Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

December 2013 Archives

Our Top 10 Small Business Legal Stories of 2013

This year, the most popular small business legal issues on our Free Enterprise blog involved employment law. From asking for doctor's notes to conducting legal exit interviews, our business-minded readers seemed most hungry for guidance on how best to manage employees.

That's not to say we didn't cover other major legal issues affecting entrepreneurs, including small business cyberattacks and the delay of Obamacare's employer mandate.

Still, some stories resonated more than others. Here are the Top 10 Free Enterprise posts of 2013:

3 Tips for Hiring Independent Contractors

As the new year approaches, hiring new independent contractors may be an attractive option. A smart employer will be able to do without getting ensnared in the various legal quagmires that surround independent contractors.

To start off the fiscal year right, here are three tips you may want to consider when hiring independent contractors:

Is Target Liable for Massive Data Breach?

Big-box retailer Target is facing at least 11 lawsuits for a data breach which occurred on the corporation's servers from November 27 to December 15.

While these lawsuits have been filed by shoppers from Massachusetts to Minnesota (Target's home state), the suits share one thing in common: allegations that Target was too slow in alerting customers to the breach, reports Inside Counsel.

But can Target and other retailers really be held liable for customer damages caused by data breaches?

Should Your Biz Have a Lost-and-Found Policy?

Customers leave behind items all the time. It's how the "finder" handles it that can make headlines.

From the Las Vegas cabbie who returned a passenger's $300,000 in gambling winnings to a teen server who gave back a family's $1,600 Christmas vacation money, nothing gives you the warm and fuzzies quite like honesty, especially around the holidays.

Stories like this remind business owners that a solid lost and found policy can save a customer's day.

5 Ways to Fight Retail Return Fraud

As Christmas draws nigh, so does the day after Christmas when customers will attempt to return gifts. And some stores are ready for an onslaught of return fraud.

In order to combat this wave of phony returns, big toy and electronics retailers are shortening their return periods this year, reports NBC's "Today."

Don't be caught snoozing after Christmas. Here are five ways your business can combat retail return fraud:

3 Lessons From Justine Sacco's Twitter 'Joke'

Justine Sacco, a former PR executive at a powerful technology company, sparked a firestorm of controversy after posting a joke on Twitter about AIDS in Africa on Friday. Sacco's employer, media company IAC, fired her on Saturday.

Sacco's tweet, sent before she boarded a flight for Cape Town, read: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!" By the time she arrived in South Africa, the tweet had gone viral.

Here are three lessons to take away from Sacco's Twitter debacle:

Promising a Raise May Raise Legal Questions

If you're thinking about promising raises to a few of your favorite employees, but you're not totally sure that you can actually deliver on them, get ready to face potential legal liability.

Employers should be careful about making promises of a raise because that promise may ultimately be an enforceable term of the employment contract.

Legal to Prohibit Employees From Discussing Salary?

Is it legal to prohibit employees from discussing their salaries? It depends on how far your prohibition goes.

While many employers don't like it, workers are generally allowed to talk about their salaries with coworkers at the water cooler. With the popularity of social media, discussing salaries online with other workers is also lawful.

The National Labor Relations Act provides some guidance on how to proceed when it comes to employees talking about their salaries. Here's a general overview:

3 Simple Ways Businesses Can Thwart Hackers

Target fell victim to a security data breach involving stolen credit card and debit card information for 40 million of its retail customers. The massive breach is proof that even corporate giants are vulnerable to security threats. The truth is that there is no such thing as 100-percent secure. But businesses can take preventative measures to at least minimize the risk.

Here are three simple ways to prevent many breaches:

OK to Fire Workers for 'Good Samaritan' Deeds?

Doing good deeds in an emergency situation isn't exactly bad behavior. But small business owners can indeed legally fire workers for being "Good Samaritans."

Michigan retailer Meijer tested this theory in mid-November when it fired 62-year-old employee David Bowers for leaving his post as a greeter to help a man extinguish a car fire, reports The Associated Press.

Is it OK for your business follow suit and terminate do-gooders?

The 5 Most Common Workplace Injuries Revealed

As we all know, the workplace is rife with safety hazards. In fact, one in five American adults say that they have suffered an injury while on the job, according to a new FindLaw.com survey.

What's more, the survey found that certain work-related injuries occur much more frequently than others.

Here are the five most common on-the-job injuries, according to the survey:

Should Your Biz Forgo Holiday Parties, Bonuses?

As the holidays draw nigh, many business owners are choosing to forgo parties and holiday bonuses, worried about a slowly recovering economy.

While it may seem Scrooge-y, it might make financial sense to cut back on extra spending when profits are slim to nil. An Office Depot survey found that 57 percent of businesses had "no plans to buy holiday gifts for clients or staff," reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Should your small business ditch the festivities and bonuses this year?

$5.7B Swipe Fee Settlement Approved: Now What?

Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc. have received court approval of a $5.7 billion class-action settlement with U.S. merchants over credit-card transaction fees, also known as "swipe fees."

The agreement -- the largest class-action antitrust settlement in U.S. history -- was announced in the summer of 2012 and ends years of litigation over allegations that swipe fees were improperly fixed.

But is this really the end?

What's Your FICO Small Business Credit Score?

Small business owners can now look up their FICO credit scores just like personal consumers, but it won't be free.

With many entrepreneurs relying on small business loans to make their business plans a reality, a FICO score may be the x-factor in landing that crucial funding. So what's your FICO small business score?

Free Service Goes Down, Can Your Biz Sue?

From email services to cloud storage, we live in an era of free online services. Though many people use these services for personal purposes, many small businesses rely on these services for their day-to-day operations. As evidenced by Yahoo email's recent meltdown, when free services go kaput, it can wreak havoc on small businesses and incur the wrath of angry customers.

But can your business sue for damages when a free service goes down?

Is It Legal to Spam Customers' Contacts?

Email marketing is a powerful tool, but digging into your customers' email accounts may leave your business with a lawsuit for illegal marketing.

Social media company LinkedIn is learning this lesson the hard way, as it has been fighting hard to shake a federal class action suit filed by customers that "allowed" the company to mine their email accounts and spam their contacts, reports Courthouse News Service.

What precautions should your business take when walking the line between creative online marketing and illegal spam?

After an Age-Discrimination Claim, What Happens?

Age discrimination claims with the EEOC are up 38%, according to new statistical report compiled by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Last year, 22,857 people filed age-related complaints with the EEOC, compared with 16,548 in 2006.

For employers, the data begs the question: What happens after an age discrimination claim is filed?

Is It Legal to Install Cameras in Restrooms?

Security cameras in private businesses are typically legal. But should your business install surveillance cameras in your restrooms?

Yes, according to Virginia restaurant and club owner Dennis Smith, who installed a camera in the men’s restroom after “years of vandalism,” reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Smith claims the camera is situation “to capture patrons as they enter without revealing those using bathroom facilities.”

Is it legal to install security cameras in your business’ restrooms?

Gap's Sikh Ad Sparks Debate Over Diversity

A Gap ad featuring a Sikh man -- or more accurately, the defacement of said ad in a New York subway -- has sparked conversations on racism and diversity. But an interesting centerpiece to the discourse is Gap's role in the matter.

From its Sikh ad campaign, the clothing giant demonstrates that a well-crafted diversity ad initiative makes for powerful marketing -- and effective legal protection.

Should You Ban Facebook at Work?

Facebook use in the workplace is a mind-boggling issue for employers. On one hand, employers don't want to come across as controlling "Big Brothers" who don't trust employees to get their work done. But on the other hand, well, your employees may not be getting their work done.

But from a productivity standpoint, should you ban Facebook at work? And would doing so raise any legal concerns?

Supreme Ct. Won't Hear Online Sales Tax Appeal

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down appeals by online retailers to be exempted from New York's sales tax law, despite the companies having no physical presence in the Empire State.

Amazon.com and Overstock.com had appealed a decision from New York's highest court which held that both companies need to collect sales tax from their customers -- regardless of the companies not having any physical operations in the state, reports Entrepreneur.

What does this development mean for your small business' online sales?

Amazon's Drone Delivery Plan Has Ups and Downs

Online retail giant Amazon.com is working on an exciting new (and incredibly futuristic sounding) delivery plan. Drone delivery, according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, may soon be an option for some consumers, CBS News reports.

Well, not too soon, but this new delivery-by-drone system called Amazon "Prime Air" could be available in as soon as four to five years. The project has been in the works for months, and was revealed on Sunday's "60 Minutes."

While there are some upsides to Amazon's drone delivery plan, it also raises a few down-to-earth legal issues.

Don't Get Sued For Fake Holiday Discounts

In some ways, the consumer quest for massive holiday deals and discounts has left business owners with no choice but to spiral into a deep discount abyss and engage in a Black Friday arms race. The constant question they face is akin to a ruckus game of limbo: how low can you go?

Many big retailers have circumvented the issue by offering "fake discounts." They work backward with their suppliers to set starting prices that, after all the markdowns, will yield the profit margins they want -- but still give consumers the impression of a blowout sale, according to The Wall Street Journal. The problem is that fake holiday discounts and deals could potentially constitute a deceptive business practice.

Here are three potentially deceptive Black Friday discount schemes that can make your business see legal red: