Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

February 2017 Archives

Savvy small business owners aren't just looking at their bottom line -- they're paying attention to politics as well. And while the Supreme Court is ideally apolitical, the choices a president makes in appointing justices to the court is anything but.

Enter Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump's pick to replace Antonin Scalia on the Court. Gorsuch's 10-year tenure on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has given small business owners quite a few indications on how he might rule should he be confirmed, and the majority of his rulings were pro-business.

As an employer, facing lawsuits from current or former employees may be an unavoidable consequence of doing business. Sometimes, however, lawsuits are the direct result of an employer hiring a bad, or maybe just naive, boss.

There are countless reasons why employees decide to sue. For employers and bosses, both new and old, the following five tips will provide some guidance on how to avoid employee lawsuits.

For years, Uber has been held up as the model for tech startups: a case study in "disruption." But as much as other companies have tried to learn from its success, the ridesharing giant has also provided some valuable lessons in what not to do.

Case in point: Last week, a former Uber engineer Susan Fowler published a withering blog post about her time at the company, extensively detailing numerous instances of sexual discrimination and harassment. While Uber might have been right in hiring former U.S. attorney general Eric Holder to investigate Fowler's allegations, the company's initial responses to her claims were anything but.

A recently filed lawsuit that involves the Hooters restaurant chain, sex discrimination, and retaliation, has been making headlines. But unlike the discrimination and retaliation lawsuits against Hooters we've become accustomed to seeing as a result of the adult entertainment aspect of the establishment, the restaurant isn't actually being sued here. Rather, a biomedical company is in the hot-seat due to a senior vice president's request to hold a meeting at a Hooters restaurant.

The high ranking executive proposed having a one-on-one lunch meeting with a female employee at Hooters. As shocking as that may be, in and of itself, what's more is that the executive allegedly stated that he liked the restaurant because he liked being served by attractive women. Although the employee suggested an alternative, and the meeting was not actually held at the Hooters, the employee, and her boss, were both terminated shortly after she filed a complaint about the proposed meeting location.

Time is running out to get your tax filing in, but there's good news for all you procrastinators: We've rounded up all our best tax advice for small businesses to help make sure that filing is correct, and help you find any deductions or benefits you might've overlooked.

And if you've already filed and are already looking ahead to tax time next year, these articles can help prepare your startup or small biz for 2018's filing.

As individuals and small business owners prepare for tax season, it’s a good time to review some of those weird and wacky deductions that small business owners and professionals have tried to squeak in. From concealed weapons to petting zoos, what can be considered a deductible business expense is rightfully considered a rather large moving target, with some items being easier to hit than others.

What an individual or small business owner can deduct will generally depend on the nature of their business, and whether the expense is necessary and ordinary for the business. While a necessary expense is not required to be an essential expense, at the end of the day, deductions need to make sense.

The story has become so common, it's hard to even distinguish the cases: same-sex couple goes to wedding vendor; vendor refuses service based on religious beliefs; same-sex couple sues for discrimination; and a court rules in favor of same-sex couple.

This time is was the Washington State Supreme Court, ruling that a florist's refusal to provide flowers for a former customer's same-sex wedding violated state civil rights laws. Here's a look at the ruling at how it might affect your small business.

President Trump has been bullish on immigration reform, even if his efforts thus far have been more reminiscent of a bull in a china shop. After an initial executive order banning refugees and even visa holders from seven majority Muslim countries was blocked by federal courts, Trump is looking to re-issue a revised order and appears to be targeting other immigration programs as well.

Next up on the chopping block might be the H1-B visa program, through which American business -- many of them the biggest tech firms in the country -- can hire skilled foreign workers. Last month, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said a possible executive order on work visas "is part of a larger immigration effort" based on "an overall need to look at all of these measures." So what could H1-B visa reform mean for your small business or startup?

Email. Social media. Even personal cell phones. There is a lot of employee activity that employers my legally monitor. But what about their actual movements throughout the office? Most employers can install and run video surveillance in the office, but that's yesterday's technology. Nowadays, bosses have employee badges fitted with microphones and sensors that can track physical and verbal interactions, all through an app.

So is this kind of movement monitoring legal? And does it depend on the reasoning behind the surveillance?

Florida lawmakers introduced a controversial gun bill this month that increases the burdens on private businesses within the state that want their premises to be "gun-free zones." Under state law, in Florida, and most states for that matter, businesses can prohibit customers from bringing firearms onto the premises, even if the customer has a valid permit for carrying the weapon.

The proposed legislation would still allow businesses in Florida to ban guns from their premises, but it would create statutory liability against the business if a gun owner is injured by violence in gun-free zones. While the bill still has not passed, for Florida's businesses, it is far and away the most relevant piece of Florida's current slew of reverse gun-reform legislation currently being proposed.

Unicorns, at least in venture capital circles are very real. Defined as a startup that hasn't actually brought a product to market, yet is somehow valued at more than $1 billion, unicorns have real employees, and thus real employee problems. And Magic Leap, "one of the most well-funded startups of all time," looks like it has more real problems than most.

Tannen Campbell, Magic Leap's former Head and Vice President of Strategic Marketing and Brand Identity who was hired to make the company and its products more female-friendly, is now suing the company, claiming "hostile environment sex discrimination and retaliation." Her lawsuit is a laundry list of inappropriate comments, behavior, and sexual stereotypes in the tech industry, and even includes some discussion of wizards.

A recent trademark violation lawsuit explains why the burger chain In-N-Out is steamed at a Wichita, Kansas dry cleaner. The dry cleaner, which opened last year, decided to more than just fluff before folding, it decided to go by the name In-N-Out Cleaners, and also used a logo and had signage that was stunningly similar to the famous burger joint.

The dry cleaner, since being notified, has taken down their similar looking signs, both in real life and online, and has also stopped using the name In-N-Out. Nevertheless, the burger chain's lawsuit is persisting, seeking not just compensatory damages, but also punitive damages.

As a small business owner, your profit margins are already probably thin. So when tax time rolls around, you're probably trying to take advantage of every legally allowable tax deduction. But after already deducting your legal fees, holiday gifts, tithing, and even donuts, what's left for you to write off?

Quite a few things, actually, according to Forbes. Here are a few they highlighted for small business owners this year.

Running a brick and mortar business is ripe with pitfalls. On top of ensuring the premises are safe for everyone, accessible to those with disabilities, and meets the business's goals, many business owners wonder about their legal obligation in terms of providing customers with a restroom.

State and local laws and regulations lay out the minimum physical requirements for what a business's public accommodation must provide. So, whether your business must provide a public restroom for customer will depend on where your business is located.

A lawsuit filed by two consumer advocacy NPOs and a labor union yesterday against President Trump, the United States, and several high ranking executive branch officials, is challenging the '1 in 2 out' executive order signed on January 30, 2017. The controversial executive order not only ties the hands of federal regulators, but also ties their purse strings. In a nut shell, the EO requires that for every one new regulation promulgated by federal agencies, there must be two regulations repealed. Additionally, the EO requires that all funding for new regulations be provided via the funding that was intended for the repealed regulations.

The official position from the White House on this EO is that the intention is to spur federal deregulation, which they hope will stimulate business growth. It is no secret that the president has an agenda to loosen federal oversight on business, and he even vowed to repeal 75 percent of all federal regulations. The lawsuit challenges not only the constitutionality of the EO, it also challenges whether the president has the authority to issue this sort of an order. Businesses should keep their eyes on this lawsuit, and how and whether this EO gets executed, particularly if they expend resources on regulatory compliance.

In response to the executive order on immigration prohibiting entry to the US from the seven identified Muslim nations, Starbucks had a few major announcements. The coffee behemoth announced that not only will they be hiring 10,000 refugees worldwide; they also announced a new employee program that provides their employees with free legal advice on immigration issues.

The free immigration legal advice program is meant to help US Starbucks employees that are immigrants and may be concerned about whether the new executive order, which was blocked by a federal judge, impacts them. Additionally, employees are not limited to asking questions about the EO, they can ask any of their legal immigration questions, or other questions about travel restrictions as well. In addition to Starbucks, several tech giants came out against the president's immigration ban. Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft all signed onto a legal brief, with numerous other corporations, which decried the ban, stating that it would inflict harm on American businesses.

The legal marijuana industry did almost $7 billion in sales in 2016, meaning more than a few entrepreneurs are wondering how they can get in on the bud boom. At the moment, though, conflicting state and federal drug laws can make navigating new cannabiz opportunities a bit tricky.

So if you're looking to get a marijuana startup off the ground, here are a few legal issues you'll want to consider first.

While it is possible that the internet contains the exact specific answer to your legal question, it is also possible that someone will try to murder you and your unborn child when you respond to a classified ad online for baby clothes. In the digital wild wild west, business owners need to be extraordinarily careful when relying on legal advice they find online, even from blog posts, and especially from Q&A sources like Reddit.

Below you'll find 3 useful tips to keep in mind when looking for legal answers or advice online.

Yes, it's almost that time of year again: Time to gear up and get ready for your small business's tax filings. But this year could be a little different, thanks to a few new tax laws going into effect.

Here are a few of those new laws and how they could impact your small business.

Running a business and being the boss has its challenges. One common struggle small business owners face involves firing employees who struggle with personal issues, illness, or disability. Sometimes an employee's illness or disability can lead to work rules violations, such as missing work unannounced or taking additional break-time. This is common for sufferers of anxiety and depression.

In addition to worrying about the health consequences of firing an ill employee, you may also worry about legal consequences involved. Can you get sued? This may especially be a worry if the employee requested a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Fortunately, a recent federal appellate decision in favor of AT&T can provide much needed guidance to employers both small and large facing this sort of situation.

Not every job pays all the bills. And not every full-time job leads to emotional fulfillment. That means that employees will be eyeing other opportunities, and in some cases working those jobs concurrently with full-time employment. These days more people than ever have some sort of gig on the side, and whether that side business is profitable or not could mean a huge difference come tax time.

So how can employees make sure their side business is legal? And how can employers deal with the side businesses of their staff?

No one really knows yet if this is good or bad, but 2017 is shaping up to be a year of big changes for businesses, small and large. Many of the big changes are going to be coming as a result of new anticipated laws and regulations that affect businesses. As a business owner, if you don't already have an attorney on retainer, you may want to consider getting one before you need one.

Hiring a business attorney before encountering legal trouble is generally advisable. Having an attorney who will notify you when laws affecting your business, or interests, change is a much better position to be in than having to guess whether or not new laws apply to your enterprise.

Below you'll find the top 3 reasons to put a business lawyer on retainer in 2017.

If you're in business, you better be in the data security business. Even if you don't transact all of your business online, and even if you don't even have a website, if you're processing payments electronically, that data could be at risk. Everything from customer information to proprietary technology can be valuable to hackers, making cybersecurity perhaps your most important investment.

Not sure where to get started? Here are five important cybersecurity questions, and where to go for answers.

You got your employees in the office, so now how do you keep them in line? You'd hope that the interview process would've weeded out any bad apples, but even a good egg can have a bad day. So how do you punish a misbehaving employee without incurring his or her legal wrath?

Here's how to discipline employees, legally, from personnel policies to social media suspensions.

People are people, and crying is something that people do. Literally, there is a connection between the brain and the tear ducts that gets triggered during severe emotional reactions. As people, when we see another person crying, that alone can trigger an emotional response. In an office or work environment, a crying employee can be both a cause for concern and a disruption.

As a manager or business owner, or even a fellow employee, if you see an employee or co-worker crying, knowing what to do could be critical, both for the crying employee and business. If an employee is crying at work, an employer does not act out of line by offering support, but if the employer isn't careful, a situation can be made worse.

Below are 3 tips on how to handle a crying employee.