Don't Get Stung: 3 Corporate Lessons from Burt's Bees Co-Founder - In House
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Don't Get Stung: 3 Corporate Lessons from Burt's Bees Co-Founder

The hirsute co-founder and face of Burt's Bees, Burt Shavitz, has a few lessons to teach corporate counsel about avoiding stings.

Whether that's the sting of regret or the pain felt when a sexual harassment complaint slides across your desk, not even Burt's Bees makes a balm to soothe it. The best way to avoid this hurt is to be prepared.

Check out these three lessons from this ousted co-founder for avoiding a legal sting and the accompanying bad buzz:

1. Consider Consensual Relationship Agreements

First, a bit of backstory. Shavitz is the subject of a new documentary called "Burt's Buzz," which according to The Associated Press, opens Friday in several major cities. What the documentary revealed was that the genesis for Burt's Bees was Shavitz meeting -- and becoming lovers -- with single mom and industrious hippie Roxanne Quimby in 1984.

This mixing of business and pleasure became a bit of an issue in 1993, after he was discovered having an affair with a retail-store worker, reports the Daily Beast.

Quimby and Shavitz were married at some point, but it may have been smart to set up some legal defenses to the corporation well before that. A consensual relationship agreement can make sure that dating employees or supervisors are aware of the company's sexual harassment policies and commit in writing that their carrying on won't affect the business.

2. Have a Well-Established Sexual Harassment Policy

Quimby threatened Shavitz with a sexual harassment suit, eventually causing him to cede his third of the company to her. This sting of loss could have been avoided if both parties had been well aware of an established sexual harassment policy.

Many in-house attorneys would frown on allowing hugs in the workplace, much less the "honeypot" Shavitz had on the side. But with a sexual harassment policy in place, counsel need not fear addressing sexual harassment complaints -- even from the co-founder.

Also, it's important in situations like these to remind any parties in a sexual harassment case that you are the attorney for the corporation, not any individual (even if those individuals own the company).

3. Lock Down Publicity Rights ASAP

Although Shavitz did lose all equity in Burt's Bees, he is still paid "an undisclosed amount for the rights to his name and image," according to The Daily Beast. Want to make sure that you can flash your company's name and logo at the Oscars? You need to get the publicity rights from any persons whose name, image, or likeness is part of your corporation's presence.

For Burt's Bees, Shavitz's cartoon face is on ten bajillion tubes of lip balm and hand lotion, not to mention his name. So whatever "undisclosed amount" they're paying him is pennies on what he may have demanded when the company reached its zenith. Make sure to get licensing agreements and releases early and often to avoid this future sting.

As Burt's Bees proves, companies can weather titanic disasters like their co-founders cheating on each other, but in-house counsel should use these lessons to avoid getting stung.

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