Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

May 2013 Archives

Alcohol at Company Parties: When to Say 'When'?

If your business has an office party or company picnic coming up, you might want to think twice before topping off that guy with bloodshot eyes who reeks of J├Ągermeister. Your state may have laws that make party hosts liable for over-serving guests.

Depending on what state you're in, social hosts who serve or otherwise provide alcohol to someone who is visibly drunk can be liable for injuries caused by the intoxicated person.

When can your business liable for over-serving alcohol at a company party?

Shoplifting Searches: When Are They Legal?

Are shoplifting searches ever illegal?

Searches of suspected shoplifters occur all the time, most commonly as part of a store's protocol if a bag sets off the alarm for some reason. Usually, customers don't object to them if they have nothing to hide.

But business owners beware: Some types of searches can potentially be considered illegal. Here are some general guidelines:

Premises Liability: 5 Tips For Businesses

A dry ice "bomb" explosion occurred in a trash bin late Tuesday afternoon at Disneyland, resulting in an evacuation from Toontown.

The dry ice was concocted in a plastic bottle that was placed in the trash can. The explosion was confined to just the can. According to the Anaheim Police Department, in a report from the Los Angeles Times, this is not an uncommon occurrence.

Fortunately, nobody was injured from this blast, and the general Toontown area was reopened again to park visitors two hours later. But what responsibility would Disneyland have had, if someone were to be hurt? Here are 5 things business owners should know about liability on their premises.

5 Rules for Hiring Kids This Summer

Kids are a great hiring pool for small business owners looking for some seasonal support during the summer months.

These able-bodied, highly trainable teen dynamos can give your business a kickstart, as long as you remember these five legal guidelines for hiring kids in summer:

Papa John's Racist Voicemail Spurs CEO Apology

A Papa John’s racist voicemail has moved the company’s CEO to issue a public apology. A delivery man, who accidentally “butt-dialed” a Sanford, Florida couple, left a message full of racial slurs as he complained about his tip — even though the couple tipped 21 percent, reports ABC News. A fellow delivery man can be heard laughing as the Papa John’s employee turns his complaint about the $5 tip into a racist ditty, including the N-word and other racial expletives, about the customer.

The understandably angry customer posted the audio of the message which has gone viral.

Ride-Sharing Apps Running Into Legal Roadblocks

Ride-sharing apps are Lyfting-off in Silicon Valley funding, reports Time Magazine.

The staggering $60 million Lyft investment shows the ride-sharing market is nowhere near yielding to its legal and regulatory headaches. A cross between Craigslist rideshare and cabs, these ride-sharing services are exploding with popularity because they can often be more affordable and easier to book than traditional taxis.

But before you devise a genius plan for a ride-sharing service like Lyft in your area, make sure you don't steer into a regulatory dead-end.

Dine-and-Dash: What Should Businesses Do?

What should businesses do when they encounter a "dine-and-dash" situation?

When patrons walk into a restaurant, it is usually expected that they will pay for the goods and services received at the end of their meal. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen.

Here are some tips on how to deal with the situation, both before and after.

5 Military Leave Laws Every Employer Should Know

Memorial Day is a time to remember those who served. It's also a good time to remember your duty, as an employer, to employees who currently serve in our armed forces.

Under the federal Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA), which applies to all employers, business owners can't discriminate against employees in hiring, retention, promotion or employment benefits based on past, present or future membership in the armed services (or other "uniformed services"). At its core, USERRA is a military leave law.

Here are five USERRA military leave laws every employer should know:

What to Do When Your Kickstarter Fails

Kickstarter is a great way to crowdsource investment money for you small business. That is, until your Kickstarter fails.

Here is a legal look at your funding options, obligations to investors, and your promise to deliver when your Kickstarter project fails to live up to your dreams:

Can a Business Be Sued for Employee's Acts?

One of the biggest concerns for business owners is whether they can be sued for their employees' acts. Well, like most legal questions, the answer is going to be a resounding "it depends."

In many cases, employees can be considered "agents" of the business they work for. While this may seem like everything an employee does can be attributed to his employer, this is not always true.

So, when are employers liable, and when are they not? There are a number of different factors to consider.

As Boomers Retire, a Jump in Small-Biz Acquisitions

Baby boomers are retiring, and that means their small businesses are being acquired at an increasing rate.

Boomer business owners are starting to throw in the towel, and a recent Pepperdine University study pinned the sales of businesses from the end of 2012 and into 2013 on retirement, the Associated Press reports.

What does this new trend mean for your small business?

5 Tips for Interviewing New Grads

Interviewing new grads is likely going to be a task on many a to-do list for small business owners, especially this time of the year.

Because with spring allergies comes not only pollen, but a confetti of tasseled graduation caps being tossed into the air. As fresh-faced young adults enter the working world, now is the time to prepare for interview season.

With that being said, here are five useful tips for interviewing new graduates:

Tornado Safety Tips for Business Owners

A tornado can destroy your business just as easily as your home. What can business owners do to keep their assets and important documents safe?

While authorities are just starting to tally up the damage from Monday's deadly tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, a prior tornado that hit the same city in 1999 caused about $1 billion in damage to homes and businesses, according to The Economist.

By following these tips, you can protect your business before and after a tornado threatens it:

OK to Fire Worker for Looking for Another Job?

Can you legally fire an employee just for looking for another job?

This commonly occurs when an employee is caught using office equipment to apply for another job, or when an employee walks in late, dressed a bit nicer than usual, raising suspicions that she just came from a job interview.

It is OK to fire a worker over this?

Top 5 Legal Issues for Food Truck Owners

It's no secret that starting a food truck business is all the rage these days. Food trucks have found that sweet spot by tapping into the current popularity of foodie culture, the powers of social media, and, in many cases, cheaper prices.

Unfortunately, serving innovative food at fair prices isn't the only thing food truck owners have to think about. Foodie entrepreneurs must also do their legal research before hitting the road -- or risk getting shut down.

Here are five legal issues that food truck owners commonly face:

Website for Kids? Don't Link to Twitter, Pinterest

Is your business' website geared toward kids? If so, you may not want to link to Twitter or Pinterest, or else you may face the wrath of the Better Business Bureau. Just look at what happened to Build-A-Bear.

The always popular Build-A-Bear Workshop removed links to Twitter and Pinterest after the BBB's Children's Advertising Review Unit (CARU) came calling. Build-A-Bear's site failed to comply with CARU's self-regulatory guidelines, as well as the federal Children's Online Privacy Protection Act, according to MediaPost.

The Act, perhaps better known as COPPA, broadly prohibits website operators from collecting personal information from children younger than 13 without parental consent. So what was Build-A-Bear doing wrong, and what lessons can other business owners learn?

How Not to Deal With Disgruntled Customers

The sad story of a chef killed over a meal raises an important issue for small business owners: How should you deal with disgruntled customers? Or more to the point, how should you not deal with them?

Japanese chef Miki Nozawa died from injuries that resulted from a fight with two customers in Germany who apparently thought their meal was poorly prepared, UPI reports. No one has yet been arrested.

As a business owner, dealing effectively with unsatisfied customers -- unpleasant as it may be -- is a crucial and necessary part of keeping your business afloat. It can also help fend off potential lawsuits.

Here are some tips you may want to consider:

e-Book Authors May Need a Legal Book Review

As self-published e-books top best-seller lists, writer-entrepreneurs may be wondering: Should e-book authors who self-publish submit their books for a legal review?

If an author expects her book to get a decent amount of exposure, and the book contains material that isn't in the public domain, then consulting an attorney who knows a bit about publishing laws isn't a bad idea.

Here are five legal tips for those writing an e-book, self-published or otherwise:

Is It Legal to Spy on Your Employees?

To snoop or not to snoop, that is the question. Employers might feel hesitant about spying on employees. It can give employees the impression that they aren’t trusted.

Yet when employers find themselves in the midst of an embarrassing legal nightmare, monitoring employees may seem like a useful preventative measure.

But is it legal to spy on your employees? The answer may depend on how you’re spying on them, and where your business is located.

Ficticious Business Names: 3 Reasons to Register

Registering your business with a fictitious name may sound like you're going to open your own magical candy factory or even a furniture company that produces suspiciously deep wardrobes. But it can be vital to your small business' success.

A fictitious business name, or DBA name, is required in many states if your business does not take the legal name of its owner. What are the benefits to registering a DBA name?

Here are three reasons for you to step into the non-fantasy realm of registering your business with a fictitious name:

What Can Happen If You Take Workers' Tips?

In the restaurant industry, it's a big, beefy no-no for employers to take an employee's tips. Generally, it's not legal for managers to pocket a worker's tips. Violations can be pricey.

But laws on gratuities can be confusing. With terms like "tip credits" and "tip pools" floating around, managers may also need some tips on how to make sense of it all.

Here are some general rules about tips -- and some insight on what can potentially happen if those rules are violated.

Should Your Business Accept Bitcoin?

The digital currency Bitcoin has taken the interest of small businesses again, as a New Mexico legal startup, Law 4 Small Business (L4SB), has announced it will start accepting bitcoins in exchange for legal services. Should your business do the same?

L4SB attributes much of its recent success to offering their customers flexible payment methods and options, and adding Bitcoin to this list will appeal to their tech-savvy small business clients, according to a company press release.

Bitcoin is by no means a new option for businesses. But business owners should consider these risks before offering payments in digital cash:

A Biz Owner's Legal Guide to Summer Hiring

With summer just around the corner, now is the perfect time for business owners to refresh themselves on the legal issues surrounding summer hiring.

Before business heats up in the summer, consider these legal tips when hiring seasonal employees:

McDonald's Wage Theft? Timesheet Fraud Alleged

You've heard of employees tampering with their timesheets, but a New York McDonald's employee claims his employer was fraudulently altering his time cards in order to cut his pay.

Frustrated ex-employee Jeff Schuyler claims his bosses at the Syracuse-area McDonald's modified his timesheets in order to avoid paying him overtime, reports The Huffington Post. His lawsuit seeks class-action status.

As wage theft continues across the country, employers should take a careful look at the laws relating to time and wage requirements.

3 Tips for Business Owners Going on Reality TV

As reality TV shows featuring small businesses become increasingly popular, other entrepreneurs may be wondering how they can get a piece of the reality TV pie.

However, a better question may be how to deal with some of the legal issues that often accompany a business owner's 15 (or more) minutes of fame.

Before you sign up to be the next "Pawn Stars" or "Duck Dynasty," or even just to be featured in a commercial TV segment, consider these tips about protecting yourself and your business once you're in the limelight:

How to Avoid Being Sued Over Pregnancy, Maternity

Being sued over maternity leave or a worker's pregnancy is an employer's nightmare, and can end up costing you in terms of money and time. How can you avoid such lawsuits in the first place?

Cases alleging pregnancy discrimination at work are more common than you may think, as are maternity-leave lawsuits. So this Mother's Day, business owners may want to give their maternal employees an incredibly useful gift: clear communication about maternity leave at your workplace. It's a gift that keeps on giving, since you'll be in a better position to avoid potential legal problems.

Here are a few suggestions to avoid getting sued over maternity leave or pregnancy discrimination:

Bad Call? 1 in 3 Businesses Aren't Going Mobile

While many of us couldn't imagine life, much less business, without a mobile device, some business owners are choosing not to go mobile.

Despite the proliferation of iPhones and BlackBerrys in the workplace, a staggering 34% of companies use no mobile devices in their business, according to a new study by Constant Contact Inc. and reported by Daily Deal Media.

With a healthy one-third of businesses no using mobile technology whatsoever, maybe the old-fashioned methods are worth a second look.

Mom Business Owners: Tips for Success

Sure you're a mom, but you're also an entrepreneur running a successful business. And although those skill sets often overlap, there may be some pitfalls to treating your employees like your children.

The following tips will help keep mothers, and the businesses they own, on top:

eBay Buyer Sues Seller Who Sued Over Bad Review

On eBay, ratings equal social currency: They can make or break a seller's reputation. That's why Med Express, an eBay seller, sued a buyer who wouldn't take down her negative review. It was the only piece of negative feedback against the company.

Med Express eventually backed down, but the buyer's lawyer is pursuing a countersuit because of the company's troubling pattern of suing buyers over bad reviews.

But are Med Express' eBay lawsuits "completely frivolous," as the eBay buyer's lawyer claims?

New Moms at Your Workplace? Know These 5 Laws

Everyone has a mom, and every small business owner needs to know the laws that protect and provide for their new mom employees.

Employers should strive to be vigilant and current in their understanding of the federal and state laws relating to motherhood and the workplace. Here are five laws that can be particularly important for business owners:

Like Yahoo, Should You Extend Maternity Leave?

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is making Mother's Day a little more special for her maternal employees, with a new extended maternity leave policy.

Mayer, a working mom herself, got a fair share of backlash when she issued a ban on telecommuting two months ago. But she seems to be making amends with Yahoo's new offer of longer paid leave for new moms -- and dads.

Should your company follow suit and offer extended maternity (and paternity) leave too?

Considering Mobile Payments? 5 Legal Tips

Mobile payment services like Square and LevelUp are all the rage with pop-up cafes and micro-businesses, but are they right for established small businesses?

Attaching a portable credit-card reader to your smartphone or tablet may seem like the right call, but doing so also raises a few legal concerns -- such hackers potentially swiping customers' credit-card info.

Here are five legal tips for any business owner considering mobile payments:

Is It Legal to Read Employees' Email?

It's not uncommon for for employees to check Facebook multi-task while working. Employers have tried a variety of methods to keep their ants focused on work, but it's hard to compete with cute puppy pics. One tactic is for employers to to monitor employee emails.

But is it legal to read employees' email messages?

What to Do If Employees Are Stealing Your Data

Even in the most mundane positions, employees can have access to company networks that will allow them to steal your data. Smart business owners will try to protect themselves from employee theft, whether from current hires or recently terminated ones.

The following tips can help your business effectively deal with situations in which current or former employees are stealing data.