Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

September 2011 Archives

Top 5 Reasons You Should Register a Copyright

Why do you need to get copyright protection?

Protecting your business' intellectual property is akin to protecting its image. Whether you produce instruction manuals or advertise with a television commercial, written and visual media represent your company. You thus want to control its use.

Though you will always retain some control over original works, copyright registration gives you ultimate control. The following are some examples of what copyright protection can do for you.

Should I Move to the Cloud or Save the Monthly Fee?

The cloud is the "it" thing for business lately. You hear and read about it constantly. Are you thinking about moving your business data to the cloud? Is the cloud right for your small business?

You may be using cloud services already without even realizing it. Individuals who access their email or calendar through Google applications are using cloud-computing services. They entrust their data to Google's "cloud."

Cloud software can provide services beyond scheduling functions. For example, cloud-based services like QuickBooks Online offer software solutions for a monthly fee.

Is the fee worth it?

Employers Want to Fire Over Facebook, But Can't

No employer wants to log onto the Internet and find a "loyal" employee criticizing the workplace on Facebook. That's why many employers have instituted Facebook policies.

But many employers are surprised to find that in certain situations they cannot fire employees over their Facebook rants.

Why? Federal law protects "concerted activity" by employees. "Concerted activity" is an employee action or complaint to another employee about working conditions.

You may not know it, but firing employees over this protected activity is illegal. So are overly broad Internet-use policies that can discourage or punish these activities.

New Screening Tool for Employee Background Checks

Businesses routinely run employee background checks. The type of background check tools used often depends on the business, but all tools are used for the same function: to determine if employees have any history that might impact their ability to perform job duties.

The best way to avoid negligent hiring lawsuits is to use background check tools. CheckToHire is one of the newest tools out there and offers a flexible pay-as-needed option with no monthly fees.

CheckToHire runs credit checks, criminal history checks, amongst other services. This type of tool may be something business owners might want to keep in their arsenal.

App Lets Employees Track Hours, Wages on Phones

Beware of a new wage-hour app released by the Department of Labor.

Named DOL-Timesheet, employees can use the iPhone app to track hours worked and calculate wages. This includes overtime pay, and may eventually include bonuses, commissions, tips and holiday pay.

In the event of an investigation, these real-time wage and hour records can be used against you. And with the rise of the overtime lawsuit, such an event is increasingly likely.

Legal to Post Ads, Flyers on Street Signs, Poles?

Businesses use many different advertising methods, like passing out handbills to pedestrians, or posting ads on public signs or street poles. But is posting flyers legal?

It depends. Unfortunately, there's no simple answer to that question.

Many cities have enacted municipal codes that govern whether or not you can post advertisements. Depending on which city you reside in, it may be legal to post signs on public property.

Legal Steps to Closing a Business

Unfortunately, closing a business isn't as simple as locking the doors and laying off employees.

An often drawn-out process, a business owner must follow a long list of sometimes complicated legal steps.

So before you get started on the checklist below, be sure to assemble a dissolution team. Closing a business may actually require an accountant and/or a lawyer.

Facebook Offers $50 in Free Ads to Small Biz

When it comes to Facebook, small business owners may soon have a new incentive to operate on the site.

Targeting an estimated 9 million member entrepreneurs, the company will announce a plan this week to offer $50 in free Facebook advertising to 200,000 small businesses.

As with all freebies, there are some things--both legal and not--that you should consider before signing up.

Can You Refuse to Hire a Sex Offender?

As an employer and business owner, you have a duty to maintain a safe workplace and protect your customers. To these ends, one day you may need to inquire about the legality of refusing to hire a sex offender, or, if you already did, terminating an offender's employment.

Unfortunately, there's no definite answer to this inquiry.

In most situations, there is a fine line between adhering to state laws limiting the use of convictions in employment decisions, and the responsibility not to engage in negligent hiring.

Patent Reforms: Good for Small Businesses?

President Obama recently signed into law the America Invents Act, a patent reform legislation that does away with the old "first to invent" rule. What does the patent reform mean for small businesses?

Most notably, the new legislation pushes Americans toward a "first to file" system, meaning that those who file for a patent first will get awarded the rights.

So is this change in the patent rules really a boon for entrepreneurs - or is it a bust?

Need to Display NLRB Employee Rights Poster?

Have you downloaded your NLRB employee rights poster?

Late last month, the National Labor Relations Board issued a final rule requiring almost all private-sector employers in the country to notify employees of their rights under the National Labor Relations Act, which guarantees the right to organize, discuss workplace conditions, and strike and picket.

The 11-by-17-inch notice, issued this week, will need to be posted in a conspicuous place and in all applicable languages by November 14.

Can Your Business Survive a Natural Disaster?

It's National Preparedness Month! Can your small business survive a natural disaster?

Whether your region is prone to earthquakes, floods, hurricanes or fires, a natural disaster can destroy a small business. In fact, the Insurance Information Institute estimates that between 15% and 40% of businesses fail after a disaster.

So if you don't already have one, it's probably time to create a business disaster plan.

Employers Targeted by Immigration Officials

In contrast to the Bush administration's penchant for attention-grabbing raids resulting in worker arrests, the Obama administration has chosen to ramp up its immigration enforcement program with an eye towards I-9 audits that target small and big employers alike.

Though I-9 audits can often be stressful and time consuming, for employers who follow the law and take reasonable steps to verify employment eligibility, they don't have to be costly.

Mini-Skirt Monday: Sexual Innuendo at Work

How do you feel when you hear sexual innuendo at work?

At the very least, Utah resident Trudy Nycole Anderson didn't enjoy its presence, filing a federal lawsuit against her employer after her former boss provided a schedule of dress that suggested such events as "Tube-top Tuesday" and "Wet T-shirt Wednesday."

Are you laughing? Or are you cringing?

As an employer, it better be the latter.

Business Contracts: Lower Your Legal Costs

What if there was a way to lower your legal fees? Especially when it comes to paying a lawyer to draft business contracts?

FindLaw's Corporate Counsel Contracts Center can help you do just that. With almost 5,000 contracts drafted by top attorneys and paid for by public companies (including a new batch from the Fortune 500), the database boasts contracts covering a wide range of topics, including employment, intellectual property, securities, and operating agreements.

There are only so many ways to capture key business and legal terms, so why reinvent the wheel? Or pay an attorney try to do so for you?

Firing an Employee: Will it Turn Into a Scene?

Firing employees can be tricky. Anybody who has taken part in terminating employees knows that when emotions run high, sometimes lprofessionalism - and even logic - goes out the window.

We've all heard stories of how employees have reacted to getting fired. Some may get a little violent, belligerent, or downright emotional.

Generally, no employer takes pleasure in terminating an employee. But, sometimes it's simply necessary. Is there anything employers can do to avoid a scene?

Groupon Sued Over Unpaid Overtime Pay

According to a class action lawsuit filed by a former sales representative at Groupon, overtime pay was not part of the company's compensation package, despite requirements imposed by federal law.

Ranita Dailey, the woman behind the suit, alleges that nearly 1,000 U.S.-based sales representatives received no overtime pay until March 2011, when Groupon executives were alerted to the problem.

At that point, they began making payments, albeit at rates lower than those mandated by law.

Don't Let a Robbery Turn into a Lawsuit

In a recent story out of Michigan, Jeremy Hoven, a pharmacist at a Benton Harbor Walgreens, was fired after he shot an armed suspect who attempted to rob the drug store at 4:30 a.m.

Though Hoven has a concealed carry permit and utilized his own gun, Walgreens determined that his actions violated the company's "non-escalation policy."

Do you have a non-escalation policy? An employee robbery policy? Have you ever spoken to your employees about how they should respond to a robbery?

'Dwarf Barista' Settles Lawsuit with Starbucks

Nicknamed the "dwarf barista," Elsa Sallard of El Paso, Texas has reached a settlement with Starbucks over a disability discrimination lawsuit brought on her behalf by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Born with dwarfism, a local Starbucks fired Sallard after she requested a stool to compensate for her small stature--a reasonable accommodation under the American with Disabilities Act.

Starbucks has agreed to pay Sallard $75,000, be subject to a federal consent decree for 2 years, and will train its area managers in how to accommodate individuals with disabilities.

Amazon's California Sales Tax Deal Set for 2012

The duel between Amazon and California over sales tax may finally be coming to a conclusion. A new Amazon sales tax deal would allow Amazon to postpone collecting sales tax from California consumers until September 2012.

This tentative deal comes only after the California legislature was unable to pass a vote that would have forced Amazon to start collecting tax immediately.

Many brick-and-mortar businesses in California and across the nation have felt slighted by Amazon's prices. It can be difficult for physical businesses to compete with online prices, especially when online sellers don't collect sales tax from consumers.

3 Things to Know Before You Sell Homemade Goods

An increasing number of people have set up home businesses that allow them to sell homemade goods, but with sales occurring on a hyperlocal basis and over the Internet, few consider the legality of their actions.

As shown by recent stories of officials shuttering lemonade stands, there are a number of prerequisites one must meet before selling homemade goods--even if done on a small scale.

So before you go out and sell your goods, be sure to do the following:

You Just Incorporated Your Business. Now What?

Whether you formed a Limited Liability Company or an S-Corporation, aside from the tax advantages, chances are you incorporated with the purpose of warding off personal liability in the event that your business gets sued.

But did you know that the liability protection afforded by incorporation is not ironclad?

If a plaintiff can show that a corporation exists for fraudulent purposes, or that it is indistinguishable from its owners, courts will "pierce the corporate veil" and hold those owners personally liable.

Watch Out for Teen Worker Laws this Fall

School is back on, which means your teen workers may soon be hitting the books again. Small businesses that employ teenagers should heed teen worker laws and understand some basic teen hiring regulations.

After all, you don't want to accidentally run afoul of federal and state labor laws.

Businesses should be aware that teen employment laws vary depending on the age of the children and the time of the year.

FMLA Medical Leave: Do You Have to Reinstate Workers?

When one of your workers takes FMLA medical leave, you may be wondering what your rights are as an employer. Do you have to reinstate the employee?

The short answer is: yes and no.

While employees are generally allowed to take up to a 12-week leave from work to attend to medical or family issues, some employees do not need to be reinstated.

But, others do.

Are Waiters Sneaking Mandatory Tips onto Checks?

Do your employees receive mandatory tips?

If so, consider a recent article in the New York Post, which has restaurant patrons complaining about New York City waiters sneaking mandatory tips onto checks in situations where the restaurant's policy doesn't seem to apply.

In one example, a patron complains about a waiter charging a 20% gratuity after counting two infants to reach the magical number of six.

Another points out that her group ordered drinks at the bar, but was charged extra for joining a large table a while later.

How would your mandatory tip policy apply to these situations?

How to Sell at Farmers' Markets

If you're wondering how to sell at farmers' markets, you're at the right place.

With increasing popularity and markets moving beyond produce to include vendors selling pre-packaged and hot foods, services and crafts, selling your product at a year round or seasonal market could be just the thing your business needs.

But before you jump in and approach your local market manager, you will first need to ensure that you have all your ducks in a row.

Don't Get Sued for Not Providing Meal Breaks

A new trend in employment law, California companies have recently been experiencing a barrage of meal break lawsuits, challenging state labor rules and the extent to which an employer must provide time to rest.

One of these lawsuits, filed against Terminix, ended earlier this week with a federal judge approving a $1.5 million settlement that will compensate termite inspectors for overtime and missed meal breaks.

Brinker and Brinkley, two other multi-million dollar class-action meal break lawsuits, are also currently awaiting review by the state's highest court.