Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

August 2014 Archives

Contracting With Gov't Agencies: 3 Legal Ways a Deal Can Go Sour

For small business owners, contracting with a local, state, or federal government agency can be a potentially lucrative opportunity.

In 2013 alone, federal contracts awarded to small businesses resulted in more than $83 billion in revenue. But there are, of course, potential bad sides to contracting with government agencies.

Here are three ways a government contracting deal can go sour:

Hiring Temp Workers: 5 Legal Reminders

Employing temporary or "temp" workers can often be a great way to fill vacancies in your business, but you'll need to get your legal ducks in a row.

Temps are often hired through staffing or "temp" agencies and may not be actual employees of your business. However, many companies have instituted temp-to-hire policies in which an employee has a short-term contract with that company which may lead to a full-time position.

These are but some of the legal concerns when employing temp workers, but these five legal reminders can help keep your business on the up-and-up:

Ignoring These 5 Labor Laws Can Cost Your Business

With Labor Day approaching, business owners may want to take a moment to make sure they're complying with state and federal labor laws. Not only will abiding by these laws provide a safe and fair work environment, but it can also save your company from costly labor suits.

So while your employees prepare for a three-day Labor Day weekend, examine whether your business is ignoring these five labor laws:

Franchise Can't Fire Workers Over Sick-Leave Poster Protest: NLRB

A recent NLRB decision may have employers scratching their heads as it seems to prohibit business owners from firing employees for telling customers that the food they prepare might make patrons sick.

A Minnesota Jimmy John's sandwich franchise has been ordered to rehire workers that had put up posters "suggesting sandwiches were made by sick workers, calling their protests protected speech." According to Inside Counsel, these posters were part of a 2011 protest in response to refusal by management to give employees paid sick days.

How can your business legally deal with these types of protests?

Which State Is Best for Women-Owned Businesses, and Why?

One of our previous posts looking at the best cities for women entrepreneurs by and large generated the expected results: San Francisco, New York City, Houston, Denver, etc.

But a recent report on the best overall states for women-owned businesses had a somewhat more surprising winner, reports Slate. While large states like California may have the greatest number of female business owners, it turns out that, in terms of growing economic clout, women are currently making it happen in... North Dakota.

How did the "Peace Garden State" manage to pull it off?

Can Fantasy Football at Work Score Points for Your Business?

With the NFL's regular season starting soon, it's not just players and coaches who are getting ready. The millions of Americans who play Fantasy Football are also prepping, researching players for upcoming drafts and joining leagues made up of friends, or in many cases, co-workers. According to Forbes, these office fantasy football leagues may offer a golden opportunity for business owners to connect with their employees on a more personal level.

How can fantasy football pay off your office, and what potential downsides should you look out for?

Ban or Welcome Guns? 3 Legal Considerations for Your Small Business

Employers have many options with respect to guns, and the decision to bar or welcome them into a business should not be made lightly.

To make crafting your small business' policy on firearms easier, you should be aware of your legal rights with regard to welcoming or turning away gun carriers. Fox Business reports that some business owners are even promoting events like "Second Amendment Wednesday," attempting to lure in patrons with guns.

But before you start offering 50 percent off for carrying a .45, check out these three legal considerations for your business' stance on guns:

5 Questions to Ask When Hiring an Employment Lawyer

Whether your're already facing employment issues or you're are trying to avoid them by getting your legal ducks in a row, you may be considering hiring a lawyer who focuses on employment law for businesses.

But what should you know before you do? A lawyer will have plenty of questions for you at an initial consultation; you should be sure to have a few of your own to ask as well.

Here are five questions you may want to ask when hiring an employment lawyer for your business:

B&N 'Browsewrap' Ruling: 3 Things Business Owners Should Know

Barnes & Noble had to swallow a bitter pill in federal court on Monday, when a federal appeals court held that the retailer couldn't enforce legal provisions buried behind a link hidden on its website -- also known as a "browsewrap" agreement.

Almost every major company has an arbitration provision included in its website's Terms of Use, and B&N was no exception. However, as The Recorder reports, the onus is on the business to give notice of these terms. Consumers aren't likely legally bound by terms which are not conspicuously presented to them.

Though this new ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals technically only affects states within the circuit, it offers some insight as to what courts are looking for when it comes to "browsewrap" agreements. Here are three things business owners need to know:

Crowdfunding Favors Female Entrepreneurs: Study

A study released last month found that women are outperforming men in the increasingly lucrative world of online crowdfunding.

This is especially interesting, reports The Wall Street Journal, because women are typically only able to raise half as much startup capital as men, hampering the growth of their businesses. However, on crowdfunding sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo, women are out-fundraising men even in traditionally male-dominated fields like gaming and technology, according to the study.

What does the study say is behind this surprising result?

Checking Job Applicants' Credit? 5 Ways to Avoid FCRA Lawsuits

Employers often have questions about the scope of employee or job applicant background checks, and sometimes a lack of information can lead to legal liability.

For business owners who plan to check on an employee or potential employee's credit history, a company must be very careful not to violate consumer protection laws -- specifically the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA).

Here are five potential ways to legally protect your business from FCRA suits when checking employee or applicants' credit:

For Businesses, 'Dummy' Security Cameras May Pose Legal Risks

Security cameras are a great way to monitor, as well as prevent, misconduct by both customers and employees.

But for business owners looking to save some money, it might be tempting to install fake security cameras in their business, saving themselves the cost of expensive video equipment while still enjoying the preventative benefits of security cameras. After all, if people think they're being watched, they'll behave better, right?

The answer, as you may have guessed, is not necessarily. Furthermore, dummy cameras can potentially expose you to legal liability.

5 First Steps to Take If Your Business Gets Hacked

Being hacked is every business owner's nightmare, but there are some important steps you should take if you believe you've been hacked.

A Tennessee-based health company announced on Monday that hackers had compromised its system, making off with the personal information of approximately 4.5 million patients. USA Today reports that Community Health Systems was possibly the victim of a Chinese hacking group that used "highly sophisticated malware and technology" to pilfer the data.

If you fear your business has been hacked, here are five first steps you may want to take:

Restaurant Served Customer Chemical-Laced Tea: 3 Legal Lessons

Business owners may want to pay close attention to this news out of Utah: A woman is in critical condition after drinking tea laced with a toxic cleaning chemical at a Salt Lake City-area restaurant.

According to the woman's lawyer, investigators believe that the woman's sweet tea was contaminated with lye -- an industrial degreasing chemical, also found in drain cleaners such as Drano -- when a worker at a Dickey's Barbecue restaurant inadvertently mixed it into the sweet tea mixture thinking it was sugar. The woman suffered severe internal burns and it still hospitalized, The Associated Press reports.

What legal lessons can be learned from this unfortunate incident? Here are three:

10 Ludicrous Resume Lies and What Employers Can Do About Them

Resume lies are nothing new, but as market pressures squeeze job applicants to distinguish themselves from their peers, some real working whoppers have risen to the top.

A recent CareerBuilder survey found that 58 percent of managers have caught applicants using lies on their resumes, and one-third of managers have seen this misbehavior increase since the recession, reports Business Insider.

So what are the 10 most egregious lies applicants have told on their resumes, and what can employers do about it?

5 Legal Tips for Negotiating Employee Contracts

Whether you're bringing on a new hire or renegotiating a current employee's contract, you need to stay on the legal level in negotiations.

As Forbes reports, many employers are getting pretty brazen with how they (mis)treat potential employees in salary negotiations or interviews. But you don't want to begin your employee-employer relationship to begin on tenuous or legally shaky ground.

To make sure your business is on the right side of negotiations, check out these five legal tips for negotiating employee contracts:

Can Your Biz Ban Naptime at Work?

Lunch breaks are for eating, not sleeping. Right?

That was the rationale of Los Angeles sanitation officials, at least, when they passed a rule prohibiting sanitation workers from taking naps on their lunch breaks. The officials feared the bad publicity that could arise from members of the public seeing city workers sleeping in the middle of the day. Workers filed a class-action lawsuit against the city, saying that the policy robbed them of their lunch breaks. The city recently agreed to settle the suit for $26 million, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Does that mean it's illegal to prohibit naps at work?

Is It Legal to Defend Your Business From Looters?

When the chaos of a riot turns to looting, business owners often want to ensure that their livelihoods are not literally carried away by opportunistic criminals. So how can you legally defend your business from looters?

Some business owners in Ferguson, Missouri, are still reeling from the effects of a protest-turned-riot on Sunday. At least nine people were arrested for allegedly looting local businesses during the melee, reports St. Louis' KSDK-TV.

The unruly atmosphere may provide perfect cover for thefts and burglaries, but do business owners have any right to defend their property?

Can Free Snacks at Work Pay Off for Your Business?

As the saying goes: There's no such thing as a free lunch. But for your employees, a well-stocked snack closet or break room refrigerator can come pretty darn close.

Though the jury is still out on whether giving your employees access to snacks is doing their waistlines any favors, reports The New Republic, there's certainly no doubt that employees will avail themselves of free snacks and office coffee if you provide them.

But is providing free snacks in your office worth the expense?

Giving Proper FMLA Notice: How to Comply With Federal Law

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was passed more than 20 years ago, and it endows more than 100 million American employees with the ability to take extended unpaid leave.

With more than two decades of enforcement, it's imperative that your business be in compliance with federal labor laws on family and medical leave under the FMLA. That means giving employees proper notice.

So how should your business craft its FMLA notice policy to be compliant with federal law? Here are a few pointers, along with some guidance from a recent federal appeals court ruling:

Barneys Settles 'Shop and Frisk' Complaints for $525K

High-end retailer Barneys New York has agreed to pay $525,000 to settle complaints that it racially profiled black and Latino customers at its flagship New York City location.

The settlement follows a nine-month investigation by the New York Attorney General's office that found a "disproportionate number of black and Latino customers being detained for alleged shoplifting or credit card fraud," reports The New York Times. Critics labeled the practice "shop and frisk."

What spurred the investigation, and what should your business' policy be for detaining customers suspected of shoplifting?

Marketing to College Kids? 5 Disclaimers You May Need to Add

It's becoming increasingly clear to business owners: college students are a consumer group to be reckoned with.

StudentUniverse CEO Atle Skalleberg says that Generation Y -- the demographic encompassing those currently in their teens and twenties -- is now estimated to be the largest consumer group in history with back-to-school spending by college students in this U.S. this year expected to top $30 billion according U.S. National Retail Federation reports. But marketing to college kids requires a few extra precautions. Tech-savvy and deal-hungry college students are great at finding the loopholes in promotions and deals.

Here are five disclaimers you may need to add to your college marketing materials:

Should You Fine Customers for Negative Online Reviews?

Perhaps your business has considered fining customers or charging them extra if they leave a negative online review. Employers may want to think again before implementing this sort of policy, both for public relations and legal reasons.

Slate reports that the Union Street Guest House in Hudson, New York, attempted to exact revenge against a negative online reviewer by threatening to subtract $500 from a wedding couple's deposit at the hotel. Although the hotel later called the policy "a tongue-in-cheek response" to negative reviews, it would be incredibly problematic if it had been enforced.

So should your small business fine customers for negative online reviews?

3 (Fill-in-the-Blank) Lessons From United Airlines' Viral Apology Letter

Although using boilerplate forms can be a great way to cut down on time spend drafting repetitive documents, it can also come back to bite you.

United Airlines found that out the hard way this week when a customer received the company's fill-in-the-blank apology letter without any of the blanks filled in, reports the New York Daily News. United Airlines confirmed in a written statement that they "sometimes use standardized wording to start drafting a letter addressing the customer's concern."

Here are three lessons that can be learned from United Airlines air-balled apology:

Is a 'Chief Happiness Officer' Worth the Potential Legal Trouble?

The latest executive position trending among hip corporations is the "Chief Happiness Officer" or "CHO." The New Republic described the title flatteringly as "the latest, creepiest job in corporate America," but it might be worth a second look.

From what we've gathered, CHOs are responsible for the well-being of a company's employees in ways that surpass that of a typical HR department. But many CHO critics warn that tracking employee happiness can lead employers down an invasion-of-privacy rabbit hole -- one your business may not wish to fall into.

So is a Chief Happiness Officer really worth the potential legal trouble?

Biz Conflicts With Homeless People: 3 Legal Solutions

Even the most compassionate business owners can sometimes find themselves frustrated by their interactions with homeless people.

Sleeping under overhangs and in doorways after business hours is one thing, but when homeless people begin driving away your customers during business hours or creating unsanitary conditions by using your building as a bathroom, you may need to take action.

Here are three possible solutions to common conflicts between homeless people and business owners:

Federal Small Biz Scorecard Shows Highest Grades in Years

The U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) announced on Friday that for the first time in eight years, the federal government has met its goal of 23 percent for small business contracting -- which it displays in the form of a Small Business Procurement Scorecard.

Like a report card for federal agencies, this scorecard gives a letter grade to each agency based on a goal for contracting with small businesses and the actual small business contracts awarded. According to a recent SBA press release, this upswing in small business contracts in the 2013 financial year has "resulted in more than $83 billion of revenue for small businesses."

What else can small businesses learn from this 2013 Scorecard?

LinkedIn to Pay $6M in Back Wages: Labor Dept.

The U.S. Labor Department has announced a settlement with online business networking service LinkedIn after an investigation revealed the company failed to properly compensate employees for working overtime.

According to a news release from the Department's Wage and Hour Division, LinkedIn has agreed to pay $3,346,195 in overtime back wages to and $2,509,646 in liquidated damages to 359 employees affected by the company's violations of the Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

What is the FLSA and how did the company violate it?

Should You Use Web Content Filters at Your Business?

Internet use has become commonplace, even for non-Web-related industries, so it has become a priority for businesses to filter the content which their employees view online.

Web-filtering software or an Internet content filter may greatly reduce a small business' exposure to liability and cyberattacks, but it may place a roadblock in the way of employees' productivity.

Takings these concerns into account, should your business use Web content filters?

SLCC Punk: San Diego Tries to Muscle Rights to 'Comic Con'

The Salt Lake Comic Con is experiencing its first year, but the convention already generating some potential legal battles with its larger comic con brethren.

In a letter sent last week, attorneys for the San Diego Comic-Con demanded the convention change its name, or face legal action, reports Salt Lake City's KUTV-TV.

What's behind this comical name battle and what lessons can you learn about choosing a name for your business?

3 Cybersecurity Tips That Can Pay Off for Your Business

Cybersecurity should be one of your business' highest priorities, yet many employers think that just changing your password regularly is sufficient.

While it's certainly wise to cycle your passwords frequently and avoid public Wi-Fi, there are some less obvious ways for businesses to thwart future cyberattacks.

Savvy business owners should check out these three cybersecurity tricks you may not have considered:

Do You Need a 'No Jokes' Policy for Customer Receipts, Orders?

While drinking my morning coffee the other day, I happened to notice that in the spot where the barista usually writes the name of the person who ordered the drink was instead written simply "Beard."

This makes sense. After all, I do have a rather large beard. And generally, I don't really mind being objectified as "Beard." But what if the cup had said "Fat?" Or "Aging hipster wearing glasses and tight pants?" Would I have been OK with it then?

While these quips are often done with the best intentions -- to rib a regular customer or to lighten up a heavy mood in a busy service environment -- instituting a no-jokes policy or your business' receipts and order forms can save you from angry customers, or possibly even a lawsuit.