Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

December 2010 Archives

Northeast Blizzard Cost Retailers $1 Billion

A blizzard is more than inconvenient. It costs governments and businesses series amounts of money. When the streets are covered in snow, shoppers stay home, as did those in the Northeast on Sunday and Monday. In fact, according to recent estimates, the Northeast blizzard cost retainers $1 billion, according to ShopperTrak, a company providing shopper-traffic counting technology and data analysis. ShopperTrak found that Dec. 26 foot traffic was 11.2% off from what they had forecasted, CNN Money reports.

"As expected, the 2010 blizzard throughout the Northeast halted nearly all retail visits and spending during a period that is fairly crucial for retailers," ShopperTrak founder Bill Martin said in a statement, the Boston Herald reports. Martin added that according to their analysis, Northeast malls and stores dropped over 6% from last year on the day after Christmas, as well as almost 43% on Monday, when potential shoppers were virtually snowed in.

Top 5 Changes for Small Business in 2011

The cliche is true: the one constant is change.

As the New Year approaches, a series of regulatory, compliance, and legislative changes will occur that will affect U.S. small business owners. Paychex, Inc., recently put together a list of the most influential business regulations in 2011. We narrowed the list down to five that we found the most interesting.

1. Tax changes - In 2011, taxes are going to get even more complicated for small business owners. (What did you think, it was going to get easier?) However, as a plus, there will be a retroactive extension of some of the tax incentives that expired at the end of last year.

How to Avoid Pregnancy Discrimination at Work

Employers need to pay special attention to how they handled pregnant employees. Not to be confused with special treatment, attention to pregnancy issues will not only help avoid pregnancy discrimination at work but will also serve to foster a healthier pregnancy and work environment overall.

Pregnancy discrimination claims at work are among the fastest growing category of claims reported to the EEOC. Complaints range from being fired, demoted or treated differently as a result of a pregnancy. The main source of protection from such actions is provided by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. But employers should also implement their own policies when it comes to pregnant employees in order to ensure compliance.

Gift Returns: How to Handle Post-Holiday Crush

Following the holiday shopping rush is the less popular but always pervasive post-holiday gift return. People will be anxious to return their unwanted gifts starting this week. In much the same way that purchases are at their highest during the holiday season, so too are gift returns. So be prepared to toe the delicate line between enforcing gift return policies and not upsetting gift-return customers.

The best approach to gift returns during any season is to set out a policy that is visible to the customer when he or she is buying the present. Whether you require a receipt or the item not to be used or opened, prominently putting this policy at eye level will help to limit confusion and disputes.

Jamie Kennedy Sues Yoostar Over Promo Contract

Comedian Jamie Kennedy is all business when it comes to contracts and endorsement deals. The funnyman signed a $500,000 contract (in addition to stock options) with Yoostar to make three personal appearances and appear in 25 original clips for the self-described social entertainment website. Yoostar is a social media site that allows users to "put themselves" in famous television and movie scenes and act alongside the cast.

The star of "The Jamie Kennedy Experiment" claims that Yoostar overpromised and underdelivered when it came to his promotional agreement and is now suing the company for $250,000 and stock options, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

Can Seasonal Holiday Employees Get Unemployment?

Their hiring is quick. Their training is quick. And their time with your company is quick.

This is the life of a seasonal holiday employee -- working during the holiday crunch to meet business goals and leaving when it is done. Seasonal holiday employees do not have many rights based on the short length of their employment but what happens when that employment is done?

Whether he or she gets fired, quits or leaves at the natural end of their seasonal employment, many employees may think they are entitled to unemployment compensation. This thought is misplaced. Although the nature of the employment benefits may be unique, the rules regulating unemployment compensation remain unchanged.

Go it Alone at Unemployment Hearing?

So here's the scenario: a worker is fired or quits for no reason and then a few weeks later you are asked to approve their application for unemployment benefits. You deny it, thinking your worries are over. Then another notice states your former employee is now contesting the denial and taking his or her case before an unemployment judge.

From an employer's standpoint, the real issue is not whether or not they deserve unemployment (you made that decision already) but whether you should handle the hearing yourself or hire counsel. The former takes more time, the latter takes more money and of course there are pros and cons to both options. The basic structure of an unemployment hearing is a simple evaluation of the reasons for denial and testimony from both sides.

Ala. Restaurant Billboard: 'No Muslims Inside'

What is this world coming to? You put up a billboard outside your business with a xenophobic joke and people get upset?


Chuck Biddinger, owner of Electronic Repair Company put up the sign outside his East Lake, Alabama business. He says the billboard is a joke that he received in an e-mail.

"Muslims do not eat pork. And, uh, it's a known fact, Muslims have tried to commit crimes in this country," Biddinger said told the local ABC affiliate ABC 33/40. He continued, "I'm not a politically correct person, don't claim to be, never have been."

The local news interviewed residents about it and their reactions were mixed. Some thought it was hilarious, other's said it wasn't right. "When you start getting into race and religion and stuff like that, people feel strongly," said a women interviewed at a local gas station told ABC 33/40.

The 30 Day Rule: Holiday Shipping to Customers

If you own an online business, or any business operating during the holidays, you live and die by shipping. No doubt you know all about the news about companies looking for that competitive edge by offering free shipping for all holiday purchases. No matter if you can afford to ship for free or not, if you ship any merchandise to customers, there are a few laws and regulations you should make sure to keep in mind.

One of the most important is the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Mail or Telephone Order Merchandise Rule, better known as the 30 Day Rule.

The 30 Day Rule governs the way in which businesses fill orders to be shipped. The 30 Day Rule states that if a specific period is not set by a business for when goods will be shipped, they must be shipped within 30 days. The clock begins to run for a business when it receives the completed order and payment.

Top 3 Questions You Can't Ask Female Applicants

Women face issues in the workforce. Like it or not, women are often discriminated against, even before being hired for a job. Despite potential lawsuits, some employers insist on asking inappropriate questions during the job interview process that border on illegality.

Employers need to do their research for interviews, too. Being prepared for the applicant and an interview will not only allow for a better line of questioning but also a legal one. With that in mind, here are the top 3 questions you can't ask female applicants:

1.) What's your relationship status? More than anything this question provides no insight into the applicant's capabilities as an employee. Whether an applicant is single, married, or divorced is an illegal question on both the state and federal level and something that should be left out of formal and informal interview conversations.

Top 3 Tips for Holiday Vacation Requests

With the economy sputtering, vacation trends are changing this year. In a recent study by Office Team, researchers found that almost one-third of managers interviewed would not take any time off between Thanksgiving and New Years Day.

Placing job security over a tan, many workers are opting out or greatly limiting their holiday vacation time. "I can tell you from first-hand experience that people this year are a lot more concerned about their jobs and being at work though the holidays. Employees are apprehensive about being gone, and a lot of places are short-staffed anyway," The Napperville Sun quotes Fran Lionkatis. In reality, the law does not require employers to offer vacation days to employees but vacation, especially around the holidays, can become an issue.

Kickstarter Helps Fund New Ideas, Projects

A simple kit to build a watch has raised over $675,000, as well as raised the profile of a website called Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a site that lets people pledge money to projects involving film, music, design, art, food, technology, publishing and more. It is not an investment site. In fact, the creators of the particular projects keep 100% ownership and control over their work. Instead of offering those who pledge on the projects a piece of the company, they receive a unique product or experience.

Another interesting wrinkle: the funding on projects is all or nothing. So if a project doesn't reach its funding goal before time runs out, then the pledges don't go through. That way, creators don't have to try to take on projects without the level of funds they need.

Top 3 Things to Do When Losing Your Job

Whether the famous words come from Donald Trump's mouth, or a different boss, "You're Fired" is always an unwelcome phrase to hear.

Losing a job is challenging both emotionally and financially. But there are certain steps an employee should consider if a job comes to an end. Here are the top things to do when losing your job:

1. Finalize Things at Work: At the top of the list of things to consider when losing your job should be to finish things at your job. From collecting your final compensation package to determining whether you are entitled to severance pay, there are a lot of lose ends to attend to, even if it is not an amicable parting. Your former employer will also have to sign off on any unemployment compensation you may be eligible to receive in the coming months. Getting fired is not the time to get fired up yourself. If you feel like your dismissal was in some way unlawful then handle the situation with a lawyer, not with words and actions you will come to regret down the road.

'Breastaurant' Wars: More Trademark Lessons

It's a concept that is as old as the hills: use pretty girls and their natural (or not-so-natural) assets to entice customers.

Move over Hooters, Twin Peaks and Northern Exposure need a bit of room to settle their differences.

A Texas-based restaurant sued a Arkansas-based restaurant over trademark infringement for its "food with a view of some substantial mountains" theme. Calling girls in tight clothing scenic is not new. But approximating another businesses' logo and theme may not be an original-enough idea, either.

Twin Peaks, whose logo includes snow-capped "mountains" and the slogan "Eats - Drinks - Scenic Views," claims to be the originator of a particular scantily-clad waitress restaurant theme, according to the Dallas Observer.

How to Hire Legal Counsel for Your Business

Thinking about adding legal counsel to your company? Perhaps you realize that your business needs legal advice but you're not sure whether you should bring someone on board and hire in house counsel. Inc. recently published an article laying out some considerations to take into account.

FindLaw has some excellent resources, as well, including hiring and firing, including how to negotiate your new attorney's position.

Here is a brief overview of some of the key points involved in adding legal counsel:

Fashion Designs to Get Copyright Protection?

One small step for stilettos, one giant step for fashion designs and copyright protection? 

The Senate Judiciary Committee has just passed the Innovative Design Protection and Piracy Prohibition Act (IDPPPA) granting limited copyright protection to fashion designs. Bills protecting the work of fashion designers have come up before in both the Senate and the House, but have never made it out of committee.

For both major fashion houses and small independent designers, this bill would represent a major breakthrough which has been lobbied over and worked on for years, reports The Wall Street Journal. The IDPPPA bill is sponsored by Sen. Charles Schumer and grants copyright protection to original and novel designs for a period of three years. In fashion time, that equals about a decade.

How to Terminate an Employee's Contract

When an employee does not have an employment contract, you can generally terminate them for any legal reason. That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of legal land mines in the way. If you trip up in the process of terminating an employee, you could be looking at a major lawsuit. Understandably employers have a lot of questions about termination.

We recently looked at the case of an employee at the University of Alabama that played the songs "Take the Money and Run" and "Son of a Preacher Man" as a dig at Auburn quarterback Cam Newton. Cam Newton has been the subject of a pay-for-play scandal involving his father, but continues to play as the NCAA investigates the matter. Alabama terminated the employee after the game. According to the University of Alabama, the game music has to be carefully scripted and approved in advance by a senior administrator.

How to Avoid Office Party Sexual Harassment

Ah, the annual office party.

It's a time to celebrate the end of another successful year with co-workers. The problem? The relaxed atmosphere of an office party combined with alcohol can often be a recipe for sexual harassment.

Avoiding office party sexual harassment complaints is both simple and obvious. At least while sober.