Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

August 2016 Archives

International entrepreneurs starting businesses in the U.S. may see a few impediments to immigration removed under a new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) rule. The International Entrepreneur Rule would grant qualifying foreign nationals temporary immigration relief if their entry into the country "would provide a significant public benefit through the substantial and demonstrated potential for rapid business growth and job creation."

While the Obama administration's proposed rule is not yet final, it also does not require Congressional approval. So to whom would the International Entrepreneur Rule apply and how would it work?

Social media has presented a plethora of potential challenges for employers. Should you follow your employees on Twitter? How should you handle an employee's offensive personal tweets? Should you fire an employee for airing his grievances on Twitter, complaining about wages, and circulating a petition alleging workers couldn't take breaks?

While the answers to those first two questions are up to you, the third has just been decided by the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB recently ruled that Chipotle violated federal labor laws when it fired an employee over tweets that the burrito chain claimed were in violation of its social media policy.

If it can happen to Mickey D's, it can happen to Marky Mark. The former rapper's family burger joint, Wahlburgers, has been sued for unpaid wages, claiming "rampant ... wage theft and violations of federal and state labor law" at the Coney Island franchise since opening in 2015.

And if it can happen to the most famous member of the Funky Bunch, it can happen to you. So find out what's going on in the lawsuit against the Wahlbergs and how your small business can avoid it.

A federal court in Michigan ruled in favor of a funeral home that fired a transgender employee, saying the home is protected by religious freedom laws. While conceding the transitioning employee could file a gender discrimination lawsuit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the judge in charge of the suit said the funeral home, which also operates as a ministry, is protected under the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Here's a closer look at the ruling, and what it could mean for your small business.

Someday in the future, perhaps in a more enlightened age, we won't have unpaid internships and young people who can afford to work for free aren't gaining a(nother) leg up on their less well-heeled competition. Where employers aren't skirting wage and hour laws to gain access to unpaid labor. And where prospective entrants into the 9-to-5 workforce can at least get paid to learn the soul-crushing misery of daily office life.

Until then, we'll have to settle for a steady stream of unpaid interns giving survival tips to other unpaid interns, some of which include taking on another part-time job that actually pays you money. That was one of five tips from an unpaid female intern of Ivanka Trump, a woman who's website includes the hashtag #WomenWhoWork but scant advice on how to get adequately compensated for that work.

Most American workers are offered more vacation time than ever. And we're still loathe to take a day off. Some companies are offering unlimited vacation time, and others are forcing employees to take time off. (These two trends may even be related.) And despite employers' best intentions, there's still the issue of vacation shaming -- judging employees and peers for taking time off work.

So small business owners are back to the same old conundrum: how do you encourage employees to take the time off they need while maintaining the focus, commitment, and productivity necessary to stay afloat and grow?

Coaches aren't just for athletes anymore. Many of us are turning to non-professional mentors or "life coaches" for help in finding direction, organization, and drive, and entrepreneurs and small business owners are no different.

Enter the online business coach. While it might seem like your small business could use the same sort of perspective and guidance as you do, there are some risks associated with business coaches, especially online.

A grand total of eight states have new marijuana laws on the upcoming November ballot, ranging from recreational cannabis in California to restricted medical marijuana in Florida. And if small business owners aren't keeping an eye on pot referendums in their state, they should be.

If recreational weed is legal in your state, does that mean employees can have a toke at lunch? If a staff member has a prescription to treat an ADA-qualifying disability, can she use in the office? What happens to your small business's drug policy when state marijuana laws change?

By now, most of us have heard of PTSD -- posttraumatic stress disorder. Most commonly associated with soldiers returning from war, PTSD can occur in anyone exposed to a traumatic event, like gun violence, sexual assault, and extreme traffic collisions.

While PTSD is classified as a "trauma- and stressor-related disorder" in the latest edition of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, does that mean it is considered a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act? And, if so, does your small business need to provide accommodations for employees with PTSD?

Small businesses are always going to try and take advantage of world sporting events to boost their revenue or recognition. And the entities that put on those events will always try and protect their trademarks, allowing only official sponsors to use certain terms and images.

Just like FIFA with the World Cup, and the NFL with the Super Bowl, the United States Olympic Committee is extremely protective over the use of Olympic trademarks and terminology. Too protective? The USOC recently sent a letter warning businesses to "not create social media posts that are Olympic themed, that feature Olympic trademarks, that contain Games imagery or congratulate Olympic performance unless you are an official sponsor as specified in the Social Media Section." So how can your small business tweet and share the Games without breaking the law?

It's 2016 -- by now every small business owner should know that sexual harassment cannot be tolerated in the workplace and even one sexual harassment lawsuit is one too many. Fostering a healthy work environment and preventing sexual harassment at your company can be an around the clock enterprise, but it is well worth the effort (and also legally required).

Here's how to avoid a sexual harassment claim at your small business, and what to do (and not do) if you can't avoid one.

You don't have to be in the pot business to be a pot-friendly small business. Maybe you're located in one of the few recreationally legal states and you want to offer your employees awesome benefits. Or maybe you're in a medicinal marijuana state and you don't feel like firing a well-regarded, quadriplegic employee who has a prescription to treat his violent muscle spasms.

Either way, if you're considering a pro-pot policy at your small business, you should be aware that you might be wading into some legally murky waters.

You already know that you can't discriminate based on disability in your hiring process. And by now you should know that the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) sets out the disabilities covered by federal anti-discrimination laws, and whether the ADA applies to your business. What may be difficult is keeping track of who qualifies as a disabled employee.

For instance, is obesity a disability under the ADA? And if so, what qualifies as a reasonable accommodation? Here's what you need to know.

Pokemon Go is a legitimate sensation. The game became so popular so quickly, players were driving their cars into trees and getting arrested while playing. And any small business owner's eyes will turn into dollar signs when she hears that a platform has more daily users than Twitter.

So how can your small business break into the Pokemon Go market without breaking the law? Here's what you need to know.

Starting a small business can take many forms: consulting out of your living room, building in your garage, or cutting the ribbon on a storefront. And your small business can exist in many corporate structures: a sole proprietorship, partnership, or LLC. In almost all of these iterations, however, there is normally just one owner or a small group of investor-shareholders.

But what if you want to do something different? They say that giving your employees stock options can incentivize them to work harder and smarter for the company, so what happens if you make all of your employees owners? Here's what you need to know about employee-owned businesses:

5 Things Employers Do That Get Them Sued

It's great to have people working for you but it also means there are a lot of rules to follow and basic regulations to understand. Sometimes employers do the wrong thing because it seems right, or to be nice to employees, or to save money, but failure to follow the law can lead to costly employment lawsuits.   

The law varies from state to state and employment involves overlapping regulations -- federal, state, and local -- so there is no blanket set of rules that will apply to everyone in every industry everywhere. But there are general principles. Here are five things employers do that commonly get them sued, according to the California Chamber of Commerce.