Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

March 2011 Archives

The Right Way to Do Your Home Office Deductions

Some people believe that home office deductions are akin to begging the IRS to audit your taxes.

While this can be true in some situations, home office tax deductions, if done properly, are completely legal and can provide a big pay off.

So if you work from home, consider the following tips. Home office tax deduction rules are a bit tricky, but with a little forethought and attention to detail, you should be just fine.

American Apparel CEO Dov Charney's Sex Slave Suit

Dov Charney is a practical lesson in how not to handle employee relations.

The American Apparel CEO has been battling sexual harassment accusations for at least seven years. Despite the company's alleged descent into bankruptcy, this isn't expected to end any time soon.

Last week, a New York judge considered whether to dismiss a suit against Charney seeking $250 million. On the other side of the country, the same attorney filed another sexual harassment suit on behalf of four other former employees.

Feds Approves New Small Biz Funding to 3 States

Small business lending took a huge hit during the financial crisis, but is slowly on the mend. And now that the Treasury Department is pitching in, a complete turnaround may be seen even sooner.

The Treasury announced Tuesday that it has approved three states--Connecticut, Missouri and Vermont--for a combined $53.4 million in funds, which it estimates will generate more than $534 million overall in small business lending.

Want a piece of that? Or want to know if your state will receive funds? Here's the deal.

Should There be Laws to Protect Small Business?

The Small Business Administration is now receiving public comments on its review of agency regulations and whether to expand, remove or streamline existing rules. U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe wants you to chime in.

Senator Snowe is spearheading a legislative project that affects small business owners, hoping to protect their interests and remove economic hardships imposed by the regulatory system.

Here's what you need to know.

Will Startup Visa Boost US Entrepreneurship?

The immigration debate continues: Senators Kerry and Lugar have reintroduced a startup visa bill into Congress.

The bill, which has been modified since it first burst onto the scene last year, is designed to encourage partnerships between U.S. investors and immigrants in a way that benefits the national economy. The Senators hope that the Startup Visa Act will attract innovation and innovators to the country, creating jobs and propelling the United States back to the top in the realm of technological development.

Will the startup visa bill have the desired effect?

Can I be Sued for Tip Jars at my Business?

A Missouri Starbucks was sued over tip jars and has some business owners asking: Can my business be sued over having a tip jar on the counter?

The short answer to the question of business liability may be rather disconcerting: yes. However, not to fret. You could also be sued for wearing an orange shirt, being an agent of Satan or any host of ridiculous reasons. The question isn't whether you can be sued for something, it's whether the opposing party is likely to prevail in such a suit.

NCAA Basketball Office Pools: Are They Legal?

March Madness is here and ready to distract your employees. They will be filling out brackets this week, crumpling them up, picking No. 5 seeds for upsets.

And they'll be gambling the whole time, too.

You may have let it slide during the Super Bowl, but with office pools cropping up everywhere, you're probably wondering whether you have a legal obligation to shut them down.

It depends.

Employer Liability: Crash Kills 15 in NYC

Fifteen people were killed this weekend when a bus transporting passengers to and from Mohegan Sun Casino flipped over and slid hundreds of feet. Investigators are looking into whether the driver was speeding or fell asleep at the wheel.

It's virtually guaranteed that, right now, the Mohegan Sun bus company is looking into issues of employer liability. And you're probably thinking that there's no way to avoid it.

Well, you'd be mistaken. It's called hiring independent contractors.

Targeting Distracted Driving on Company Time

Concerned about distracted driving on company time? Well, you should be.

Whether or not an employee is in a company car, he's at work. This means that his distracted driving may be your legal responsibility. And with distracted driving causing nearly 20 percent of harmful car crashes, it's a big responsibility to bear.

Enter ZoomSafer, an application designed to help you protect your business and target distracted driving amongst your employees.

Charlie Sheen is Hiring an Intern, Should You?

Charlie Sheen is looking for a social media intern. And as if the entertainment value weren't enough, it's a paid gig, too.

As much as it pains this blogger to write, the self-proclaimed warlock is on the right track. Offering internships legally requires time or money--both of which the recently-fired actor has plenty.

So if you're thinking that you, too, could use the assistance of an intern, read on and learn a little something from Sheen. It may be the only time you do.

Feel Free to Buy Your Rivals' Keyword Search Ad

We spend a lot of time here at Free Enterprise discussing intellectual property--why you should register, how to protect it, and how not to infringe upon another's. This is especially true in the case of the Internet.

Luckily for businesses, the 9th Circuit is providing a bit more leeway in the field of Internet advertisement--specifically in the context of search engines.

Rising Food Prices: More Restaurant Bankruptcy

As if eating out wasn't already expensive enough, U.S. restaurants are now facing the challenge of record-high food prices. A rise in food costs is problematic because consumers are alright watching their money, restaurants have high levels of debt, and profit margins are razor thin.

In just the last year, Fuddruckers, Charlie Brown's Steakhouse  and Uno Chicago Grill Pizza declared bankruptcy, and more are likely to follow, Reuters reports. And with the increase in food prices, 2011 could be even worse, with companies like Sbarro, El Pollo Loco, Perkins & Marie Callender's Inc, already on the brink.

Can I be Sued Over an Employee's Criminal Record?

If you've seen the recent headlines about Michael Hershey--a car salesman charged with murder for ending a test drive with a flipped car and a dead customer--then you've probably been wondering about employer liability for employees with criminal records.

Hershey had a long history of reckless driving, DUIs, and harassment, making him ill-suited to conduct test drives, reports The Inquirer. The family is now suing the car dealership for its failure to disclose Hershey's driving record and for permitting him to get behind the wheel.

Negligent Hiring: Criminals in Nursing Homes

Here's a scary thought: over 90 percent of nursing homes employ at least one person with a criminal conviction, according to federal investigators, The New York Times reports. Of course that fact, by itself does seem rather vague and prone to scare people: obviously there is a big difference between a robbery conviction and jaywalking.

But nevertheless, the article aggressively pushes the angle that due to negligent hiring, criminals may be lurking where mom and pop play bingo. And the bigger point is that all employers need to select their employees carefully and do background checks when necessary.

Age Discrimination to Require Applicant's Age?

Looking to stay out of hot water regarding age discrimination? Here's a tip, never ask for a person's specific age or Social Security number until after that person is hired.

That's what large retailers Target and The Home Depot have been doing lately, and it has retirement-age applicants crying age discrimination. Some of the older Americans looking for jobs have been claiming to be younger to get hired, reports the Huffington Post.

What if Facebook Removes My Business' Page?

So you've got a Facebook page for your business. You have some likes, some friends. What happens if another business comes along and demands Facebook take down your business page?

One recourse may be to sue Facebook. Just ask a New York spa named Complexions.

A California spa also named Complexions discovered the New York spa's page; and sent a "take down notice" to Facebook.

Can I Get Sued Over a Groupon Coupon?

Groupon is big right now. As a business owner, you might be thinking, "I'd like to get some of that sweet Groupon action. But can I get sued over a Groupon coupon?"

A Groupon lawsuit, like anything, is possible. But if you use reasonable precautions, your exposure shouldn't be significant. Plus, if you were served with papers, your attorney would have the option of pointing the finger at Groupon if there were ever such a Groupon lawsuit against your business.

Groupon is a hugely popular new website that offers deals to local businesses, but the coupons only become valid after a certain number of people accept the offer, or sign up and pay for the deal.

Severance Agreements: How Not to Get Sued

If you're laying off or firing employees, chances are you're concerned about being sued. After all, an ex-employee is often an unhappy employee. Besides consulting an attorney to make sure your processes for laying off and firing employees are legally sound, it might also be wise to offer each ex-employee a severance agreement.

A severance agreement is essentially a contract that awards an employee compensation if, and when, they sign a document releasing all claims against their employer. In other words, an employer offers an employee payment in return for a release from the possibility of a suit after being terminated.

Laying Off? Top 3 Ways Employers Get Sued

Is your business laying off employees? Nobody enjoys having to do it, but if you have to let people go, make sure that you don't make a bad situation worse by violating wrongful termination or employment discrimination laws. Such a violation could wind up being far more expensive than what you "saved" by letting an employee go.

Most employees are "at will" employees, which means that layoffs are allowed at any time and for any reason, as long as the reason is not discriminatory, retaliatory or otherwise illegal. Nevertheless, as noted in a prior Free Enterprise post, it is often wise to execute a written severance agreement at the time of termination.

Here are three of the top ways that employers get sued when conducting layoffs:

Apple Small Business Support: Joint Venture

Apple has surprised consumers a number of times. In most recent memory, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. However it seems that Apple is set to surprise its customers yet again, as according to AppleInsider, the electronics maker is about to launch a business support plan called Joint Venture.

According to the report, Apple small business will launch the Joint Venture priority service plan, at the price of $499, which will cover up to five clients, and allow for additional machines to be added for $99 per year.