Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

August 2015 Archives

Dealing with customer theft is one thing, but what happens when it's your own employees stealing from your store? Of course there are criminal laws against theft, but that may not get you the full value of what was stolen.

So can you file a lawsuit against an employee for theft? And, if so, what kinds of theft are covered?

I've been on a search for the perfect fried chicken sandwich, trying just about everything from Chick-Fil-A and Carl's Jr. to local spots and food trucks. I have yet to make it to Church's, but based on one ex-employee's legal claim, maybe I need to give their "Pechu Sandwich" a try.

Norberto Colón Lorenzana attempted to patent what I assumed was a classic staple of American cuisine, claiming he invented it in 1991. But a federal court shut him down, saying the fried chicken sandwich could not be copyrighted, meaning restaurants, drive thrus, and food trucks are free to keep cranking out deliciousness without paying Lorenzana royalties.

As a small business owner, you're probably more focused on your product than on employee pensions, but if an employee dies, knowing how your company and the state deal with death benefits could come in handy.

So here's a primer on what death benefits are, who's eligible to receive them, and how they could impact your business.

It says it right there on the label: "Die Weltmarke Mit Den 3 Streifen," or, "The Brand With the Three Stripes." In fact, those three stripes have been synonymous with the adidas brand for so long, you'd think they wouldn't even need to trademark it.

But they have, and now adidas America has filed a federal lawsuit against Forever 21, claiming the fashion retailer is selling apparel with adidas's signature "Three Stripe Mark."

Everyone wants to work hard at their job, but some job sites don't work for everyone. Specifically, workers who have environmental sensitivities can have disabling reactions to substances in the air or office that most people wouldn't notice.

An estimated 15 percent of the population has some form of environmental sensitivity, meaning that one of your employees may be suffering from a hidden disability. As an employer, how can you accommodate an employee with environmental sensitivities?

One of the most important contracts you can sign as a small business owner is your commercial lease. But what if you sign the lease and then your circumstances change? Or you need to clarify certain terms of the lease?

The good news is that your lease terms may not be set in stone -- there are ways to amend a commercial lease. It will just take a little work between you and your landlord to negotiate any new terms.

You didn't come up with that fantastic business plan just to have someone else do it first. And you didn't invent that device so that someone else could sell it without paying you.

The business world can be a cut-throat industry, so how do you make sure someone else doesn't steal your best business ideas? You turn to intellectual property laws. Here are three IP laws and how to use them to protect your business:

If you're just getting your small business off the ground, you may be trying to figure out how you want to organize. Go big as a corporation or LLC? Go charitable as a non-profit? Or go it alone as a sole proprietorship?

One of the most popular options for small businesses, due to its simplicity and lack of formal filing requirements, is the partnership. Here are five reasons a partnership might work for your small business:

We cannot stress this enough: interns are not free labor. You can't use interns like employees and then not pay them or not provide any educational experience.

This is what the Olsen twins seem to have done with their interns, leading to litigation from one intern that has possibly ballooned into a 40-intern class action lawsuit.

Most companies are aware that matching contributions for employee donations to charity is one of the best gifts you can give your employees. Matching your employees' gifts can demonstrate that you care about the issues that they care about and it gives employees a voice in the company's charitable efforts.

But no good deed goes un-litigated, as they say, and employee gift matching programs can raise some legal concerns for small businesses.

Women: You're not crazy. That feeling like you can't get warm in the office? That's because the office air conditioning wasn't designed for you.

And it turns out a chilly office can have some adverse effects on the entire staff. So, bosses, here's how to make your office a comfortable and constructive work environment for the whole team, not just the dudes.

Companies, especially small businesses, can operate in a constant state of flux. As your business grows and shifts, it may require a different corporate structure. Maybe your partnership now needs to be an LLC, or your LLC needs to sell shares as a corporation. (As entrepreneurs and optimists, we don't often think about our businesses moving in the other direction.)

But if you've already incorporated, can you change your incorporation status? And if so, how?

These days, most small businesses would have their Internet domains reserved before they even signed the incorporation papers. In fact, I'm sure many companies failed to even launch because a url or Twitter handle was already taken.

But that wasn't always the case. Back in the old days, folks would just start a business, give it the name they wanted, and wait a few decades until Al Gore invented the Internet. Then some computer geek could sit on thousands of domain names and wait for the company to buy it from him. So how do you your company's Internet identity back from these domain squatters?

We usually think of sexual harassment as an overly touchy boss, or the one coworker always making inappropriate jokes. That leaves one form of harassment largely overlooked: harassment by customers.

One case in particular was ignored to the point that a Safeway employee was compelled to quit her job. Now she's suing the supermarket over repeated sexual harassment from a customer. We know employers have a duty to prevent sexual harassment by employees, but does that duty extend to customer sexual harassment?

Can I Do Business in Iran?

Just like the recent reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba, business owners are wondering what the new nuclear deal with Iran will mean for commercial opportunities in the country.

While some American companies are already doing business in Iran, certain barriers, both legal and cultural, still remain. So here's what you need to know about setting up shop in post-sanction Iran.

Whether for religious or political reasons, it seems like small business owners are constantly testing the boundaries of their right to refuse service to certain customers. Despite the fact that such discrimination is wrong on moral grounds and that turning away paying customers could hurt your bottom line, it could also get you sued.

So learned Florida Gun Supply, when it was sued after proclaiming itself a Muslim-free zone.