Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

July 2017 Archives

Bono's Pit Bar B Q, Wally's Gyros & Subs, Captain D's, Sheik The Restaurant, and Mr. Dragon Chinese Restaurant are just a few of the 40 Jacksonville, Florida-area establishments named in discrimination lawsuits by double-amputee Wanda Moore and her chiropractor/attorney Robert "The Law Doc" Gibson.

The lawsuits claim the businesses are not in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, alleging violations from non-compliant handicap parking spots and improper ramps to missing handrails in bathrooms and countertops that are too high. While some of the small business owners see the litigation as little more than a shakedown, investigations did find legitimate ADA violations at some locations.

After it came out this week that Amazon, like airlines and Uber before it, employs surge pricing on its products, consumers were rightfully peeved -- why should the same product cost more just because more people want it, especially when that price hike isn't being passed on to the product's manufacturer?

Surge pricing, while not customers' favorite, isn't illegal in and of itself. But there are plenty of other pricing practices that will get a small business in trouble with the law. Here are a few.

Few, if any, small businesses set out and decide they will discriminate against their employees based on sex or gender. More often, discriminatory acts or policies are entrenched from outdated approaches or the behavior of a rogue employee. Still, sex discrimination in employment happens far too often, with employees paying the price first, then companies later when they are sued.

So here are a few legal updates and tips on avoiding or rectifying sex and gender discrimination at your small business, from our archives:

In a corporate world where people don't need to carry work ID badges, one company is offering to microchip its own employees for convenience, and marketing, of course. Approximately 50 employees at Three Square Market in Wisconsin are expected to volunteer to be chipped.

The RFID chips, which are the size of a grain of rice, will be implanted in the skin between the thumb and forefinger. The chips will be used as employee ID badges, and will work to open doors, login to computers, and can even be used to purchase food in their onsite self-service marketplace. All it takes is a waving of the hand a few inches away from the sensor.

The Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego is one of the premier scientific research labs in the world. After all, it's named after the man who cured polio. And you would think that an institute studying cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, would treat all of its researchers equally, and reward them based on merit alone.

But three female professors at Salk have sued the institute, claiming a "hostile environment in which they are undermined, disrespected, disparaged, and treated unequally."

You had those kids for a reason, right? You might be wondering when you can put those precious bundles of economic dependence to work earning their keep.

If you run a family business, you can put your kids to work as soon as you think they're able to add value. Before you offer them that job though, you should talk to your lawyer to see exactly how much you can get away with, as many legal employment requirements are state specific. Generally though, employing your kid should save you much more money than that pre-hiring legal consultation is going to cost you.

President Donald Trump has been adamant in his "America First" rhetoric, saying recently, "Clearly it's time for a new policy, one defined by two simple rules: We will buy American. And we will hire American." But sometimes the interests of American companies and American workers aren't so closely aligned.

"As a demonstration of the administration's commitment to supporting American businesses," said Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, the government will provide 15,000 additional visas for foreign seasonal workers. The move is designed to aid "U.S. businesses in danger of suffering irreparable harm due to a lack of available temporary nonagricultural workers," but not be welcomed by groups advocating for more employment for U.S. workers.

A civil rights employment lawsuit filed by a former employee against the Sanitary Garbage Company, Inc. of Beatrice, Nebraska, resulted in a $1 jury verdict in favor of the employee. The lawsuit filed by Jonathan Curry alleged race discrimination, harassment, and retaliation.

However, there was only one claim which the jury found convincing. That claim involved coworker racial harassment. Clearly, the jury did not find much harm had resulted as a result of the coworker harassment, as they only awarded the minimum amount allowable, a single dollar. Notably, the jury returned their verdict in only a few short hours.

If you fire an employee, it's normally for a good reason. And when a prospective or future employer calls asking regarding a reference for a fired employee, you might feel obligated to be honest. Generally speaking, former employers can't be sued for a negative employment reference so long as they are honest about an employee's employment history and record.

But what happens if you've signed a settlement agreement requiring a fired employee to receive a "neutral employment reference" in the future? And does saying that fired employee was "defiant" count as being neutral? The city of Conway, South Carolina and its fire department may soon find out.

The availability and affordability of housing in Silicon Valley has been making national headlines for several years now. Suburban California towns like, Palo Alto and Mountain View, with not much more to offer than proximity to work and the California sun (sorry Stanford, you're a little boring), have seen rents increase beyond those in New York City.

In response to the decreased supply, and increased cost, of housing in Menlo Park, where Facebook is headquartered, the social media giant has announced plans to build a residential village, with housing, shops, transit and more.

Few businesses operate without taking on some form of debt. The problems that can arise with taking on debt can often be avoided by making sure that payments to creditors are made on time. When a business fails to pay on time, a creditor can seek to enforce a debt.

However, when a business can’t pay a debt being enforced, business owners often wonder what options they have to get rid of the debt. Below, you’ll find five of the top legal questions small business owners have about business debts and bankruptcies.

When small business owners start out, often, they use their own personal accounts to get going. And it's not just limited personal bank and credit card accounts, but also personal phone lines, personal internet services, and even personal cable TV or music subscriptions.

Small business can operate for years using personal services, but legally, it could result in some serious legal trouble. For example, if your business operates from your personal bank account, even if you are structured as a corporation, you will likely be found personally liable in any legal disputes the business faces.

The age old practice of boozing and schmoozing may not be as socially acceptable during the workday as it once was, but that doesn't mean you can't knock a few back during negotiations, or after-hours. However, when it comes time to sign contracts or agreements, making sure the person signing can keep their pen within the lines on the page is rather important.

Whether you are signing up a new client, customer, or business partner, not allowing potential agreements to be executed while intoxicated could save you from a potential legal battle over advantageous terms, or overall contract enforceability. The missed opportunities from not allowing contracts to be signed while people are drunk are likely negligible, especially when compared to the potential pitfalls and costs of litigating contract enforceability.

Starting a new business, particularly a tech startup, can be filled with legal pitfalls for the unprepared. If a company is not ready to address legal problems that can arise early on, then VCs will be unlikely to invest, and the startup may not be able to survive past infancy.

Since each business is different, the potential legal problems tend to vary, even within industries. Below, you'll find three of the more common legal risks that tech startups face.

The legal marijuana businesses that have cropped up recently are true pioneers in the industry. Over the years, many have faced federal raids and prosecutions due to the conflict between state and federal law. However, there are several other unintended consequences of the conflict between state and federal law when it comes to the cannabiz.

In addition to not being able to conduct business across state lines, legal marijuana vendors also cannot claim protection from creditors in the federal bankruptcy courts. Again, this is due to the fact that marijuana is still considered a schedule I controlled substance under the federal anti-drug law, the Controlled Substances Act.

The ride-hailing service that disrupted the taxi industry is now facing the cost of doing business that the taxi industry dealt with before it. Accessibility for disabled individuals is a requirement under federal and state law across the country. A new lawsuit filed against Uber in the Federal Court in Washington D.C. alleges violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, as well as the District's own Human Rights Act.

While Uber does have an option for wheelchair users, the lawsuit asserts that the company's vehicle selection criterion systematically discriminates against wheelchair users. The lawsuit claims that there is not a single vehicle in the 30,000-car fleet in the D.C. area that can accommodate an individual in a motorized chair who cannot transfer out of the chair into the vehicle. This is due to the strict requirement that all Uber vehicles have at least four seats. Uber's service that does support wheelchair users, WAV, is alleged to be both a separate and unequal accommodation that does not provide adequate support.