Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

October 2013 Archives

'Bikini Baristas' Too Hot for Wash. Town?

"Bikini barista" stands are popping up -- and popping out -- all over Washington state. And legal trouble is brewing.

Police in Everett, north of Seattle, say the service at one espresso stand was so piping hot that it violated the city's adult cabaret law and constituted lewd conduct. Three "bikini baristas" at the Hillbilly Hotties coffee stand were arrested for reportedly "exposing body parts and behaving inappropriately."

For risqué coffee stand owners, the incident serves as a reminder to leave the steaming to the beverages and to discipline employees -- and not in a "Secretary" kind of way. If not, you could "expose" yourself to liability.

5 Lawyerly Negotiating Tips for Small Biz Owners

Need some negotiating tips for your business?

Every day, small business owners put their negotiation skills to their test. From employee scheduling conflicts to vendor contracts, knowing how to negotiate is crucial when it comes to running a business.

You won't always have your business lawyer around to handle negotiations for you. So here are five lawyerly negotiating tips you may want to keep in mind:

Can You Force Sick Employees to Go Home?

Sick workers can be a huge liability to the health and productivity of an entire company. But can an employer force sick employees to go home?

Working while sick is a common issue for many businesses, especially as the cold and flu season ramps up. A recent Staples survey found that "nearly 90 percent of office workers" showed up to work even when they knew they were contagious, The Huffington Post reports.

How should a small business handle sick employees, and can you require that sick employees go home?

Target to Remove Criminal History From Job Apps

Target stores will soon stop asking job seekers about their criminal records on employment applications as part of a national program set to roll out in 2014.

Target's "Ban the Box" movement calls for employers to "wait until a prospective employee is being interviewed" or has a prospective offer before inquiring about the applicant's criminal history, according to the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, where Target is based.

Should small business owners follow Target's lead and nix the criminal history "box" on their employment applications?

What's Your Social Media Return On Investment?

Do you know how to calculate your social media ROI? Figuring out your small business' ROI, or return on investment, can help you gauge whether or not the resources you devote to social media are paying off, Forbes reports.

While it is probably likely that social media is benefiting your business, it's also important to know just how much, so you know you're not wasting your time, money, or manpower.

Here's a general overview of how to calculate your small business' social media ROI:

SEC Proposes New Crowdfunding Rules

After more than a year of delay, the Securities and Exchange Commission has unanimously approved a proposal of crowdfunding rules to the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act. The 538-page proposal marks a significant step toward regulating businesses that fund their ventures online.

The public has 90 days to comment on the proposed rules. It could be at least another six months before the agency issues final rules.

Here's a summary of the most significant proposed rules:

Top 10 Legal Tips for Firing an Employee

Every boss can use a few tips when it comes to firing employees. Through booms and busts, profits and losses, the discomfort that comes with terminating an employee rarely subsides.

Fortunately, there are a few steps you can take to help prepare for a termination meeting and prevent a simmering ex-employee lawsuit.

Here are our Top 10 legal tips for firing an employee:

Conde Nast Nixes All Internships After Lawsuit

After being sued by ex-interns, Conde Nast has decided to end its internship program for good. That means the current group of interns will be the last at Conde Nast, which publishes Vogue, Vanity Fair, and The New Yorker, among many other titles.

This decision comes on the heels of a lawsuit involving two former Conde Nast interns who sued the publication giant, claiming they were paid below minimum wage as required by law. The case is still pending, The New York Times reports.

While some may feel like this move is a bit drastic, this serves as a good reminder for businesses of all sizes when hiring interns, whether they're paid or unpaid.

Small Biz Owner Salaries Down 5% From 2012: Survey

Small business owner salaries are down. According to the Fall 2013 American Express OPEN Small Business Monitor, the average entrepreneur's salary is about $68,300, a 5 percent drop from $72,000 the year before.

But despite the slight decrease, entrepreneurs and small business owners are still adamantly making strides in the race to success.

How so? Here's what the new survey reveals:

OK to Fire an Employee Over Tweets?

We say it time and time again: Under certain circumstances, you can fire employees for posting inappropriate tweets.

The White House put this golden rule to the test when it recently fired Jofi Joseph, a National Security Council director. Joseph was let go after an extensive investigation linked him to the Twitter handle @NatSecWonk, which criticized many players in Washington and national politics, according to Washington D.C.'s WRC-TV. Worst of all, his disparaging jokes weren't even funny.

In honor of Joseph's perilous lack of good judgment and foresight, here's a friendly reminder of when you can fire an employee for unprofessional tweets:

Any Defenses to Selling Alcohol to Minors?

The penalties for selling alcohol to a minor can be as stiff as a shot of absinthe. Fortunately, there are a variety of legal defenses available to business owners when they either mistakenly sell alcohol to a minor or allow a minor to consume alcohol on your premises.

Here are the most common defenses to selling alcohol to minors:

Legal to Show Netflix at Your Business?

Netflix now boasts 31 million subscribers in the United States, more than HBO. But can you legally show Netflix at your place of business?

Probably not. While it may be feasibly legal to share your Netflix account with six other family members or friends, commercial use of a Netflix account is most likely illegal.

Let's examine why it isn't legal to show Netflix movies in your office lobby.

'Showrooming' Up 156 Percent Over 2012: Survey

Thanks to smartphones, "showrooming" is on the rise, and it's not showing any signs of stopping. The practice is more widespread now than ever, with a 156 percent increase in showrooming from 2012, according to a survey conducted by Vibes.

Showrooming essentially occurs when prospective shoppers enter a brick-and-mortar retail store, use their mobile devices to check and compare prices, and then make their purchases elsewhere -- most commonly, online.

While instant price comparisons via smartphone may pay off for consumers, showrooming itself can be costly for small business owners. Here are some key findings from the new showrooming report, and some tips on what business owners can do:

10 Fastest-Growing Small Biz Industries Revealed

What are the fastest growing small business industries? With the economy still a bit sluggish, it's a question many entrepreneurs are contemplating.

As a new report shows, small business owners with certain skill sets are finding themselves increasingly in demand as the nation begins to rebuild -- literally -- from the depths of the recession.

So which industries are seeing the most growth?

After Shutdown, SBA Working on Backlog

Now that the federal government shutdown is over, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is facing a backlog. During the shutdown, many small business owners were left to deal with the consequences of the SBA being closed since October 1, The Washington Post reports.

Despite the SBA finally reopening, however, this doesn't mean that normal operations will fully resume just yet.

What's on the SBA's plate, now that furloughed workers are back on the job? And what should small business owners expect from the SBA? Here's a general overview:

7 Tips to Avoid Being an Email Spammer

All of us are far too familiar with the scourge of email spammers. Being on the receiving end of email spam is one thing, but to dole it out is nearly a personal affront. It's a sure-fire way to draw the ire of your customers and ultimately alienate them.

Here are seven ways to avoid being an email spammer:

Square Cash Is Cool, but Are There Legal Risks?

Square Cash is the newest way for individuals to email money to one another, but will the legal risks keep businesses from adopting it?

According to The Wall Street Journal, Square Inc. -- best known for equipping small businesses with a way to use mobile phones and tablets as cash registers -- launched Square Cash on Tuesday, allowing users to send up to "$2,500 a week" from one debit card to another (as long as it's a Visa or Mastercard).

But mobile payments always have their downsides. So what potential problems may exist with Square Cash?

Company's 'Zmail' Policy Bars Email After 10 p.m.

One company has barred email after 10 p.m. in a policy it calls "Zmail," designed to give employees a break from the stress that constant email communication can bring.

Vynamic, a health-care consulting company based in Philadelphia, has requested that employees refrain from sending email between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. on weekdays, "and all day Saturday and Sunday," Fast Company reports.

The goal of the Zmail policy is to keep employees happier. Would it be smart for your small business to do the same?

5 Tips for Independent Contractor Agreements

What should your independent contractor agreements contain? While hiring an independent contractor (as opposed to an employee) may seem like an easier option, drafting a binding agreement is still necessary and can provide you, the employer, with legal protection.

Independent contractors can be very beneficial for a small business owner, and can often save you money when it comes to certain tasks. But unless those tasks (and other terms) are spelled out in an agreement, using contractors can potentially lead to legal headaches.

Before you hire your next contractor, here are five tips to keep in mind when drafting your independent contractor agreement:

Amazon Sued Over Employee Security Checks

Amazon is getting sued over allegedly unpaid security checks.

A Pennsylvania man has filed a class action lawsuit alleging that Amazon put him and other warehouse workers through rigorous 10- to 20-minute security screenings when they were off the clock -- once prior to lunch and again prior to exiting the facility -- without pay.

The lawsuit is a good reminder for employers to be mindful of wage and hour laws when conducting bag searches for theft prevention.

NFIB's Business Credit Card: Read the Fine Print

The National Federation of Independent Business has unveiled a new business credit card -- but is it a good deal?

The NFIB Business Edition MasterCard, offered by the First National Bank of Omaha, promotes itself as a "business rewards card built for NFIB members by an NFIB member."

Though the NFIB-branded card boasts a number of perks -- namely, attractive rewards points and no interest for the first nine business cycles -- the card lacks basic borrower protections offered to personal cardholders under the CARD Act, according to Bloomberg Businessweek.

Can Foursquare for Small Businesses Work for You?

Can Foursquare help your small business? The company has announced a new feature that can potentially pay off: Small business owners will now be able to create and build a Foursquare ad.

The location-based mobile app's primary function already allows users to "check in" at businesses (or other locations as detected by their phone's GPS function) to share with friends on social media, and to collect points, encouraging them to use the app more when they're out and about.

What is Foursquare now offering for small businesses? And bottom line: Should you use it?

5 Permits Your Small Business May Require

Local permits can often be a roadblock to allowing a small business to actually open its doors to customers. Dealing with permit problems can leave owners in a financial bind.

Before you even register as a corporation, it's crucial to square away all the necessary local permits before you plan on your company's grand opening.

To that end, here are the five most common permits you'll need to enable your small business to open and thrive:

Pregnant Bartender Sues L.A. Pub Over Firing

A pregnant woman was fired from her bartending gig after her former boss allegedly reprimanded her for not dressing more like a "California hooker."

According to City News Service, Los Angeles resident Amanda Lambert filed suit against The King's Head Pub II, accusing her employer of pregnancy discrimination, wrongful termination, and intentional inflection of emotional distress after her "conservative" look got her fired.

What kind of case does the former employee have against the pub?

Nat'l Women's Small Business Month: 5 Things to Know

October is National Women's Small Business Month. While the glass ceiling may still be alive and well, women are "leaning in" more than ever, and the hard work is paying off.

Consider this: There are now more ladies serving as general counsel at Fortune 500 companies than ever before -- and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

To commemorate National Women's Small Business Month, here are five interesting facts about women in the small business sector:

5 Clauses Every Partnership Agreement Should Include

If you’re thinking about starting a business partnership, it’s important to have a partnership agreement in place to spell out each party’s duties, financial obligations and legal liability.

Some states even require a partnership agreement to be filed along with business formation documents.

Here are five clauses every partnership agreement should include:

Should Your Clerks Have an Emergency Machete?

A convenience store clerk armed with a machete fended off an attempted armed robber in a scary incident caught on surveillance video. Many store owners may be left wondering if this is a legal way to protect themselves.

The machete-wielding clerk was confronted in his store on Long Island, New York, by a masked man who threatened him with a .22-caliber handgun.

Machetes aren't the only means of protection for sole proprietors, however, and employers should keep a few legal considerations in mind when protecting their businesses.

Top 7 Tips for Hiring, Managing Your 1st Employee

Thinking about hiring your first employee? If so, you'll want to consider a few legal ramifications as well.

Many small business owners start out as sole proprietors with no extra help -- but then reach a point when they're ready to expand.

Hiring and managing your first employee can be a daunting task, especially if you've never been someone else's boss before. Here are our Top 7 legal tips to consider when it comes to hiring and managing your first employee:

How to Draft a Business Franchise Agreement

If your small business is flourishing and you're ready to expand into a franchise, congratulations are definitely in order! But so too are some legal considerations -- especially when it comes to drafting a business franchise agreement.

As you know, a franchise agreement is essential to spell out each party's obligations and protect your legal and financial interests.

Here's how to draft a business franchise agreement -- or at least, how to get a solid start:

Small Business Grant Scams: 5 Red Flags

Small business grants are great if you can get them, but there are some scams that you need to be aware of.

For example, one scam offers a great-sounding deal: Fork over a small "pre-funding fee" as a down payment, in order to get hundreds of thousands of dollars in Small Business Development Center grants to start an e-commerce business. The scammers used the SBDC's letterhead to make the ruse appear legit, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reports.

So how can you tell if the small business grant offer you're considering is real? Here are five red flags to watch out for:

10 Tips for Entrepreneurs on Social Media

Attention entrepreneurs: Need tips on how to make social media work for you?

For business owners who are just getting off the ground, your social media presence and your use of social media can be especially important. It can serve as one of your primary tools for branding and shaping your image, and for bringing in and retaining new customers.

Here are 10 tips for entrepreneurs on social media:

What Should You Do With Torn, Mangled Money?

Have you ever received torn money and wondered what to do with it? Many people don't realize that you can often take mutilated money to the bank -- er, the U.S. Treasury and the U.S. Mint -- and get reimbursed.

Here's how to trade that mutilated moola and chump change:

Creating an App? Tap Into These 5 Legal Tips

If you're creating an app, join the club -- and be sure to keep a few legal tips in mind when you strike e-gold.

According to ABI Research, smartphone and tablet users will download 70 billion apps this year. And the total global mobile app market is expected to be worth $25 billion by 2015, reports TechCrunch.

When it comes to creating an app, a flourishing app industry can spell legal liability. So before you start milking your FarmVille cash-cow, keep these five legal tips in mind:

'Mission Main Street': $3M for 12 Small Businesses

Interested in a small business grant? You may want to check out Chase's newest cash contest for small businesses, called "Mission Main Street."

Mission Main Street grants will total $3 million -- that's $250,000 each for 12 chosen small businesses. Winners will also get to attend a small-business marketing workshop with in-house experts at Google, and get a free Google Chromebook Pixel computer.

Sound good? Apply away! But before you do, remember that there are many rules that apply, along with some legal caveats. Here are five points that you'll want to consider:

Employer Sues Over Obamacare Mandate Delay

A Florida business owner is suing over Obamacare's employer mandate delay, after allegedly spending substantial time and resources preparing to be ready by the original 2014 deadline.

Larry Kawa, an orthodontist from Boca Raton, had a suit filed on his behalf by the public interest firm Judicial Watch on Tuesday, alleging that "the delay harmed [his] business," The Daily Caller reports.

Are suits like Kawa's even possible?

Which Legal Structure Is Best for Your Business?

Figuring out the appropriate legal structure for a small business can be a daunting task, especially considering that each type of structure has trade-offs.

It's crucial to take your time and choose wisely because the structure you select will affect everything from paying to taxes to assigning liability, from raising capital to sharing profits.

Here are the three most common legal structures for businesses -- along with their major pros and cons:

Beware Obamacare Small Business Scams

Beware Obamacare scams targeting small businesses. With open enrollment officially starting today, the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, is now in full effect.

But so too are Obamacare scams hoping to target unsuspecting business owners, The Washington Post reports.

With the new health care law comes new opportunities for many scammers seeking to take advantage of those who are confused by Obamacare. Here's a general breakdown of what you, as a small business owner, should be wary of:

5 Ways the Gov't Shutdown Affects Small Biz

The government shutdown began at midnight on Tuesday, and already businesses are wondering how they will feel the pinch from the federal gridlock.

For many small businesses, life and profits will continue as usual. But for some, the shutdown could throw a wrench into the works.

Here are five examples of how the government shutdown could make Q4 more interesting for small business owners: