Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

October 2014 Archives

Las Vegas Strip Club May Owe Millions in Back Wages to Strippers

A Las Vegas strip club may be on the hook for millions of dollars in back wages after the Nevada Supreme Court ruled that an estimated 6,500 strippers the club had claimed were independent contractors were actually employees entitled to minimum wage.

In a unanimous decision, the Nevada Supreme Court ruled in favor of the dancers at Sapphire Gentlemen's Club, which bills itself as the "World's Largest Strip Club." The suit was first filed by six dancers in 2009 and was certified as a class action lawsuit, meaning that the ruling could affect as many of 6,500 current and former dancers at the club, reports the Associated Press

What led to the court's decision and what should business owners be aware of when determining whether a worker is a contractor or an employee?

Broken Windows at Your Business: What Are Your Legal Options?

Depending on the size and location of your business, you may have a few windows on the front of your building or hundreds of windows looking out on all sides.

In either case, broken windows at your business can require costly repairs and will likely need to be boarded up in the meantime -- not exactly the look most business owners are going for. Some business owners on Virginia's Eastern Shore are learning this first-hand after the catastrophic explosion of a NASA rocket shattered the windows of several businesses, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

Whether it's a sudden explosion or criminal vandalism that shattered your windows, what legal options do business owners have to make repairs? Here are a few you may want to consider:

3 Lessons From a Construction Co.'s EEOC Sex Discrimination Case

Construction contractor Vamco Sheet Metals Inc. has settled a sex discrimination case with the EEOC, and for some very good reasons.

In a press release, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reported that Vamco will pay out $215,000 to settle allegations of sexual harassment on a project at a Manhattan construction site. Accusations included pretextual firing, assigning women only menial tasks, and denying women a clean place to pump breast milk.

Although the settlement means that Vamco will admit no liability for these allegations, there are three good lessons to be learned from this settlement:

Firm Offers Free Beer for Timesheets: Good Idea?

A Minnesota ad agency has come up with a novel way to encourage employees to turn in their timesheets.

Minneapolis-based Colle McVoy has begun offering the company's employees a free pint of beer upon completion of their timesheets, dispensed by a one-of-a-kind machine called the TapServer. The TapServer uses employee RFID cards and custom software to reward on-the-ball employees with a beer of their choice, selected via iPad interface.

But while the TapServer is an impressive bit of technology, is serving employees alcohol on the job a good idea?

Can a Bad Job Reference Get an Employer Sued?

Giving a job reference for a former employee who left on good terms is rarely a problem for employers.

But what about giving a bad reference for a former employee who was fired or otherwise left your employment on bad or unpleasant terms? Employers may be torn between warning a future employer about the person they are considering bringing on board and the potential consequences of giving a negative reference.

But what are those consequences? Can a bad reference result in an employer getting sued?

FCC Fines 2 Companies for Data Breach: What SMBs Need to Know

After a year filled with news stories about data privacy breaches, including Target and Home Depot, it seems that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is finally doing something about it. On Friday, the FCC proposed a $10 million fine against two telecom companies for data breaches that potentially affected 300,000 customers, The Washington Post reports.

How did this happen? And what does this mean for small business that store customer data?

5 Lessons From NBC's Unpaid Intern Settlement

Broadcast network NBC has agreed to settle claims filed by former interns who claimed the network's unpaid internship program violated federal and state labor laws.

A group of interns led by ex-"Saturday Night Live" intern Monet Eliastam filed the class action lawsuit last year alleging that unpaid interns were being used in place of normal workers at NBC. The suit also alleged that NBC's internship program failed to provide academic or vocational training. If approved by the judge in case, the $6.4 million settlement would be distributed among thousands of former interns, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

What can business owners learn from NBC's settlement in this case? Here are five things to remember when it comes to unpaid interns:

Do You Need to Register a Trademark?

A trademark is a word, phrase, symbol, or device -- such as a brand name or logo -- which identifies your business or product and distinguishes it from other similar businesses or products.

The owner of a trademark can enforce his trademark rights to prevent others from infringing upon it by using a similar name or selling the same goods or services under a different name. But how are those rights established?

Do business owners need to register a trademark in order to protect their trademark rights?

3 Local Laws to Know Before Starting a Business

If you're starting a new business, there are probably any number of things that require your immediate attention. But among your foremost priorities should be educating yourself on the local laws that may affect your business.

Putting off potential legal issues until after your business is already open may end up costing you big in the long run.

What local laws do you need to know before you start your business? Here are three to get you started:

Can Flex Time Pay Off? 3 Things Employers Should Know

Today is National Flex Day, an occasion to celebrate the benefits and importance of flexible work arrangements: telecommuting, flex time (no more 9-to-5), and compressed work weeks (longer shifts, fewer days). Flex time is great for employees seeking work-life balance, especially those with dependent family members (children and the elderly) whom they have to care for.

It's also surprisingly important for employers. Here are three reasons why:

Shirtless Chili's Worker Fired Over Facebook Photos

A worker at a Florida Chili's restaurant was fired after posting a series of shirtless pictures of himself in the restaurant's kitchen on Facebook.

The pictures, posted by a man calling himself Justin Speekz on a publicly visible Facebook profile, were labeled "Sexy Cooks of Chili's," reports Tampa's WFTS-TV. The pictures were discovered on Facebook by a customer of the restaurant.

Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which regulates restaurants, said there did not appear to be any violations in the photos, as no food was being prepared at the time they were taken; the employee was nonetheless terminated.

What lessons can employers learn from this latest employee social media stunt?

Starbucks Changes Its Tattoo Policy; Should You?

Starbucks employees can now show off their tattoos at work after a change in Starbucks' customer-facing tattoo policy.

Before the switch, baristas and other workers who were dealing with Starbucks customers would have to cover their tattoos, resulting in lots of sweaty dudes in long sleeves. Now, Forbes reports that Starbucks has lifted this workplace tattoo embargo, allowing all inked skin to breathe free -- except face tattoos.

Should your company drink the Koolaid pumpkin spice latte and follow Starbucks' lead?

Apple, Facebook's Egg-Freezing Benefit: 3 Questions for Employers

Apple and Facebook recently began offering to pay for female employees to freeze their eggs, a procedure that typically costs at least $10,000.

NBC News reports that the two tech giants may be attempting to compete for top female talent by allowing women who work for them to put their reproductive choices on ice. Covering the costs of egg freezing may allow female employees to pursue their careers without sacrificing their fertility, and Apple and Facebook are leading the way.

Before you worry about your company's fertility coverage, here are three questions employers may be asking about this egg-freezing benefit:

For Boss' Day: 5 Legal Lessons From Bad Bosses

It may not be marked on your calendar, but today is Boss' Day in the United States, a day for workers to show their employers a little appreciation whether by a card, an email, or even a gift.

But along with celebrating good bosses, Boss' Day is also a great time to look back at some bad bosses. Bad bosses don't just make for unhappy employees; being a bad boss can also increase the odds of your business encountering legal trouble, which typically makes for unhappy bosses as well.

So for Boss' Day, here are five legal lessons from bad bosses:

Yes, Hourly Workers Can Have Noncompete Clauses Too

You may think that noncompete clauses are reserved for high-salaried employees and executives, but they can be used for hourly workers too.

Take employees of the sandwich chain Jimmy John's, for example. In an employee agreement obtained by The Huffington Post, it seems at least one Jimmy John's franchisee in Illinois prevents its workers from working at any business that makes a dime on selling subs... for two years after employment!

Its understandable that business owners don't want their employees leaving to support the competition, but how far can these noncompete agreements go?

FedEx Sued for Alleged Deaf-Employee Discrimination

Last week the Kansas Supreme Court ruled against shipping company FedEx in their ongoing legal battle with thousands of drivers who claim they were unfairly classified as contract workers.

Now, the company is facing another employment-related lawsuit, this time regarding allegations the company discriminated against deaf and hard-of-hearing employees and job applicants. The suit was announced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on Friday.

What are the EEOC's allegations, and what do employers need to know about accommodating disabled employees?

Does Your Email Marketing Violate the CAN-SPAM Act?

Companies have mostly moved past cold calling and have focused more of their marketing efforts on email. But the federal CAN-SPAM Act sets boundaries on what businesses can and cannot do with respect to blasting emails at their customers.

Your business may be worried about seeming spammy, but it should be more worried about the FTC bringing down the hammer if you violate federal law.

So does your email marketing campaign violate the CAN-SPAM Act?

4 Ways Your Business Can Be a 'No-Selfie' Zone

Businesses can do a few things to legally patrol the conduct of their customers, and some employers may be wondering how to make their workplace a "no-selfie" zone.

Selfies are so ubiquitous that even monkeys are taking them, but the law can protect your business from becoming a chaotic breeding ground of chattering narcissists.

Check out these ways your business can become a "no-selfie" zone:

Burger King Sued Over Onion Ring Taser, Knife Attack

Burger King is facing a lawsuit after a man claimed he was attacked with a stun gun and a switchblade by a Burger King manager for complaining about cold onion rings.

The lawsuit, filed earlier this month by a customer at a Burger King restaurant in Bloomfield, New Mexico, alleges that the restaurant's manager became violent after the customer asked for a following a dispute involving cold onion rings, reports Albuquerque's KRQE-TV. Now the customer is suing Burger King for negligent hiring.

What do employers need to know about negligent hiring lawsuits?

Legal to Make Employees Sign Religious 'Faith Statements'?

As an employer, you may believe that having your employees sign "faith statements" is an efficient way of guaranteeing that your workforce agrees with your religious views.

A statement of faith may appear like a simple contractual agreement, asking an employee or applicant to sign off on the religious beliefs of an organization. However, depending on the legal status of your business, it may not be legal to ask or force employees to sign such faith statements.

So when is it legal to make employees sign religious "faith statements"?

Exploding Marijuana Soda Bottles Pose Risks for Retailers

Legal marijuana has proved perilous for some Washington state retailers, just not in a way that any of them probably would have guessed.

Three pot stores in the state have reported incidents in which glass bottles of marijuana-infused soda have exploded on shelves, Seattle's KOMO-TV reports. The soda, a sparkling pomegranate soda called "Legal" and produced by Washington's Mirth Provisions, was pulled from shelves. But now retailers must navigate the state's strict guidelines for tracking and destroying marijuana products.

What's causing the explosions, and why do retailers need to be cautious when it comes to potentially defective products?

Another FedEx Contractor Ruling: What SMBs Need to Know

Yet another court has ruled on FedEx's ongoing legal dispute regarding the employee status of its drivers. Small and medium-sized business owners should once again be paying close attention.

The latest ruling comes from the Kansas Supreme Court. Similar to the ruling by a federal appeals court earlier this year, the Kansas Supreme Court held that hundreds of FedEx drivers who the company had claimed were independent contractors were actually employees under Kansas law.

What should business owners take away from this ruling? Here are three points to remember:

Are There Defenses to Age Discrimination?

Age discrimination claims are an increasingly common source of employment litigation.

According to a report last year by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, age discrimination claims filed with the EEOC have increased by 38% since 2006. Age discrimination suits are also making headlines: News network CNN was sued this week for $5 million by a former producer who claims he was discriminated against and wrongfully terminated, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

In the event that your business is hit with an age discrimination claim, what defenses may be available?

JPMorgan Hack: 7M Small Businesses Affected

JPMorgan Chase has revealed that personal information connected to 83 million accounts may have been accessed by hackers in a data breach this summer.

Included in the massive cyberattack were the names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses, and internal bank information of approximately 7 million small business account holders, reports ZDNet. According to JPMorgan Chase, hackers were not able to obtain account numbers, passwords, user IDs, dates of birth, or Social Security numbers; the bank reports that it has yet to see any instances of fraud linked to the data breach.

What are the details surrounding this latest data breach, and what can small business owners do to protect themselves?

Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs): 5 Legal Tips for Employers

Performance improvement plans (PIPs) can be a great tool for employers to track and document the progress of employees who may not be cut out for the job.

PIPs can also be a great way to keep records of your company's efforts to rehabilitate a struggling employee, especially in the face of a potential discrimination or wrongful termination suit. But these plans are not impregnable shields to litigation, and there are still legal nuances when it comes to implementing one.

Here are five things employers should know to make the best use of PIPs:

Chipotle Diaper-Changing Debate: 3 Lessons for Business Owners

A dining area diaper-change at a Chipotle is generating headlines and polarizing supporters on both sides of this somewhat messy issue.

A man and his family were eating at an unidentified Chipotle restaurant where his wife took the couple's 16-month old daughter to the restroom for a diaper change, reports The Consumerist. Discovering that the bathroom had no changing table, the mom decided to change her child's diaper on top of one of the restaurant's tables. After being admonished by employees, the child's father began an angry letter-writing campaign to Chipotle HQ, forwarding a copy to The Consumerist, and setting off a firestorm of online coverage.

What can this somewhat unappetizing incident and the subsequent back and forth between the aggrieved couple and Chipotle teach business owners? Here are three potential lessons:

Is It Legal to Require Proof for Sick Days?

When your employees want to take a sick day, can you require them to give proof that they were sick?

With mandatory sick laws being passed in various cities and states, business owners have real reason to re-examine their sick day policies. Chief among these considerations is what kind of proof, if any, companies should require of their employees in order to take sick time off.

Let's examine some of the legal principles behind requiring proof for sick days.

Templeton Rye Hit With Consumer Fraud Lawsuit

Whiskey maker Templeton Rye is officially going to have to ward off a consumer fraud lawsuit after the complaint was approved by Iowa's attorney general.

The lawsuit alleges that Templeton misled consumers by claiming that its rye whiskey is created using a Prohibition-era recipe handed down through the founder's family on a scrap of paper. The recipe was attributed to famous Iowan Alphonse Kerkhoff in Templeton's marketing materials, but angry consumers claim that the whiskey is actually just a "stock" whiskey brewed in Indiana. And according to USA Today, Iowa's attorney general is allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

Did Templeton illegally mislead consumers?