Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

December 2014 Archives

Is Mobile Shopping the 'New Thanksgiving Tradition'?

Thanksgiving has been a battleground for retailers over the last decade, with consumerism encroaching ever-closer to many Americans' holiday traditions. But maybe we should be paying closer attention to our smartphones than to Black Friday ads.

According to studies by IBM, mobile devices accounted for "over half of all online traffic on [Thanksgiving]" on retail sites, The New York Times reports. Jay Henderson, director of IBM Smarter Commerce, called mobile use "a new Thanksgiving tradition."

Does this mean that mobile shopping is Americans' newest holiday tradition?

5 New Year's Resolutions for Small Business Owners in 2015

In addition to the obligatory personal New Year's resolutions, it's a good idea for small business owners to set some fresh goals for their companies in the New Year as well.

After all, businesses, like people, need to grow over time. And any mistakes, missteps, and missed opportunities made in 2014 should serve as motivation for business owners to improve going forward in 2015.

To that end, here are five New Year's resolutions for small business owners:

2014's Top 10 Blog Posts About Dealing With Employees

One of the goals of Free Enterprise is to inform employers about how to legally deal with employees, both in company policy and on an individual level.

Being an effective small business owner sometimes means firing employees, accommodating disabilities, and improving morale -- all while complying with state and federal labor laws. This may seem like an impossible juggling act, but in the past year, Free Enterprise covered most of the basics.

For 2014, here are our 10 most popular blog posts about handling employees:

Egg Nog Chugging Contest Sends Worker to Hospital

A Utah man was hospitalized after chugging a quart of eggnog at his office holiday party.

Ryan Roche was able to chug an entire quart of alcohol-free eggnog in 12 seconds, reports the New York Daily News. For his efforts, the 32-year-old Roche was crowned the winner of the contest. Unfortunately, he almost lost his life in the process.

What happened to Roche and why should employers discourage these sorts of antics at office parties?

An Excuse for Egg Nog: Can Drinking at Work Pay Off?

Should you allow your employees to take a nip (or three) of egg nog during work hours this year?

The boozehounds over at The Huffington Post seem to think so, declaring that a little bit of drinking at work could go a long way. As Hemingway might have said, getting a little buzzed at the office might actually help your staff get their creative mojos working.

But legally speaking, is it a smart idea to allow drinking at work?

Keeping Your Business Data Safe: 5 Tips

You have locks on your doors, and probably an alarm on your building. But do you have the same kind of protections on your business' data?

The debilitating hack of Sony Pictures earlier this month provides the most recent evidence that shoring up cybersecurity safeguards should be a priority for businesses of any size. And with the growing amount of data being stored in the cloud, the ability of hackers to access sensitive customer or financial data may be increased if proper security procedures are not followed.

So what can you do to keep your business' data safe? Here are five tips:

NLRB: McDonald's, Franchisees Retaliated After Fast-Food Strikes

The NLRB has filed 13 complaints against McDonald's, accusing the fast food giant of allowing employees to be fired for participating in protests or union activity.

McDonald's is being drawn in to court as a "joint employer," meaning that the NLRB wishes to hold the company liable for the alleged labor violations of its franchisees. Reuters reports that the complaints made by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will be heard by administrative law judges in March.

What is McDonald's being accused of?

The Top 10 Free Enterprise Blog Posts of 2014

As any small business owner knows, the world of small business is never boring. And 2014 was no different.

From the Ferguson riots to breastfeeding "nurse-ins," business owners were certainly faced with some new challenges in 2014. At the same time, business owners also continued to seek guidance on some of the more fundamental issues affected SMBs, such as managing employees, FMLA compliance, and customer rights.

FindLaw's Free Enterprise blog touched upon all these subjects and more in 2014. What were the biggest issues for business owners this year? Here are this year's Top 10 most-read Free Enterprise posts:

Whole Foods Sued Over Child's Death, Allegedly From Tainted Beef

Whole Foods is being sued by a Massachusetts couple over their son's death after he allegedly ate tainted beef that was purchased from the store.

Melissa and Andrew Kaye filed suit in federal court in Boston on Tuesday, alleging that the grass-fed beef purchased at a Whole Foods Market led to their 8-year-old son's death from E. coli in July. The Associated Press reports that Whole Foods issued a recall of ground beef products on August 15 after an investigation by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) into E. coli contamination.

What is a business' liability for this kind of E. coli-related death?

Zillow Lawsuits: 3 Legal Lessons for Business Owners

Online real estate marketplace Zillow was hit with five new lawsuits this week alleging employee discrimination, retaliation, and other mistreatment of workers.

The five lawsuits were all filed by the law firm of Geragos & Geragos, reports LAist. Geragos & Geragos is the same law firm representing a Zillow employee who sued the company earlier this month for sexual harassment. In that lawsuit, former Zillow employee Rachel Kremer described the company's Irvine, California office as having an "adult frat house" culture. The latest lawsuits also involve employees who worked at the Irvine office.

What can small business owners learn from these employment lawsuits filed against Zillow? Here are three lessons:

Wrong Prices on Your Website: What Can Happen?

Websites are pretty much a necessity for any business that wishes to remain relevant, and advertising prices on that website can be a good way to draw consumers in.

But what happens if you make an error in advertising your prices online? Is your business guilty of fraudulent advertising or deceptive business practices? Do you need to give a refund?

Here are a few things that can happen if your business lists the wrong prices on its website:

NLRB Reversal: Employees Can Use Work Email for Union Activity

The National Labor Relations Board ruled last week that employees should be permitted to use work email for union organizing activities.

The ruling represents a reversal of a 2007 NLRB decision allowing employers to prohibit such communications through company email, reports Reuters. The case involved employees of Purple Communications, a sign language interpreting service based in California. A workers' union had challenged a company policy prohibiting employees from using work email to "engage in activities on behalf of organizations."

What led to the NLRB's reversal on employees' rights to organize over company email?

EEOC Disability Discrimination Settlement Offers 3 Lessons for SMBs

The EEOC has announced that storage and security product manufacturer Justrite will pay $418,000 to settle claims of disability discrimination.

In an EEOC press release issued Wednesday, the agency noted that this settlement was the result of years of investigation into disability discrimination complaints at Justrite, based in Mattoon, Illinois. It resulted in some troubling findings about how the company treated employees seeking reasonable accommodations.

What three lessons can your business learn from this Justrite settlement?

5 Legal Ways for a Business to Respond to Customer Complaints

Your small business may not get complaints often, but failing to respond to them properly can be costly.

A Chinese restaurant in Brookline, Massachusetts, got a taste of customer dissatisfaction from a Harvard business professor who claimed he had been overcharged by all of $4. As Boston.com explains, what followed was an email back-and-forth between the restaurant and the patron -- an exchange that went viral.

Want to make sure your small business deals properly with customer complaints? Check out these five ways:

5 Ways Businesses Can Avoid Legal Trouble on Social Media

For most business owners, social media has now become a necessity for interacting with customers. But social media can also quickly become a source of trouble.

Some social media mishaps, like the Florida Chili's restaurant worker who posted pictures of himself posing shirtless in the restaurant's kitchen, can be more embarrassing than serious. But social media is also increasingly subject to regulatory scrutiny: As you may recall, retailer Nordstrom received a warning from the FTC after a company-sponsored "TweetUp" party ran afoul of FTC disclosure rules.

What can you do to avoid legal trouble on social media? Here are five suggestions:

Supreme Court's Amazon Security Screening Case: 5 Things to Know

The Supreme Court has determined that Amazon warehouse workers don't have to be paid for time spent in security screenings.

The Court's unanimous decision Tuesday clarifies what federal labor law requires for workers during off-the-clock security checks. According to Reuters, Amazon, CVS, and Apple have all had lawsuits brought against them for unpaid security-screening time, all of which may evaporate in light of this new ruling.

Here are five things your business should know about this Amazon security screening ruling:

Indoor 'Mistletoe Drone' Causes Injury: Legal Reminders for SMBs

A promotional stunt at a New York TGI Fridays restaurant nearly ended when a drone crashed into a photographer, lacerating her nose with its unguarded rotor.

The restaurant was flying the drone as part of a "Mobile Mistletoe" promotion in which the remote-controlled helicopter-style drone was adorned with mistletoe to inspire patrons to kiss on camera, reports Brooklyn Daily. But the holiday cheer was in short supply after one of the drones went out of control and took a chunk out of the nose of a photographer there to cover the event.

As the photographer's injuries did not appear to be serious, the restaurant may have narrowly dodged being involved in a potential personal injury lawsuit. But what lessons should business owners take from this close call with a drone?

Legal Sea Foods Facing Class Action Lawsuits Over Tipping

Legal Sea Foods, a seafood restaurant chain based in Boston, is facing two class-action lawsuits over its tipping policies.

Those behind the suits feel that Legal Sea Foods violated Massachusetts' state laws on tipping by allowing those who "rolled silverware in napkins" to share in the tips earmarked for servers and bartenders. These workers are paid less than minimum wage and are entitled to a share of the pooled tips, but with the tip law violated, employees are demanding the regular minimum wage -- $8 an hour, reports the Boston Globe.

How can your business legally deal with tips in light of Legal Sea Foods' potentially perilous predicament?

How Pirate's Booty Got 6 Class Action Lawsuits Dismissed

Pirate Brands, the makers of Pirate's Booty, succeeded in having six class-action lawsuits that had been filed against them by the same law firm before being consolidated dismissed this week.

The lawsuits had claimed that Pirate Brands misled consumers by labeling the company's products as "all natural." But the dismissals offer some lessons in how to combat an increasingly common form of class action lawsuit in which lawyers try to drive up the costs of litigation in order to promote a settlement, reports Forbes. These settlements often result in millions of dollars in legal fees for the law firm, but meager damages for class members.

What did Pirate Brands do to help themselves come out on top? Here are three lessons for business owners:

3 Ways to Legally Address Moonlighting Employees

Given the state of the economy, it isn't surprising that many employees may be working on their own side business or moonlighting when they're not on the clock.

Career Liberation Coach Andrea Shields Nunez tells The Huffington Post that in her own story of building her side business while working full time, she became increasingly disconnected and despondent. Employers can address the issue of employees who aren't engaged with their small business, but there are some legal considerations to keep in mind.

Here are three ways to legally address moonlighting employees:

UPS Pregnancy Case at the Supreme Court: 5 Things You Should Know

UPS defended itself in a pregnancy discrimination case before the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, in a case which business owners should keep on their radars.

The case, Young v. United Parcel Service, involved pregnant UPS driver Peggy Young and a policy that refused to give her lighter duty. The High Court is set to determine whether the policy and its implementation by UPS violated federal laws on pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

In the meantime, here are five things employers should know about this UPS pregnancy case:

Calling Workers 'Monkeys' Costs Company $250K: EEOC

A fueling company at Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport where African workers were referred to as "monkeys" has agreed to pay $250,000 to settle a racial harassment lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Swissport Fueling Inc. will also provide training on harassment based upon race or national origin to managers, supervisors, and HR employees, and implement policies prohibiting future harassment, the EEOC announced Tuesday in a statement on its website.

What are the details of the allegations made against the company?

What Are Reasonable Accommodations for Deaf Employees?

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, an employer is required to make reasonable accommodations to assist a deaf or hearing-impaired employee in performing his or her job.

Failing to do so may lead to legal action, fines, and penalties. A recent, somewhat ironic example: the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against a non-profit whose mission was supposedly to help disabled individuals. Instead, according to the EEOC, the company denied a deaf employee reasonable accommodations before firing him.

What are some of the reasonable accommodations the company could have provided to the deaf employee?

Obamacare SHOP Is Open for Businesses

More than a year after the Obamacare website had announced an online marketplace for business owners, the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP) is finally open.

According to The Washington Post, HealthCare.gov officially launched its small business-focused section two weeks ago, but traffic has been a bit slow. Despite health plan options being offered through the newly opened SHOP, early reports indicate that businesses haven't exactly surged toward the site.

Why not? And what should your small business know about the Obamacare SHOP?