Law & Daily Life - The FindLaw Life, Family and Workplace Law Blog

January 2013 Archives

What to Do If You Didn't Get Your W-2 Forms

So you want to get your federal income tax return done early, but you still haven’t received your W-2 in the mail.

What should you do?

The IRS requires employers to file a Form W-2 for each employee. These forms must be sent out to employees by February 1. If employers fail to do so, they could face some costly consequences.

7 Social Media Tips for Your Super Bowl Party

When prepping for your Super Bowl party, you'll need extra chips, plenty of drinks, and... a social media game plan? Yes, that's right, you need all of these things.

Isn't this sort of overkill? Sure, companies need social media policies, but for individuals it may seem a little strange.

Well, get used to the idea because crossing the social media party-foul line can lead to serious penalties -- a lost job, a lawsuit, or even your arrest. So as you enjoy watching Super Bowl XLVII with your friends, try to avoid these seven VII major social media "don'ts":

Changing Your Kids' Last Names in a Divorce

What’s in a name? After a contentious divorce, your married last name may be a painful reminder of a relationship you’d rather forget. That’s why you may want to change your kids’ last names as well.

If you have custody of your children, and have changed your last name, it may make sense to change your children’s names to match.

But unlike changing your own name, it can be more complicated to change your children’s last names, as your former spouse may get to have a say in the matter. Here are some tips and insights about changing your child’s name following a divorce:

How to Get Help With an Estate Plan

Estate planning sounds simple, but if minor things are not taken into consideration, it can be a disaster. So should you get help with your estate plan? If so, where should you look?

If you have a very simple estate with few assets, you may be able to make plans on your own. But even with the help of great online resources and fill-in-the-blank forms for estate planning, it may still make sense to touch base with a lawyer.

That said, here are some ways you can get help with your estate plan:

Christian School Sues Ex-Teachers Over Proof of Faith

Little Oaks Elementary became a Christian school in 2009 when it was purchased by Godspeak Church. Then last year, the new management handed out "proof of faith" questionnaires for all staff to fill out about their religious habits and beliefs.

Two teachers refused to fill them out and weren't rehired the next school year. Then they threatened to sue the school. But in a surprising turn, now the school is suing the teachers.

Why?

If Roommate Moves Out, Can You Keep Her Stuff?

Your roommate moves out and leaves behind boxes of her personal property. Are you legally allowed to keep her stuff?

That's just one option you may be considering with those unsightly boxes, which may also be unpleasant reminders of your former roommate. Some other options include:

A: Throwing out those boxes and moving on with your life.
B: Trying to contact your ex-roommate to arrange for a pickup.
C: Holding onto the items forever in the hopes that your roommate eventually picks them up.

So what are you really supposed to do with an old roommate's belongings, under the law?

Google Report Shows How Gov't Gets Your Data

You're not paranoid: The government is watching you, or at least has reason to be curious about your Google and YouTube activity. And thanks to the newly released Google Transparency Report, we know how hard cops and other agents are working to keep tabs on us.

This isn't the first time Google has released information on the requests it receives from government agencies and courts worldwide. Starting in 2010 it has released more and more information on user data requests.

The latest report is the most comprehensive to date.

Consumers: Look Out for New Credit Card Surcharge

Watch out! Credit card surcharges are being added to some customers' receipts. And in most states, they're perfectly legal.

That's because as of Jan. 27, 2013, merchants are free to stick you with a surcharge when you pay by credit card, under the terms of a $7.2 billion settlement between credit card companies and merchants, reports ABC News.

What does this mean? Nobody really knows. Just because merchants now have the ability to impose up to a 4 percent surcharge, it doesn't mean that they will, according to Time.

7 Simple Steps to Protect Your Online Privacy

The more time you spend shopping, connecting with people, and looking up information online, the more your online privacy is at risk -- unless you follow a few simple steps to stay safe.

Information you share over the Internet is used by advertisers, but they're not the only ones paying attention. Malicious hackers can piece together your information online to steal your identity or invade your family's privacy.

Unfortunately there isn't a simple "security" button on your computer or smartphone that will keep all of your personal data safe. If you want to protect your online privacy, you need to take action.

Here are seven simple steps you can take right now:

Deferred Action Immigration Scams On the Rise

Immigration scams are reportedly on the rise since President Obama's deferred action program went into effect last summer.

The deferred action program allows certain undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States and even receive work authorization if they meet stringent eligibility requirements.

However, scammers are apparently preying on vulnerable immigrants by offering "guaranteed" or "expedited" results for a hefty payment, and even requiring that some applicants pay money for a free government form.

Ind.'s Sex Offender Social Media Ban Struck Down

Can a state forbid registered sex offenders from using social media? Apparently not, a federal appeals court ruled this week.

An Indiana law (Indiana Code section 35-42-4-12) prohibits sex offenders from using social media sites that allow access to those under 18.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that this law is too broad, and is an unlawful prohibition on protected speech.

Birth Control Sabotage: Is It Illegal?

We've all heard horror stories about someone hiding or destroying contraceptives, or poking holes in a condom. There's a term for that: birth control sabotage. But is it illegal?

The major concern: Contraceptive sabotage forces one partner into having unprotected sex. That could result in reproductive coercion -- a.k.a. a baby that someone thought he or she took steps to prevent. Or even more dangerously, it could lead to a sexually transmitted disease.

Part of the problem is that sexual and reproductive coercion are not common terms. But even if more people understood and reported it, would it be a crime?

Is a Handwritten Will Legally Valid?

Are handwritten wills, also known as holographic wills, legally valid?

Usually, when people think about creating a will or a trust, they envision a formal event involving witnesses, a lawyer, and maybe a notary. A handwritten will seems almost too easy. What's to stop someone from creating a fake will and signing your name?

Actually, the idea is that because the will is in the will maker's own handwriting, it is inherently more trustworthy in some ways. So, how is a holographic or handwritten will different from a typed-out will? Is writing a will by hand easier than having a lawyer draft one for you?

Marriage Annulments: 3 Things You Should Know

If you've ever gone through a divorce, you know that it's not exactly the easiest thing in the world. Maybe that's why some marriages may end in annulments instead of divorce.

Emotionally, divorce can be draining. Financially, it can be stressful. Logistically, it can be a nightmare.

In the eyes of the law, annulments allow separating couples to treat their marriage as if it never existed. Here are three things you should know about how marriage annulments work:

What to Do If a Neighbor's Smoking Bothers You

Apartment buildings have thin walls so if your neighbor is always smoking, you probably know about it. Now you need to know what to do about it.

Of course you might be one of the few people who don't mind second-hand smoke, in which case you don't have to do anything. But for most people, that cigarette smoke seeping through the cracks and invading your personal space can be difficult to bear.

If your building has shared air vents or you and your neighbor keep your windows open, there's no escaping their smoking habit. But you can do some things to make it stop.

3 Reasons You Need an Estate Planning Lawyer

Estate planning sounds like a fancy and complicated legal term. But it's really something so basic that everyone should get their estate planned. It's not only for the wealthy.

But not everyone necessarily needs to hire an attorney to plan their estate, as many forms can be found online to draft wills. And not everyone has a sophisticated enough estate that it needs to be planned by an attorney.

Still, nearly everyone can benefit from having a lawyer look over their will and overall estate plan. So let's get into Estate Planning 101 and the basics of planning an estate. Here are three signs you probably need an estate planning lawyer:

Food Allergy Settlement Cites Disabilities Act

Are food allergies a disability entitled to protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act? If you're a college student, the answer is apparently yes.

Students at Lesley University in Massachusetts were worried about eating in the dining halls because of various food allergies. In 2009, several of them filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, claiming the school wouldn't make accommodations for food allergies.

The DOJ took notice and last month announced a settlement with the university. It's a victory for people who suffer from severe food allergies and don't want to be left out.

Roe v. Wade Survey: Do You Know What It's About?

Do you remember Roe v. Wade, or at least know what it's about? Well, it's been 40 years since that case was decided and according to a recent survey, not a lot of people do.

At least, not a lot of young people know what the case is about. Only 44 percent of Americans under 30 knew the subject of the case. Another 41 percent guessed incorrectly that it was related to the death penalty, the environment, or just couldn't say.

That means the majority of Americans under 30 have no idea what Roe v. Wade was about. That's surprising, given how crucial the case is to, well, you know the subject, right?

Can Cities Ban Assault Weapons On Their Own?

As state and national lawmakers debate gun control, one city in Vermont is trying to take matters into its own hands with a proposed local ban on assault weapons.

The Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, but the extent of that right has been a source of controversy. It is clear that governments have the right to limit where and when civilians can have guns, but they can't ban firearms entirely.

Burlington, Vermont, wants to put its foot down when it comes to assault weapons within city limits. The question now is whether they have that power.

For Obama's 2013 Inauguration, 3 Security Tips

The second time around, President Barack Obama's inauguration ceremony is expected to be a much smaller affair. Still, even with smaller crowds, law enforcement personnel are going all in.

The inauguration crowd for Monday's public event is expected to be less than half the size of 2009, when an estimated 1.8 million revelers flooded the nation's capital, reports Reuters. In addition, hotels and restaurants are reporting vacancies and the White House even slashed the number of official black-tie balls.

But even with the scaled-back plans, enhanced security will be evident. If you are coming to Washington, D.C., for the inauguration or if you're just interested in this uniquely American event, here are some security-related facts you should be aware of:

Why Every Worker Should Thank Martin Luther King Jr.

When singing the praises of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for all of the good work he did, people rarely think of him as a labor and employment leader.

But it's clear that Dr. King cared about workers' rights as part of his overarching quest for equality. While history often remembers him as a champion of equal rights based on race, he actually fought for any group that didn't have the power to protect itself.

If you're lucky enough to have the day off on MLK Day, take a minute to reflect on Dr. King's legacy. Here are three reasons every worker -- even those who don't get the day off -- should thank him:

What Is a 'Catfishing' Scam? Ask Manti Te'o

Today and in the next few days, you may read and hear a lot about "catfishing." But unless you're a teenager or happened to have seen the documentary "Catfish," you may have no idea what catfishing really is.

Here is a hint:

In a story that's shocking the sports world, Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o says that he met a girl online and they started an Internet relationship. The two apparently became a couple, and Te'o says that he was devastated when he learned that the woman had died this past fall. Now, it's been revealed that this girl never existed.

If you believe Te'o's version of the story, he became a victim of "catfishing."

Do You Need to Pay an Ex-Spouse's Debt?

Are you legally responsible for your spouse's debt? This is a question considered by many married couples contemplating divorce.

It's common knowledge that upon the end of a marriage, assets need to be divided. But so do debts. So what should you know about debts and divorce?

First, know that the laws regarding who will be liable for which debt may vary depending on which state you live in, and it can get complicated. But there are also some general rules.

Here's what you need to know:

Obama's Gun Proposals Target Mental Health Too

President Obama's new gun control proposals don't just focus on guns. They also call for improvements in mental health care.

The national discussion on gun control has been punctuated by the idea that mental health care is also an important part of the equation.

That's why, in addition to asking Congress to pass tougher gun control laws, the president today also announced 23 executive actions related to curbing gun violence. Several of those executive actions focus on mental health, according to Fox News, namely:

5 Steps for Collecting Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance is a government-sponsored program that provides financial assistance to qualified workers who lose their jobs.

The federal government has an unemployment insurance program, as do individual states. While every state has different rules and regulations for determining eligibility for unemployment insurance as well as different processes, there are some general guiding principles.

Here's an overview of how to apply for, and collect, unemployment insurance:

NY Passes 1st New Gun Laws Since Sandy Hook

It appears all the discussion about gun control wasn't just talk, as New York state has now passed the nation's first new gun law since the Sandy Hook massacre.

In the wake the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, late last year, New York lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo urged action on broad gun control legislation. Both the majority-Republican Senate and the majority-Democratic Assembly passed the bill easily.

New York already had incredibly strong gun laws, but the new law will tighten the bans on certain kinds of weapons. The intent is to prevent high-fatality shootings.

Is It Legal to Record Phone Conversations?

Hands up if you've listened to the prerecorded message on just about any customer service number telling you the call will be recorded, and wondered if it's really legal to record a phone conversation.

Even if you haven't wondered it before, you're probably wondering it now that we mentioned it. Unfortunately the answer isn't a clear yes or no. It depends on a couple of factors.

The legality of recording conversations is regulated by federal and state wiretapping laws. But not all states have the same regulations, and deciding which law applies can get complicated.

Top 3 Job-Search Tips for 2013

Job search tips can always come in handy, whether you're desperately seeking employment or think you're happy with your job.

No matter who you are, there comes a time when you need to look for a job or help a friend or family member do the same. It's not an easy process for anyone, especially in a tough job market. Before you dive right in, it helps to prepare yourself.

Not only should you prepare for the stress of looking for a job, but you can also prepare for the process itself so you can put your best foot forward. Here are three tips to keep in mind:

Will the Violence Against Women Act Be Renewed?

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994. It was reauthorized in 2000 and again in 2005. But the Act expired in 2011, and it's still unclear whether it will be reauthorized.

The purpose of the Act is to end violence against women and remedy laws and practices that have justified violence against women in the past. To meet those goals, the Act focuses on a variety of tactics like improving social services and updating legislation.

Congress has been debating the reauthorization of the Act for about a year. But the Senate and House of Representatives can't agree on what it should include.

Refuse a Flu Shot, Get Fired?

Can you get fired for refusing a flu shot? Many employees may be wondering this exact question.

There's a massive flu outbreak hitting many parts of the country hard, The Washington Post reports. You might be coughing and sneezing in your cubicle, or the guy next to you may be coughing and sneezing onto you.

Sick of sick employees infecting their entire workforce, many employers are now taking proactive measures and requiring that employees receive a flu shot. But can an employer legally force you to get a vaccination or risk losing your job?

New Mortgage-Lending Rules: 3 Things to Know

The federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has announced new mortgage-lending rules that may have as beneficial an impact on banks as they will on consumers.

The new rules have the sometimes contradictory aims of both protecting borrowers from predatory and unfair lending practices, as well as encouraging lenders to more freely give out loans.

As a result, while the new rules provide many protections to consumers, there is also a giant protection, or "safe harbor," given to banks and lenders, reports CNN. Here are three things to know about the new rules:

Do School Yoga Classes Pose a Legal Problem?

Is a school yoga class teaching healthy behavior or does it promote religion? Some parents at Olivenhain Pioneer Elementary School in Encinitas, California, are afraid it's the latter and they want it out.

Students participate in yoga classes under what the school calls physical education. But one mother, Mary Eady, decided to keep her son out of it after visiting one of the classes.

She's worried yoga's Hindu roots can't be untangled from its practice in her son's class. Her cause for concern comes from the curriculum.

Are Jurors Biased Against Fat Women?

Some jurors may be biased against fat women when they're defendants in a trial, a new study has found.

We've all heard that overweight women may face job discrimination and even discrimination in getting health care.

But this study suggests that overweight women may tip the scales of justice -- and not in a good way -- simply by being heavyset. The results are alarming because instead of losing out on a job, obese women may actually be at a higher risk of losing their freedom.

$8.5B Foreclosure Settlement: How to Cash In

The federal government and 10 banks agreed to an $8.5 billion foreclosure settlement on Monday. The agreement puts to rest allegations that the banks didn't follow proper foreclosure procedures.

Following the financial crisis that began in 2008, millions of Americans lost their homes through foreclosure. Many of those people were actually current on their mortgage payments.

Regulators initially tried to introduce a system to review foreclosure files for defects, but this settlement will replace it. So if you dealt with foreclosure in 2009 or 2010, listen up because this deal may help you out.

5 States With the Weakest Animal-Cruelty Laws

Which states have the worst animal protection laws? The Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has ranked each state's laws in terms of toughness, and once again Kentucky took the title of the worst state for animal rights.

ALDF's 2012 report took a look at state laws that protect animals from cruelty, sexual assault (yes, sexual assault), neglect, and other forms of abuse, reports The Huffington Post.

Along with Kentucky, here's a look at the five worst states in the country for animal abuse laws, and just what makes their laws so bad according to ALDF:

Is BitTorrent Legal?

BitTorrent is a great tool that allows you to download vast amounts of data relatively quickly. But is BitTorrent legal?

After all, you or someone you know may be using BitTorrent to download movies, music, and other types of files with seemingly no problem.

But whether this use of BitTorrent is actually legal is questionable. In fact, the legality can vary on a case-by-case basis depending on what it is you are actually downloading, reports Business Insider.

Top 3 Secrets of Gym Membership Contracts

Like millions of newly resolute Americans, you may be entering into a very important legal contract this week: a gym membership contract.

It's the new year, and joining a gym to shed a few extra pounds may be at the top of your New Year's resolutions list.

But gym membership contracts can be very tricky, and may include many provisions that have nothing to do with how long the pool is open or the type of free weights they use. Instead, many gym contracts include legal fine print covering things like early cancellation fees and waivers of liability.

Here are three secrets of gym membership contracts you should be aware of:

Self-Storage Units Can Spark 'Storage Wars'

If you're a fan of the reality TV show "Storage Wars", you may be keenly aware of the legal issues that come with renting a self-storage unit.

Renting a storage unit is a lot like renting an apartment. In both cases, you typically sign a lease and enter into an agreement setting forth the rules for using the unit.

But unlike renting an apartment, there are a lot of unique issues with a storage unit. Here are just a few to keep in mind:

'Fiscal Cliff' Deal: Are Your Taxes Going Up?

Congress has passed a "fiscal cliff" deal that will temporarily avert severe tax hikes and spending cuts.

The agreement can be considered a victory of sorts for President Barack Obama, who had promised to address the country's severe budget issues by raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans, reports the Chicago Tribune.

But while the tax deal was touted as taxing the richest Americans, the rest of us may also see a higher tax bill in 2013. In fact, it's estimated that 77 percent of Americans will see higher taxes this year under the deal.