Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

November 2015 Archives

It's the bookend of the biggest sales weekend of the year. Cyber Monday is here, and we hope your small business was ready. Because, as entrepreneurs have learned, Cyber Monday can actually hurt small and local businesses.

Here are a few tales of Cyber Monday shenanigans and how to avoid them:

The deals, the crowds, the lines, the inventory, the staff, the website, and even the credit card swipers. Every small business owner wants that Black Friday bump, but is your store ready for the rush?

If you're planning a big sale, whether online or at your store, you should also do your best to avoid any customer lawsuits this holiday season. Here are a few tips on prepping your small business for Black Friday:

EEOC Can Collect Relevant Employee Data for Investigations

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) can collect employee pedigree information that is relevant to investigations, reversing a lower court. The ruling stems from a labor agency investigation of a female worker fired for failing a strength test.

While it sounds a little scary to hear that data is being collected about employees, in fact the ruling is limited. The EEOC wants the information in this case to determine whether the company discriminated against women workers who had children by having them undergo a strength test before they returned from maternity leave.

How Businesses Can Inspire Employees to Exercise

As a business owner you have many concerns. Whether your employees make it to the gym is probably not one of them. But perhaps it should be.

The health and well-being of your workers contributes to your business. When your people are thriving and have time to look out for themselves and their health, they also have more and better energy to put into work. So here are five things you can do to help encourage employee exercise and ensure you get the best for your business, according to the Houston Chronicle.

3 Biggest Resume Red Flags

All things being equal, employers would rather have more job candidates to choose from. But if you're inundated with resumes, trying to sift the proverbial wheat from the chaff can be a challenge. Lucky for you, there are a few warning signs that will tip you off to an applicant's ability and attention to detail.

Here are three of the biggest resume red flags you should look out for when hiring:

Spotify's Sweet Parental Leave Program

The music streaming service Spotify announced a new parental leave policy this week that Ms. Magazine calls "impressive." The company is offering parents, whatever gender, 100 percent pay for six months.

Not only that. Spotify is also giving parents flexibility about how and when to take the time. The policy is being hailed by workers' rights organizations who hope that more American companies will adopt the Swedish cultural values that Spotify says is behind the new family leave.

Are Unicorns Real? SEC Investigates Tech Startup Valuations

Technology company startups are drawing regulatory scrutiny after Fidelity Investments reportedly downgraded some of its investments in so-called "unicorns." With companies like Uber collecting billions of dollars before going public -- and investors all hoping to bet on the next big thing -- the Securities and Exchange Commission is getting curious about how the financiers decide what the companies are worth and why the disparity in values.

The reason for this interest? Supposedly, the tech boom is on the wane. According to the Wall Street Journal, the SEC wants to figure out whether the process for valuing large startups is accurate and whether there are procedures in place to ensure fair valuations across companies.

Doing business online means you can reach your customers anywhere. But it also means that your customers can come from anywhere, and some of those "wheres" have different laws that apply to doing business online.

One of those "wheres" is Delaware, and one of those laws is DOPPA: the Delaware Online Privacy Protection Act. DOPPA goes into effect on January 1, 2016, but your small business might need to start gearing up now. Here's what you need to know about Delaware's new online privacy law:

Legal Tips for Hiring a Secret Shopper

A secret shopper is a person employed by a manufacturer or retailer to pose as a customer and evaluate the quality of service. The shopper offers you a view of your business from the consumer's perspective.

Given their secret nature, workers will not treat them differently from other customers. That can be a good or a bad thing, depending.

Paid Holidays Are Not a Legal Obligation for Private Employers

Thanksgiving is next week and employees around the nation are looking forward to an extra day -- or maybe two -- off. Federal employees, in fact, petitioned the President to get the day after Thanksgiving as a paid holiday, according to Government Executive.

But the petition fell far short of the required number of signatures, and it looks like federal workers won't make money while shopping after all. Mind you, they do get Thanksgiving paid. So, what does this mean for you and your obligations as an employer?

Can I Stream Personal Music Playlists in My Business?

Music listening has changed a lot in the last decade. We don't buy albums, we buy songs, and some of us buy no music at all, subscribing to music streaming services instead.

The streaming services -- Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, and others -- allow listeners to hear whatever songs they want in whatever order. The world of music is the listener's oyster ... more or less. Meaning, you can share your playlists at a party but not in a commercial venue.

When Does My Business Need In-House Counsel?

You need in-house counsel when calling your outside counsel becomes inefficient. Maybe you are spending too much on fees and having an employee makes more sense. Or maybe your business is growing and you just need a trusted counselor to talk to whenever issues arise -- say, someone who doesn't charge you by the minute.

There are many reasons that you might want a lawyer on hand. But of course hiring another employee is always a serious consideration and this one is particularly important. Your in-house lawyer has to be able to do all kinds of things and switch hats with ease.

H1B visas are known as 'The Holy Grail of Visas' both for the opportunity of everlasting citizenship and the seemingly impossible task of securing one. H1Bs are notoriously difficult to secure, in large part because of the requirements on both the prospective employee and the employer.

These requirements can be especially difficult for startups that are looking to expand with international talent. While a startup can sponsor an H1B visa, here are some specific challenges:

Invisible Coffee Makers Can't Enjoy Tip Pools, Court Says

While coffee gets much love in our culture, coffee makers will be cut of out of some communal tip pools. Specifically, in Montano v. Montrose Restaurant Associates, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found for waiters who complained that coffee makers who worked in the kitchen and should not share in their tips.

A waiter sued the Houston restaurant where he worked, claiming it violated federal law by requiring him to share tips with the coffee makers. The baristas in this case did not work in the front of the house, and the appellate court reversed a previous ruling that "the coffeeman was an employee who customarily and regularly received tips."

Are small businesses great places to work because they stay out of legal trouble? Or do they stay out of legal trouble because they are great places to work?

This might be a chicken and the egg conundrum, but either way, you want your small business to be a great place to work and you don't want any lawsuits. Here are ten ways to make that happen:

Apple Employees Won't Be Paid for Bag Checks

A federal court in California yesterday sided with Apple, and not employees, dismissing a class-action lawsuit by workers seeking compensation for unpaid time spent in bag searches. The judge considered the searches unrelated to work, Tech Times reported.

The lawsuit was filed by five Apple employees who represented more than 12,000 workers in 52 retail store locations in California. They claimed that Apple's searches took five to ten minutes every day and that, over a year, this amounted to $1,500 in unpaid wages per employee.

Can I Use Personal Assets for Running My Business?

Do not mix business and personal assets. Protect yourself by keeping the two separate and both aspects of your life will be better for it.

You'll limit liability and improve organization by making legal and financial distinctions. This will make you more efficient, whether doing business or engaged in personal pursuits.

DOJ Indicts Man Who Manipulated US Markets With False Tweets

The Department of Justice indicted a Scottish man who manipulated financial markets by tweeting false company information that impacted stock prices. The man acted on the false info to make trades but did not make much because he waited to long to sell his stock, reports Ars Technica.

The Scottish man, James Alan Craig, 62, did not make much on the scheme, authorities say. He did, however, undermine confidence in American markets. He also did manage to move the markets based on false info he tweeted from two fake market research firm accounts he created on the social network Twitter.

Top 6 Holiday Hiring Tips for Small Businesses

Finding the right people to do a job is not always easy. And holiday hiring can be a little harder because it usually happens in a hurry.

Experts advise against a harried approach to holiday hiring, however. There are some things you can do to ensure that you get the right people for the job and that means thinking ahead. Here is what a few human resources experts recommended on Monster to ensure effective hiring for the holiday season.

More and more small businesses are becoming more and more environmentally-friendly these days. And with all the advances in sustainable sourcing, energy efficiency, and reuse and recycling, going green is easier than ever.

Not only is it easy, but it might also boost your bottom line. Between grants, tax breaks, and customer goodwill, a small investment in green business practices could mean bigger returns in the future.

No one likes to be sued, especially a small business. Thoughts of bad publicity and lost sales already keep entrepreneurs up at night, let alone when they have civil liability attached. But in this day and age, getting sued may be inevitable. So it's dealing with a lawsuit that becomes important.

Obviously, your first steps after your business is sued are crucial, so make sure you make them count.

Should My Business Buy a Car?

Whether your business should own a car depends on what you do and how you plan to use the vehicle. Getting a company car is a big decision. It means added expenses and liability issues, but it can also be convenient and have tax advantages.

Amazon's First Bookstore Is Alive With Tech Charm

The future was going to be all electronic until Amazon realized people are still organic. Now, the giant that made online shopping massive has opened a proper shop. Blamed for putting brick and mortar stores out of business, Amazon is turning into one.

But if you are old enough to really remember bookstores, you may be sorely disappointed. According to Ars Technica reporter Sam Machkovech, who visited the Amazon flagship store in Seattle, "Amazon isn't just interested in offering a comfortable, curated book-buying experience. It also wants to whack everybody over the head with its rapidly expanding empire of devices and content-delivery ecosystems. Everywhere you turn, you'll find a Fire TV demo, or a table dedicated to Fire tablets ..."

An undercover cover letter sting exposed employers as discriminating against disabled job candidates, according to the New York Times. Researchers sent thousands of fake resum├ęs and cover letters to employers, some purporting to be from applicants with a disability. The results showed that employers 26 percent less likely to show interest in candidates that disclosed a disability.

Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers are prohibited from discriminating against disabled persons in job application and procedures. So how do you make sure your small business is ADA compliant?

Forcing a Customer to Prepay Is Asking for a Lawsuit

It's normal to prepay at the drive-thru, but since when do restaurants single out customers and charge in advance of serving food? That's what happened to a regular customer at Elmer's in Oregon. When he was suddenly asked to prepay for his meal, he was surprised, then suspicious, and now he is suing for discrimination, according to Uptown Magazine.

You don't have to be a large retailer to take advantage of holiday shopping, and you don't need a permanent store to reach customers. A holiday pop-up shop can be the perfect boost to your small business's revenue, provided you do it right.

There are quite a few legal hoops you've got to jump through when prepping your holiday pop-up store, and we've got them all in a handy checklist for you. The three (or so) legal L's of a pop-up shop: