any Starbucks. But this smoking ban now also applies outdoors as well.

Those who are fans of the classic coffee-and-cigarette combination will not be allowed to smoke in any company-owned Starbucks patio, or in their outdoor seating areas, or anywhere within 25 feet of the store.

Notices have gone up in more than 7,000 Starbucks retail locations across the country. But is this outdoor smoking ban legally sound? Can other businesses follow suit?

Hiring Discrimination May Be OK With a BFOQ

For a small business, hiring discrimination sounds like an easy way to get sued. But in some cases, it may be perfectly legal.

Businesses may discriminate in hiring if they can prove that the position requires a bona fide occupational qualification (BFOQ).

This exception to discriminating based on gender, religion, and age has been narrowly carved out by case law, as illuminated in these three types of jobs: