Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

November 2013 Archives

5 Holiday Decoration Guidelines for the Workplace

Have you prepared holiday decoration guidelines for your workplace? Celebrating the holidays shouldn't necessarily be put on hold just because your employees are in the office. However, there are legal considerations that may affect what, if any, holiday decor decks your office halls.

When it comes to the holiday decorations at your workplace this season, here are five guidelines you should follow:

Hobby Lobby's Obamacare Case Heads to High Court

Lawyers for craft store Hobby Lobby will get a chance to challenge Obamacare's contraceptive mandate before the U.S. Supreme Court, after justices agreed to take the appeal on Tuesday.

The case centers around Hobby Lobby's refusal to comply with the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate -- one that would require the company to provide its employees with a minimum level of "preventative health benefits, including contraception," reports The Associated Press.

Small business owners nationwide have been challenging Obamacare, but will Hobby Lobby succeed by arguing for corporate religious freedom?

Study Shows Risks of Using Social Media in Hiring

How many employers these days are using social media in hiring? And how many realize just how legally risky that can be?

A Carnegie Mellon study recently revealed that between one-tenth and one-third of U.S. firms search social media sites for information about applicants during the hiring process, Inside Counsel reports.

But the study also went a step further, revealing how employers can open themselves to liability by perusing applicants' social media profiles. Here's what researchers found:

How to Get a Handle on High Shipping Costs

Do you have a good handle on your high shipping and handling costs? If you don't, it could cost you -- especially during the holidays.

As small-business retailers prepare for Cyber Monday, consider a recent survey that found 80 percent of Americans factor shipping costs into their purchasing decisions. What's more, nearly half -- 49 percent -- say they've abandoned an online shopping cart because the shipping cost was too high, according to BizReport.com.

To help you prepare for the upcoming holiday season and beyond, here are some ways your small business can rein in high shipping costs:

10 Tips to Prevent a Black Friday Melee

With only days until Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, retailers nationwide are preparing for what they're hoping will be a throng of excitable, deal-hungry customers.

And while the media has a cornucopia of Black Friday survival guides for consumers, there are several things business owners can do to prepare for this shopping holiday.

To keep your business safe and prevent a customer melee, here are 10 tips for your business on Black Friday (and the rest of the holiday shopping season too):

'Crummy' NYC Bar Raises Drinking Age to 25

A Brooklyn bar is raising its weekend drinking age to 25 in an attempt to keep the atmosphere less rowdy -- and to keep neighbors' complaints at bay.

DNAinfo New York reports that Phil's Crummy Corner, located at the corner of Hamilton and Columbia, plans to stop serving the 24-and-under set after 10 p.m. on weekends, responding to neighbor's complaints that the tavern is "like animal town" on Friday and Saturday nights.

Can a bar or restaurant legally refuse to serve alcohol to adults under 25?

Starbucks Baristas Lose Tip-Sharing Appeal in N.Y.

A federal appeals court has ruled that, under New York law, Starbucks baristas must share their tips with shift supervisors because the company's tip-sharing policy is legal.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court's ruling, finding that Starbucks' shift supervisors perform similar duties as that of baristas in the Empire State, The Associated Press reports.

This decision, a loss for the baristas, was issued Thursday. But could yet another appeal be brewing?

Non-Compete Clauses: Are Geographic Limits Valid?

As a part of most boilerplate contracts, non-compete clauses are a standard way for business owners to protect their interests when employees move on.

But can a modern small business, especially in the tech sector, expect to enforce a geographic limit on how far away a former employee must work?

Do You Have a Family Business Succession Plan?

A solid succession plan is essential to the longevity of a family business.

Though family businesses account for a staggering 50 percent of the gross domestic product of the United States, only 52 percent of family business owners have faith in younger relatives' ability to sustain the business for generations to come, according to a PwC survey reported by Forbes.

To assuage such concerns, here are five tips on how to form a family business succession plan:

5 Ways Small Businesses Can Boost Holiday Sales

It's that time of year again, when retailers go all out to attract holiday shoppers. What can your small business do to prepare for holiday sales?

On average, shoppers are expected to spend 3.7 percent to 3.9 percent more this holiday season, according to two reports (by Wells Fargo and the National Retail Federation) recently mentioned in the Charlotte Business Journal.

How can your business get a cut of this?

5 Legal Dos and Don'ts for Your Holiday Party

Office holiday parties can be a blast for you and your workers. But employers shouldn't end up on a lawyer's "naughty" list by throwing them without considering some potential legal consequences first.

To keep your festive fete above board, here are five legal dos and don'ts for your small business' holiday bash:

Asking for Passwords? You May Be Asking for Trouble

Americans strongly oppose allowing bosses to obtain their employees' social media passwords, a new FindLaw.com survey reveals.

Many employers may be drawn to the idea of requiring workers to divulge their social media passwords as a condition of employment. But the overwhelming majority of workers don't think it's a good idea, according FindLaw's survey of 1,000 Americans (with a margin of error of 3 percent).

Here are a few of the FindLaw survey's key points:

Starbucks Loses 'Charbucks' Trademark Appeal

After more than a decade of protracted litigation, Starbucks lost its trademark battle against Charbucks, a coffee produced by a small, family-owned New Hampshire roaster.

The trademark case turned on Starbucks' failure to prove that consumers are confused by the name Charbucks because of a "blurring" of its brand.

New 'Dropbox for Business' Raises Legal Concerns

Cloud storage company Dropbox is revamping its service with small business owners in mind: It's now offering separate business and personal accounts.

According to The Verge, Dropbox has unveiled new "Dropbox for Business" accounts, allowing small business owners to manage their business accounts and to easily switch between work- and non-work-related "bins."

This is a welcome change for small employers looking for a cloud storage solution, but you'll also want to consider some potential legal concerns raised by Dropbox for Business.

UPS Settles Jehovah's Witness Suit for $70K

UPS has agreed to pay $70,000 to a former Jehovah's Witness employee who claimed the company failed to reasonably accomodate his religious beliefs and then fired him.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued on behalf of the ex-employee, who worked at a UPS facility in Saddle Brook, New Jersey, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The worker requested a schedule change in order to attend a religious service but was denied. He was fired a few days later.

What can your small business learn from this case?

Legal to Force Employees to Work Holidays?

As retailers are gearing up for the holiday shopping season, many employers are left wondering whether they can force their employees to work on the holidays.

The Huffington Post reports that workers for retail giant Kmart have alleged the company will not let them take time off around the holidays, specifically from November 17 to 30 and December 15 to January 4.

Can employers like Kmart really force employees to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas?

'Tis the Season for Holiday Advertising Tips

Small business owners: Need some holiday advertising tips for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, or the rest of the shopping season?

With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, it's time to prepare for the onslaught of holiday shoppers. In fact, retail giant Walmart has already rolled out its Black Friday ad, Cincinnati's WCPO-TV reports.

You should be thinking ahead too, especially when it comes to spreading the word about your holiday sales. Here are some legal tips for your small business' holiday ads:

Do Your Board Members Pose a Security Risk?

When it comes to risk management, corporate board members may be surprised (and dismayed) to know that they themselves pose security risks to the business, according to a new Thomson Reuters survey.

The Thomson Reuters annual Board Governance survey -- which covers more than 125 general counsel and company secretaries across a wide-ranging cross-section of industries and geographies globally -- shows that corporate board communications present genuine security risks.

Here are a few of the survey's key findings:

Independent Contractor? IRS Looks at 20 Factors

How do you know if you've hired an independent contractor or an employee? The IRS has a nifty list of factors to help you figure it out.

It's important to properly classify your workers as "employees" or "contractors" not only for tax purposes, but also because it dictates the type of relationship you have with your workers, Forbes reminds us.

But simply calling someone an "independent contractor" on paper may not suffice, as far as the law is concerned. In fact, there are at least 20 factors that the IRS thinks you should consider when classifying workers.

For Veterans, SBA to Waive Express Loan Fees

Good news for veterans-turned-entrepreneurs looking for small business financing. The federal government has launched a new program to get former service members SBA loans at little cost.

In a press release, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has announced that beginning in 2014, there will be no borrower upfront fee for loans to veterans under the SBA Express Loan program.

How does this fee waiver work, and what other programs are available for veterans looking to start their small business dreams?

Legal to Ban Recording Conversations at Work?

A judge with the National Labor Relations board recently upheld Whole Foods' ban on recording employees at work. What can employers learn from the ruling?

The case centered on the issue of whether an employer's ban on recording conversations in the workplace violates the National Labor Relations Act.

If you don't already have a workplace recording policy, you might want to consider drafting one that clarifies your position.

What's Considered Workplace Retaliation?

Employers are often in the dark when it comes to what is considered workplace retaliation. Bosses often don't realize that a cold shoulder here and a verbal slight there can count as unlawful retaliation.

Based on new data revealed by the Ethics Resource Center, Forbes compiled a list of the most common retaliation tactics. Widely known forms of retaliation -- job loss, pay cuts, demotions, and reassignments -- certainly made the cut. But retaliation reared its ugly head the most in more subtle ways in social contexts.

Here are three types of retaliation tactics that you may not realize can land you in legal trouble:

10 Legal Tips for Small Businesses on Twitter

Twitter's IPO is the talk of Wall Street today, but many small businesses are still on the fence about Twitter's effectiveness.

According to The Wall Street Journal, even Twitter executives have noted that creating an effective Twitter strategy can "require more time and effort than many small-business owners feel they can afford." But despite the extra work, some 4.5 million small businesses have signed up for the social media service.

If you're one of them, here are 10 tips to help you get the most out of Twitter -- and to help you avoid some potentially costly legal consquences:

Hazing in the Workplace Can Get You Sued

Hazing is not just for fraternities -- it can happen in the workplace too. And when it does, it can get business owners into big trouble.

Case in point: Miami Dolphins guard Richie Incognito, who was recently suspended over allegations of harassment. Incognito allegedly sent teammate Jonathan Martin "racially charged texts," among other actions that may have created a hostile work environment.

The NFL does not take lightly to acts like bullying and hazing, and business owners shouldn't either. In fact, hazing in the workplace can lead to legal consequences. Here are five ways that can happen:

Texas Sues EEOC Over Felon Hiring Rules

Texas is suing the EEOC to preserve its absolute ban on hiring felons for certain state positions.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott filed suit against the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in federal court Monday, arguing that the EEOC's guidelines "limit employers from excluding convicted felons from employment," according to the Dallas Business Journal.

What does this suit mean for Texas employers, and can your business refuse to hire felons?

Small Biz Efficiency Slowed by Admin Tasks: Survey

Small business efficiency isn't doing so hot, according to a recent survey conducted by OfficeMax.

In the aggregate, the OfficeMax Small Business Efficiency Index claims "the nation's 23 million small business owners lose more than 4 billion hours each year managing time-consuming -- but crucial -- business operations and administrative tasks." Yes, that's 4 billion (with a "b") hours.

Here's a succinct summary of the survey's other findings, and a look at what business owners can do to combat inefficiency:

7 Year-End Tax Tips for Small Businesses

Small business owners, it's time to consider some year-end tax tips.

As a business owner, this may be one of the busiest times of year for you. With less than two months left in the tax year (for most of us), you'll want to ensure that everything is in order, tax-wise -- and that you'll be able to take advantage of as many potential tax deductions as possible.

Consider the following seven tips for your year-end "to-do" list:

SBA Offers Free Small Biz Cybersecurity Course

The Small Business Administration is offering a new online course on cybersecurity to help small business owners protect themselves against cyberattacks.

SBA's new course, "Cybersecurity for Small Businesses," provides an overview on how to secure business information, identify security threats and guard against potential hacker attacks.

Here's an overview of the topics the SBA's course covers, with FindLaw's own tips to boot:

5 Key Steps in Dissolving a Partnership

Do you know how to dissolve your partnership? If you feel as though you've come to the point in your business where you're ready to wind down and close, it's best to be prepared. Closing a business is not as simple as just ceasing all operations and leaving.

However, dissolving a partnership doesn't have to be too difficult either. Just keep in mind these five key steps when dissolving a partnership:

It's NaNoWriMo! Top 10 Legal Tips for Writers

It's NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month. While we can't offer expert tips on how to tackle writer's block, we can address some common legal concerns for those who make writing their business.

This November marks the 15th year for NaNoWriMo -- a month for aspiring and established writers to band together, support each other, and, well, write their hearts out in an effort to complete an entire novel. The goal: 50,000 words in 30 days.

Of course, with such a huge effort comes many legal considerations. Here are 10 legal tips every writer should keep in mind: