Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

December 2011 Archives

Online Shopping Under the Influence

Alcohol has long been used to improve sales. But shopping under the influence seems to have moved beyond in-store wine parties and stay-at-home-mom soirees. If anecdotal evidence is correct, drunk online shopping is all the rage.

In one British survey, about half of all respondents admitted to drunken impulse buys. And a number of online retailers have seen an uptick in evening traffic, according to the New York Times.

Retailers are now holding promotions that run later into the night.

Breastfeeding Moms Take Their Protest to Stores

Store owners: have you ever seen a woman breastfeed her baby in public in your shop? Well, don't overreact. They may be doing so legally. There are many public breastfeeding laws that specifically encourage and allow women to breastfeed their children.

This includes breastfeeding in the workplace -- and possibly within the walls of your store.

So it's probably wise not to overreact. One Target store in Texas did, and now they're receiving a wave of negative publicity.

Chaos, Near Riot Ensues at Saks Shoe Sale

Black Friday can be bad. But Saks Fifth Avenue has proved that the day after Christmas can be even worse.

A 4-hour, 60% off shoe sale at the retailer's New York City store devolved into a Saks shoe mob Monday morning. Elbows were swinging, patrons were fighting over merchandise, and there was a lot of cutting in line.

Saks shoppers got so unruly, security had to evacuate the entire floor 30 minutes before the deadline. You know shoppers were mad, but what were they thinking?

Employees Can Now Vote for Unions Faster

The National Labor Relations Board has passed a new union election rule. The new rule will alter labor union laws, making it easier and quicker for employees to hold unionization elections.

The rules are set to go into effect on April 30. That is, if they survive a legal challenge filed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

What should employers know about the new union rule?

A Guide to Dealing With Gift Returns

Experts predict the season's deep discounts will lead to deep return lines come January. Consumers binged on good deals, buying unnecessary items and cheaper duplicates.

Add to that the results of a Better Business Bureau survey and you can expect chaos. Approximately 1/3 of all consumers don't read return and exchange policies when making a purchase.

How are you going to prevent a post-holiday gift return nightmare?

If you're not sure, start here.

Feds Approve Plan to Revamp Small Biz Funding

Congress has ended its three-year disagreement and reauthorized two small business programs designed to boost research and development. The Small Business Innovation Research program and the Small Business Technology Transfer program gave a combined $2.2 billion to small companies in 2011.

That number will continue to climb, as the reauthorization includes changes to the amount of grant monies set aside for companies with fewer than 500 employees. Congress also increased the size of the grants themselves.

Will Health Insurance Exchanges Impact You?

Small businesses often choose health insurance policies for their employees based on the cost. Some businesses may even choose not to provide health policies because they're simply too expensive. Enter the new "health insurance exchanges," set to become fully online and operational in 2014.

Health insurance exchanges are mandated under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Of course, the constitutionality of the healthcare reform law is still at issue. The Supreme Court is set to hear arguments next year. 

But if all goes according to the Obama Administration's plan, what should your small business expect -- and what exactly are "health insurance exchanges"?

How Safe is Your Sole Proprietorship?

Guest post by Jennifer K. Halford, Esq.

Many of the small business owners that I have worked with are sole proprietors. This is not surprising given that setting up a sole proprietorship is a simple process. And completing the sole proprietorship's taxes is fairly simple as well. All business income and losses are simply reported on the business owner's personal income tax return.

Yet, I am careful when speaking with small business owners to point out that there are serious risks of a sole proprietor to watch out for.

The most serious risk of a sole proprietor is unlimited personal liability for the business' debts. This means that if the business is unable to pay its debts, your house, assets, and bank accounts are in jeopardy. If you are married, your spouse's interest may also be at risk.

Dog Walker Regulations Coming to SF?

San Francisco is debating whether or not to impose new dog walker regulations. The new regulations, if passed, would require dog walkers to get permits and licenses.

The rules would apply to dog walkers who walk two or more canines at one time. In order to get the permit, dog walkers would need to meet a few requirements.

They would have to take training courses that will go over some of the basics of dog park etiquette, doggy first aid, and pack management. Would-be dog walkers would also be able to satisfy permit requirements by taking on an apprenticeship with an experienced dog walker.

It's a power that employers rarely use, but perhaps all should consider: How to remotely wipe cell phones that contain sensitive information -- especially when the phones get stolen.

All you need is an email address to command to a cell phone to self-destruct. Employers send the command via their company's email server.

But before you go wild with the power to wipe, experts say to make sure your workers have agreed to it. Otherwise they may take issue with the data destruction -- and could possibly take you to court.

SF Minimum Wage Over $10, Highest in U.S.

San Francisco's minimum wage will top out at $10.24 come January 1st -- the highest in the nation. Compare that with the $7.25 federal minimum and the statewide $8.00 an hour.

States are legally allowed to exceed the federal level, but in some jurisdictions, cities and counties are free to go even higher. San Francisco isn't the only locality to take advantage of this rule.

Santa Fe is expected to hit $10 in 2012. It, too, has passed a law requiring a yearly increase.

The 10 Best States for Business

Where is the best place to start your business? Business regulations, costs, and the labor pool are all factors that need to be considered before a company puts down its roots. Look no further, as Forbes has released its annual list of the best states for businesses and careers.

Are you wondering where your state ranks? Here are the top ten states for business, as ranked by the magazine:

Holiday Donations Can Pay Off in 2012

For small businesses, donations are one way that they can help the community and foster good relations with their customers. Small business owners should know that tax deductions on charitable contributions are available to them as the calendar year ends.

Like individual charitable contributions, businesses can also deduct some donations they make. However, business owners should be aware of some key rules so they can maximize their deductions -- and not run afoul of IRS regulations. Rules such as:

Blogger Not a Journalist, Must Pay $2.5M

An Oregon court recently ruled that Crystal Cox, a blogger, is not a member of the "media." It's a decision that likely resonates with small business owners and blog writers nationwide.

Businesses that run blogs often worry about defamation suits. And maybe they should. It seems that blogs in some jurisdictions aren't afforded the same type of journalistic protection reserved for more traditional media outlets.

Cox was accused of defaming Obsidian Finance Group and its co-founder Kevin Padrick on her blog. She accused Padrick of behaving illegally and unethically when he acted as a trustee of a federal bankruptcy.

Despite setbacks in 2011, America's small business owners are setting themselves up for a comeback, a new survey suggests.

And there's more helpful news for small businesses heading into 2012: New figures show Small Business Saturday was a huge success, and the Small Business Administration is set to offer a free Web chat about year-end tax tips.

First, the survey. Researchers found 61% of small businesses faced economic hardships in 2011, while 50% failed to meet their business goals for the year.

But 2012 seems to be looking brighter, with 40% of small business owners saying they feel "optimistic" or "very optimistic" about their business prospects in the new year.

Do Cities Need Better Food Truck Laws?

Food trucks may be the new trend, but they’re not exactly trendy amongst local officials. Cities across the country are citing food trucks for maintenance issues, improper permitting and public disruption. Local restaurants are also complaining, arguing that food trucks “steal” their business.

But like those restaurants, food trucks are businesses that contribute to the local economy. Arguably, cities need to find a way to accommodate the trucks while addressing the community’s concerns.

This could be accomplished with better food truck laws.

What a Payroll Tax Cut Could Mean For You

It seems that the House and the Senate are gridlocked when it comes to whether or not the government should extend the payroll tax cut holiday. Democrats had originally proposed extending the payroll tax cut to employers, which might have helped some business owners.

For now, it seems that they've scratched that plan. But, Republicans are set to unveil their plan later this week. It's unclear what they will propose.

Which means employers may be wondering if the debate in Congress can ultimately affect their bottom line.

The more employees you hire, after all, the more taxes you need to shell out.

Google Plus for businesses has finally opened its doors.

The world's most visited website has announced the grand opening of Google+ Pages.

Like the old-fashioned Yellow Pages, Google+ Pages offer businesses a way to connect with customers -- but with a lot more interactivity.

So why get your own Google+ Page, when you're already swamped with followers on Facebook and Twitter?

Experts are chiming in, and their answers fall into three broad categories.

Bill Could End Overtime for More IT Workers

Attention IT employees, your days of getting overtime pay may be over if Congress passes a new recently-introduced bill. The bill expands the definition of the Fair Labor Standards Act's (FLSA) exemptions for workers who are entitled to overtime pay. The law currently only exempts certain IT workers, including computer programmers or software engineers.

The new bill would exempt "any employee working in a computer or information technology occupation."

This would greatly expand the number of employees that might fall under the exemption's purview. For employers, this may mean the end of paying time-and-a-half for some of your IT professionals.

'Tis the season for small business owners to take stock of 2011 and get ready for success in 2012.

We know the holidays are always hectic, but it's an important time of year for your business. Not only is this the season when retailers make most of their income, it's also a good time to sit down and strategize, USA Today recommends.

Here are some tips to make the last month of the year pay off in 2012.

Does 'Footzyrolls' Infringe on 'Tootsie Roll'?

Would you be inclined to confuse Footzyrolls with Tootsie Rolls?

For the uninitiated, Footzyrolls are shoes that roll into small bundles so they can easily be stored in a woman's purse. Produced by Rollashoe, a sister-owned small business, the shoes are part of a line that includes Footzysocks and Footzyfolds.

In a bid to protect its brand, Tootsie Roll has filed suit against Rollashoe's Footzyrolls. The company alleges that the names are so similar that the shoes are likely to cause consumer confusion and dilute the Tootsie Roll trademark.

Can You 'Gag' a Customer's Online Reviews?

Small businesses and online review sites like Yelp have a tenuous relationship. On one hand, websites like Yelp offer customers a way to sound off about a business's services and goods. It can be a great publicity outlet.

On the other hand, a particularly negative review can quickly turn profits into losses.

That's why some doctors and dentists began using contracts provided Medical Justice. These privacy agreements had a clause called the Code of Internet Ethics that stated patients couldn't post "personal attacks" about the office's well-being and reputation, only constructive criticism.