Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

August 2011 Archives

Are Hookah Bars Illegal?

Asking whether hookah bars are illegal may seem like a silly question given the massive proliferation of such establishments in the last decade.

However, you might be surprised to know that many hookah bars are, in fact, operating illegally under state, county, and/or city laws.

With smoking laws varying between jurisdictions and local governments strapped for cash, the "legality" of hookah bars is a complicated question that ultimately depends on enforcement.

Groupon Sued for 'Bait and Switch' Advertising

Online daily deals site Groupon has been sued over their advertising. A class action lawsuit alleges the site engages in illegal "bait-and-switch advertising" practices.

The plaintiff in the proposed class-action case is a San Francisco tour operator who accuses Groupon of purchasing tour-related keywords in Google's AdWords service, according to Ad Week.

This may seem like an innocent move, but the tour company says that when customers click on the links to Groupon there aren't any tour-related coupons available, reports Ad Week.

Can I Fire Employee for Not Shaving?

Can you base your decision to fire an employee on his beard? American Patriot Security, a California-based security company, did just that.

Now, they are being sued.

Washington State resident Abdulkadir Omar, 22, started working at the security company in 2009. Omar says that at the time he was hired nobody said that he had to shave his beard, reports the Seattle Times.

Can Your Business Buy Rave Web Reviews for $5?

If you've seen ratings on online sites like Yelp, you may be wondering if any of those 5-star reviews are actually fake reviews. You may also start to wonder if some of your business competitors are actually using money to buy good reviews.

Your instinct may be correct.

So-called "review factories" are starting to crop up. These companies pay reviewers money to write five-star reviews on websites for anything from products to hotels and services.

Should You Use Facebook for Job Recruiting?

As strange as it may seem, Facebook job recruiting may become the new wave of the future. Social media recruiting efforts are on the rise, with some businesses not only turning to Facebook but to other social media platforms like Twitter.

Most candidates and employers might be wary of using Facebook for their recruitment efforts.

After all, the use of Facebook in job applications seems to be mixing your personal life with your professional life - something that most tend to want to avoid. Is social media recruiting useful to your business?

Anti-Gay NJ Bridal Shop's Yelp Reviews Removed

Things aren't going so well for Here Comes the Bride, a New Jersey bridal shop featured last week on Free Enterprise when its manager refused to sell a wedding dress to Alix Genter on the grounds that she is marrying another woman.

As a result of the widespread media attention, hundreds of outraged citizens posted nasty reviews on the shop's Yelp page, calling the store's actions immoral and urging patrons to shop elsewhere.

Yelp is now in the process of removing those reviews.

Is Your City a Hot Hub for Start-Ups?

If you're thinking about where to start your business, you might want to consider what industry you're in. Then, you might consider relocating to the hot hub for your business industry, as named by The Wall Street Journal.

Relocating or starting your business at one of these "hubs" can come with some advantages.

Depending on where you are located, some cities and counties might be giving entrepreneurs a gentle nudge by helping with funding and giving them access to facilities, reports The Wall Street Journal.

Be Careful with Free Wi-Fi at Your Business

For a small business, free Wi-Fi can be a great way to lure in customers, encouraging them to spend time at your establishment.

However, offering internet access comes with a bit of a risk, opening your business up to security breaches and providing others with a place to engage in illegal activity, such as downloading copyrighted material and viewing child pornography.

Fortunately, there are a few things you can do to protect your business.

NJ Bridal Store Refuses to Sell Lesbian a Dress

When Alix Genter tried to purchase a dress from the Here Comes the Bride bridal salon in Somers Point, New Jersey, all she left with was another example of just how sexual orientation discrimination can infiltrate even the most happiest of moments.

Though at first she was willing to help, when the store's manager found out that Genter was marrying another woman, she called the couple's pending nuptials an "illegal action," ultimately refusing to sell her the dress of her dreams.

In reality, the only illegal action was that of the store.

NYU Boss Called African Man a 'Gorilla,' 'Monkey'

New York University's (NYU) discrimination lawsuit has settled with a $210,000 payout to the plaintiff, an African man whose boss constantly harassed and demeaned him. An institute of higher education, NYU's lawsuit illustrates that discrimination persists even at prestigious universities.

The African plaintiff, Osei Agyemang, was an employee at the university. He worked at NYU's Bobst Library, where his supervisor continually hurled verbal insults his way.

He was called names, including "monkey" and "gorilla." His supervisor even asked him if he wanted a banana, and made fun of his accent, calling it "gibberish," the New York Daily News reports.

Broken Thumbs Apps Collected Children's Data: FTC

Citing violations of the Children's Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), on Monday the Federal Trade Commission announced a $50,000 settlement with Broken Thumbs Apps, a company that creates and markets iPhone and iPad games to children.

The app maker was accused of collecting children's e-mail addresses, names, and other personal information without parental consent.

Can such a legal entanglement happen to you?

First 5 Steps to Start a Non-Profit Organization

If you're thinking about forming your own tax-exempt organization, you might be wondering what it takes. How does one start a non-profit organization?

First things first, before you can start a non-profit, it's important to recognize what qualifies as a non-profit in the first place. Non-profit organizations are generally those that are engaging in religious, charitable, scientific, educational or literary endeavor that will benefit society. Got that part down? Well, what's next?

The Dirt on Dry Cleaners: Federal Perc Laws

With about 80% of dry cleaners across the country still using perchloroethylene, the 2020 residential phase out mandated under federal perc laws is sure to send many owners into a financial tizzy.

Required to find alternative solvents, dry cleaning businesses will either need to retrofit or purchase all new equipment, costing them upwards of $100,000.

But as some recent court cases have suggested, such a high cost may ultimately be worth it.

Sex Offender in Cookie Monster Suit Arrested

Would your business be liable for accidentally hiring a sex offender? It could be possible, depending on what kind of business you're in, and if any harm came out of it. That's probably the reason why if you're thinking about hiring an employee, a background check might be something worth doing.

Take, for example, the case of the sex offender who was arrested in a cookie monster costume.

James Lester Rogers, a convicted sex offender, donned the lovable Sesame Street character costume as part of his new job at an Iowa city fair, according to the Huffington Post.

Should Your Company Buy Cyber Insurance?

The Internet presents a variety of risks for companies, including systems crashes, hacking attacks, security breaches, and the mishandling of private information.

While companies should do all they can as a matter of policy, practice and technology to prevent such risks from coming to fruition, there is no such thing as perfect prevention. Accordingly, as a backstop, companies would be prudent to procure appropriate insurance for their cyber risks.

A variety of insurance products to address cyber risks have entered the marketplace for the past decade. And, according to recent press reports, the demand for cyber insurance has surged in recent months in the wake of some noteworthy data breaches and an increase in privacy claims.

Gay Marriage a Boon for Small Business

Can legalizing gay marriage increase business? With gay marriage statutes passing in certain states across the U.S., it certainly seems that same-sex couples and businesses can be a good mix.

After all, gay marriage laws likely means an increase in the number of marriages.

An increase in marriages subsequently means an increase in people clamoring to buy wedding-related goods and services. It's estimated that the U.S. spends more than $80 billion on weddings a year, and it's no small wonder that some businesses might want to try to cash in on this increase

But, what about those that do not want to partake? Could refusing same-sex couples services be breaking the law?

Small Business Owners Turn to Pawn Shops

Small business owners that are struggling to make ends meet sometimes need business loans - or a pawn shop. Pawn shop loans are now something that some business owners are turning to as a result of the tight economy and lack of lending.

Pawning is probably easier than getting a bank loan, though the interest rates may be significantly higher.

Pawn shops, including online pawn shop, will evaluate your item, and e-mail you an offer about how much they are willing to loan you. If you are able to repay the loan, you will get your item back. If not, the pawn shop will keep it. Pawngo itself has loaned about $1.35 million in about 46 states, according to the company website.

Legal to Deny an Employee's Vacation Request?

If you offer your employees vacation time, you may be wondering whether and when you can deny a vacation request.

To answer this question, you must understand that, while there may be state laws regulating how vacation time accumulates and is compensated, there is no law that requires employers to provide their employees with paid or unpaid time off.

Vacation time is thus generally only subject to the limitations and conditions contained in employment contracts and workplace handbooks.

You maintain the ultimate authority.

When Do You Need a Small Business Attorney?

When do you need a small business attorney, and what do you ask an attorney to figure out if they're the perfect fit for your company?

As a small business, costs can be something that you need to keep tabs of. And, hiring an attorney can be a major cost, especially if you're looking to find someone reputable.

Part of being a savvy business owner means that business owners should be cognizant of what to look for when hiring a small business attorney - and what they can actually handle on their own.

What Is a Reasonable Accommodation?

You likely know about the American with Disabilities Act and your duty to accommodate disabled employees, but exactly, what is a reasonable accommodation?

Reasonableness is a fact-dependent inquiry based on the nature of the job, the disability, and the request, necessitating a unique analysis for every accommodation requested.

Though there are some requests that are inherently reasonable, the following guidelines are what the EEOC, and thus courts, use to determine reasonableness.

Forcing Employees to Take Time Off

Employee vacation policies can vary depending on your business. Some employers choose to have no vacation time during a year, while other employers are now instituting forced vacations for employees.

At the Motley Fool, a 250-employee financial services company located in Virginia, all employees are entered into a monthly drawing where one lucky (or unlucky, depending your perspective) employee "wins" a forced two-week vacation, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The reason for this slightly strange and unconventional vacation policy is likely the logic that forcing employees to take breaks could be good for business in the long run.

Are Business Owners Afraid of the US Jury System?

As a business, is a jury trial your friend or your foe? It seems that the general impression is that small businesses and juries don't mix.

Maybe part of the reason why businesses seem to be hesitant toward jury trials is the media impression and the generalization of juries being sympathetic toward alleged victims of a business' greed and misdeeds.

Case in point: tobacco company Philip Morris has been slammed with huge jury verdicts in the past, with one jury once awarding a plaintiff $3 billion in punitive damages and $5.5 million in general damages.

'Barista Wrist:' RSI Injuries Are Real

Though you'd think that the only way to obtain a repetitive strain injury (RSI) like carpal tunnel or tennis elbow is to spend a bit too much time at the computer or in competitive play, the truth is that every person who works with their hands is at risk.

Even coffeehouse employees, who are reporting the existence of "barista wrist" in increasing numbers.

And subsequently ramping up owners' workers' compensation fees.

Elderly NY Teacher Fired: Was it Age Discrimination?

If you're a small business, age discrimination is something that you should be sure to avoid. After all, wrongful termination or mistreatment of employees because of their age can result in lawsuits, as illustrated by a recent lawsuit filed by a New York teacher who was fired allegedly because of her age.

Lillie Leon, 80, has taught in schools in New York for more than thirty years, but lost her job. She claims that it's because she complained about having to escort her kindergarten students to bathroom breaks, reports the New York Daily News.

Leon walks with a cane and has bad knees. Having to escort the children to the restroom means having to walk across the school's campus, according to the New York Daily News

Accept Credit Cards? Are You PCI Compliant?

What, exactly, does it mean to be PCI compliant?

With an increased number of security breaches, the Payment Card Industry (PCI) has made it mandatory for all merchants accepting cards issued by Visa, MasterCard, American Express, Discover, and JCB to make their systems PCI compliant.

PCI compliance involves implementing a set of 12 specific security requirements that protect credit card data and secure payment applications and PIN devices.

Regardless of your size or your number of monthly transactions, you must comply with these new PCI requirements or risk fines and removal from the credit card system.

Creditors' Rights: 5 Tips on How to Collect Debts

If you're in the type of business that extends credit to customers, then you're officially in the business of collecting debts.

Unfortunately, collecting debts can oftentimes be difficult, time-consuming, and fruitless--not to mention a drain on your financial resources.

However, by following these tips on how to collect debts, you may be able to make the process easier and a lot less painful.

OK to Fire Employee for Not Getting a Haircut?

First, there was the Taco Bell meat lawsuit. And now, there's the Taco Bell haircut lawsuit.

On behalf of Christopher Abbey, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a federal lawsuit against the owners of a Taco Bell franchise in Fayetteville, North Carolina, alleging that the company engaged in impermissible religious discrimination when it fired Abbey after he refused to cut his hair.

His religion forbids it.