Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

December 2015 Archives

Going Global To-Do: 5 Tips for Business Visionaries

Many business people dream big and see possibilities where others do not. That's how they got into business to begin with. So it's natural for you to want to expand and to have grand visions of your business abroad.

But in between vision and execution, there are many steps, and that applies to starting a business at home. So when you want to take that idea out into the greater world, it means much more work. Here are five tips, adapted from Entrepreneur.

4 Environmental Laws Every Business Needs to Know

For a small business getting a handle on federal environmental law can seem like a huge headache. But the Environmental Protection Agency has resources for small businesses to help you run a thriving business that makes a minimal environmental footprint.

There are tax credits and even prestigious awards for businesses that work with the environment in mind. If you are so inspired, running a green business can be part of your theme, brand, and marketing strategy. But first, here are some basics on key federal environmental regulations.

Some jobs are naturally dangerous, some are unnecessarily so. And the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Justice have announced a new effort to investigate and criminally prosecute health and safety violations in the workplace.

The Worker Endangerment Initiative is a joint undertaking uniting the DOL's Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), and Wage and Hour Division (WHD) with the DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division and the U.S. Attorneys' Offices with the goal of reducing workplace death and injuries. So what does the new initiative mean for your small business?

Do I Have to Pay Time-and-a-Half for Holidays?

The holiday season is mostly behind us, but there is still a big one ahead. New Year's Day is a secular occasion that inspires celebration in people of many cultures. We raise a glass, relieved that the past is done, and we resolve to make the year ahead better than the last.

New Year's celebrations can be a great way to clear the slate. But the law does not require private employers to pay time-and-a-half to workers who toil on special occasions. Nor do employers have to give employees time off to mark the special day. While state laws vary, with few exceptions, private employers are rarely obligated to provide holiday pay.

Retirement ain't what it used to be. Or when. As participation in the workforce has been dropping for those under the age of 55, it has been on the rise for older Americans. So your small business may be faced with the prospect of hiring employees with a few more gray hairs than normal.

Of course, a retiree will cease to become one once they re-enter the workforce. So what are the legal concerns when it comes to hiring, employing, and firing retirees?

How to Accept Food Stamps at Your Store

It takes more than a snap of the fingers to participate in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. In fact, businesses must be authorized to participate and with some exceptions, have to pay for the equipment that allows them to participate in the government benefits program, commonly called "food stamps."

But it can mean more customers and added revenue, too. So let's take a look at how SNAP works for stores, according to the federal government.

Seattle and California, birthplaces of the $15 an hour minimum wage and the app that lets you spend it, have been at the forefront of labor and tech innovation. And now the Emerald City and the Golden State may be creating another addition to modern employment law: a union for gig workers.

West Coast legislation could give gig workers like Uber and Lyft drivers the ability to organize and form unions, as well as collectively bargain for pay and benefits. Sounds like an old idea is disrupting the disrupters.

President Gives Federal Workers a Small Gift

Presents from the President at Christmas time are particularly touching. Federal workers love them because they come in the form of an executive order for time off.

In fact, some federal workers petitioned for the very gift the President ended up giving them. Or close. He did fall short. President Obama announced that he was giving federal workers a half day on Christmas Eve, or December 24, according to Fortune.

Should a Business Change Its Name on Bad News?

Isis is the Greek name for an ancient Egyptian goddess who could bring the dead to life. It was, until relatively recently, a pretty popular name for girls, stores, companies, and more. Bob Dylan wrote a song called Isis and there are countless new age books about the goddess.

But today, businesses are rethinking the name, as it has been stained by its association with the terrorist organization ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. For example, ISIS Pharmaceuticals announced that it is changing the business name and trading symbols after a year of considering the move, reports Reuters.

Is Your Business Liable for Stolen Packages?

This is your busy season, a critical time of the year for your business. You are sending out products, and lots of them. You do your best to get everything out on time but are concerned about package woes. As Christmas approaches, you worry. Who pays if they are stolen?

It depends on a few things, but chances are good that it will not be you held liable for package loss and package theft (unless delivery is your business and you've been negligent). Here is what you can do to make that clear to your customers.

If you're an entrepreneur in a state that has legalized recreational marijuana sales, you want to get the word out about your product. And you might not want to limit your market to just your state. After all, pot users live everywhere, and if they live in a nearby state that doesn't allow legal weed, they might be eager to give your dispensary a visit.

But hold on -- before you start placing newspaper ads in neighboring states or firing off TV or radio spots aimed at out-of-staters, you should know that even states that allow marijuana sales have restrictions on how marijuana can be advertised.

5 Tips to Prevent and Prepare for Business Lawsuits

You worry about your business and try to do everything you can to help it thrive. You set goals, you have plans, and you are strategic, thinking long term. But one thing still stumps you. How do you avoid lawsuits?

Well, there are no guarantees for anybody, person or business. But there are some things you can do to stay out of trouble, or to at least be prepared should you get sued. Here are five tips that will help get you thinking about lawsuit preparedness and prevention.

As soon as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) became small enough and affordable enough for just about anyone to have, we've marveled at their myriad uses. You can battle other drones in aerial combat, or get beer delivered to your ice fishing shack (or at least you used to, before the pesky FAA got involved). And, of course, Amazon was at the forefront, pushing for drone delivery.

But what about drones in the workplace? Is it legal for your small business to be using drones?

5 Tips for Hiring Telecommuters

Every employer wants reliable workers. But when hiring a telecommuter -- someone who will work outside of the office -- reliability is really critical. You cannot afford to pay someone who must be watched or wants a lot of guidance, so the ideal telecommuter is also independent. How do you find a person who will work dependably while needing little hand-holding?

Does My Business Need a License to Sell Online?

Not every business needs a license. You can open an online store with no license, depending on what you are selling, of course. If you are selling books or clothes or crafts made in the US, you will not need any special license.

But if you would normally need a license to sell a particular item, warns Entrepeneur -- say, food, medical devices, diet pills, or nutritional supplements -- selling online does not relieve you of your legal obligations.

Is Your Business Export-Ready? A Quick Test

Exporting is a big step. If you are thinking of taking it -- or better yet, long before -- assess the likelihood of success.

Of course, a serious assessment takes time and requires expert advice. But here is a ten-question yes-or-no test, adapted from Export.gov. Considering these questions can help you start to figure out whether your business is ready to conquer a new corner of the world.

Here's a fun realization for employers: at least half of your employees are probably on the Internet right now, watching the latest Adele parody video, arguing about guns with their uncle on Facebook, or finishing up their Christmas shopping on Amazon. Whatever they're doing online, they're not doing work.

A new FindLaw.com survey found that 50 percent of Americans admit to using the Internet at work for personal reasons. So, is having your staff pass around John Oliver's latest skewering just the cost of doing business these days, or is there something you can do about it?

How to Fire a Bad Business Partner

You believe your business partner is not performing and that you would be better off without that person. What can you do? The answer depends on how your partnership is structured legally, or your deal, and what you can afford.

If money is no object for you and your partner is not intent on remaining in the business, you could buy them out. But life and business are rarely that simple. So, unless you planned for a partnership change in advance, here are three approaches to consider.

Most small business owners structure their companies and ownership interests so that the debts of the business don't become the debts of the owner. (We're looking at you, sole proprietors.) But what if the shoe is on the other foot? Could your personal debt or bankruptcy filing drag your business down?

For entrepreneurs that already put too much of themselves into their business, it might be nice to know that personal debt isn't one of those things. So here are some protections that businesses have against the personal debt of their owners.

The recent mass shooting in San Bernardino was the 355th of its kind this year alone. Coming as it did -- perpetrated on location at an office holiday by a fellow employee -- it was a wake-up call to employers and small businesses regarding not only safety but also liability.

And for concerned companies, an insurance broker is now offering "active shooter" insurance policies that can cover gun violence. Originally pitched to colleges and universities, businesses large and small are now looking into expanding their insurance coverage.

A Fresh Approach to Hiring and Employment in 2016

Employers and employees rely on each other. Yet, there is often a deep divide between them, and a disparate understanding of needs. Though it seems simple enough, there is more to recruiting and keeping talent than finding the right person to fill a role.

In an article about updating human resources practices in Forbes, veteran recruiter Liz Ryan explains that businesses can drive good workers away with bad practices. Here are some tips on how to build what Ryan calls "a human workplace" that attracts and keeps talent.

Quick Guide to Business Sustainability

What will make your business green and sustainable depends on what your business does. Food service will have different requirements than a cleaning supply or service company, of course.

But there are some general things every business must do in order to improve sustainability. For example, you must first figure out your current environmental footprint to know how to improve it. So, here is a quick guide, adapted from the Massachusetts Food Association Member Green Guidelines. It provides a snapshot of the sustainability issues and potential resources you will have to address to make your business green.

Facebook's Zuckerberg Comments on Parental Leave

In a Facebook post, the company's founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, announced he is taking two months paternity leave when his child is born. His wife, Dr. Priscilla Chan, is also planning to take time off, Zuckerberg wrote this month, citing studies that show leave for working parents is good for families.

Zuckerberg is highlighting an issue that has long plagued working parents and is receiving increasing attention from the media and a few tech companies. Recently, Spotify announced a very generous six-month leave for parents, and Amazon and Netflix have also been lauded for new leave policies, Venture Beat reports. But for many, extended parental leave is still a dream.

We know that most charitable donations are tax deductible. And we're always looking for ways to lower our small business' tax rate. So what if your small business wants to make a charitable donation? Or better yet, set up a tithing?

A small business tithing might be tax deductible, but it will depend on what organization your small business is contributing to and how your small business is organized. Here are a few keys to whether your small business can deduct tithing:

Is My Business Worth Selling?

Only you can decide if your business is worth selling and that probably depends on more than money. How much your business is worth hinges on many factors, including the industry, the economic climate, assets and liabilities, revenue, and much more, some of which cannot be easily translated into dollar figures. Some things have value and are important to the sale of a business but are not easy to quantify.

A business may be worth a lot of money in theory but you can't sell without buyers. Conversely, even a new business that is relatively untested could get an offer. Maybe the buyer wants a ready-made set-up or your style. In order to determine whether the business is worth selling and how much it is worth, you have to get organized and creative.

Uber Drivers' Class Action Threatened by Complicated Damage Calculations

Uber drivers trying to sue the ride share company as a class are struggling with damages and their case has not really even started yet. Last week drivers went before US District Court Judge Edward Chen in San Francisco and asked him to allow the case to continue though it already seems that it would be very difficult to calculate damages if they do succeed in proving that they were employees and not contractors, Courthouse News reported.

Uber drivers were willing to forgo some possible damages in order to be certified as a class. The drivers' lawyer said they did not need to calculate water and mints and other such things that might make damages tough to determine. Meanwhile, Uber's lawyer joked that the opposition was already "giving away half the store."

What to Do If Customers Don't Pay

Every small business owner knows payment collection woes. You want to be cool with customers and you cannot afford to alienate anyone, but when customers don't pay, you're the one making excuses to your creditors.

What can you do to balance everyone's needs and keep business humming happily? Get friendly, flexible, and organized. Finally, get defensive if need be.