Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

February 2014 Archives

Businesses Add 'Obamacare Fee' to Customer Bills

Some businesses -- mainly restaurants -- "are asking customers to help foot the bill for Obamacare" by adding an Affordable Care Act surcharge on their tabs, CNNMoney reports.

Case in point: At least eight Gator's Dockside restaurants in central Florida are now charging a so-called "Obamacare fee" that amounts to 1 percent of a customer's check.

Should your business include an Obamacare fee or surcharge on customer bills?

5 Legal Tips for Rejection Letters, Emails

A Cleveland woman's rejection email went viral and sparked a firestorm of rage against Kelly Blazek, the head of a popular local job bank listserv who sent the job seeker a scathing rejection letter.

Blazek -- an HR executive, no less -- learned the hard way that writing an ill-begotten rejection letter or rejection email can come back to haunt you, especially when the spurned recipient turns to social media (in this case, Reddit, Imgur, and Facebook) to call you out. In some cases, a poorly worded rejection letter can even be the basis for a lawsuit.

One simple solution for business owners: Just don't send rejection letters at all, as many firms are doing, according to U.S. News. But if you still want to send a rejection letter or email, here are five tips you may want to consider:

Can Your Business Legally Refuse to Serve Gays?

As several states are considering bills that would, in effect, reinforce a business owner's right to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers, many may be wondering if it's even legal to do so.

With a patchwork of federal, state, and local laws in place regarding the rights of gays and lesbians in public accommodations -- i.e., most businesses that are open to the public -- the issue can get a bit confusing.

Here is a general overview of what business owners need to know:

Is It Legal to Bet on the Oscars at Work?

Are you and your colleagues thinking about throwing down some cash by the water cooler to bet on the Oscars?

You might think placing a bet on "12 Years a Slave" for "Best Picture" would be a nice way to cheer on an excellent frontrunner, liven up your work day, and make a few extra bucks.

But is it actually legal to bet on the Oscars at work?

$8.5M Wage, Tip, Overtime Settlement: 3 Takeaways

Restaurant chain Chickie's & Pete's has agreed to settle with the Department of Labor and some of its current and former employees over alleged wage, tip, and overtime violations.

If the two settlements are approved, the Pennsylvania-based company will pay a total of $8.5 million to more than 1,200 employees it allegedly short-changed, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Department of Labor called its probe of Chickie's & Pete's "one of the largest tipped-employee investigations in recent years." So what legal lessons can employers learn from the settlements?

5 Business Lessons From the Winter Olympics

With the Winter Olympics winding down, what are some good business lessons that can be learned from the Sochi games?

Despite fierce competition, the Olympics are meant to bring the international community together. The medalists, of course, are the ones who've succeeded by working hard without resorting to underhanded tactics.

The same can apply to many business situations. So here are five lessons business owners can take away from the Winter Olympics:

A Business Owner's Guide to Service Dogs

As service dogs have become more prevalent, businesses need to know how to legally handle these animals and their human counterparts.

Some common questions raised by business owners include: Is it legal to prohibit service dogs at your place of business? And what can you do if you suspect a customer's (or employee's) purported "service dog" doesn't meet the legal standard for such an animal?

Service dogs occupy an intersection of state, federal, and local laws, so businesses should take extra care to consider the following:

Job Interview Tips: 10 Illegal Questions to Avoid

When interviewing prospective employees or interns, it's important to keep your questions legal.

Nonchalant questions about someone's birthday or children might seem like a nice way to break the ice. But from a legal standpoint, such questions might flirt with unlawful employment practices.

Here are 10 questions you'll generally want to avoid when interviewing:

Do Contracts Need to Be Notarized or Witnessed?

When signing an agreement, business owners may sometimes wonder, "does my contract need to be notarized or witnessed?"

The short answer is generally no: Business contracts typically don't need to be notarized or witnessed in order to be legally binding.

There are, however, several good reasons to consider having a contract notarized or witnessed.

Naming Your Business: 5 Legal Tips

Naming your business is one of the most important steps new business owners take. But it can also lead to legal troubles.

Some common mistakes include choosing a business name that's already taken and forgetting to register your business' name with the state, if required. Even using a name that pokes fun at a recognized brand -- like the "Dumb Starbucks Coffee" store in Los Angeles last weekend (which turned out to be a comedian's publicity stunt, Reuters reports) -- can potentially lead to lengthy litigation.

So if you're trying to come up with a name for your business, here are five legal tips to get you started:

Is It Legal to Serve Alcohol If You're Under 21?

For bar and restaurant owners who employ minors, it may be crucial to know if workers under 21 can also serve alcohol.

While those under 21 years of age typically can’t drink alcohol, in many situations they can legally serve it.

Here’s what employers need to know:

Top 10 Legal Tips for Valentine's Day at Work

Passing out candy in elementary school is one thing, but how do you deal with Valentine's Day at work?

Good intentions may come off as inappropriate office behavior on Valentine's Day. Amorous antics, even if meant as a joke, can potentially get you and your company sued.

To prevent that from happening to your business, here are our Top 10 legal tips for managing Valentine's Day at your workplace:

5 Questions to Ask an Intellectual Property Lawyer

Whether it's about patents, trademarks, or copyrights, an intellectual property lawyer can guide your business through the legal process.

But what types of questions do clients typically ask IP lawyers?

Here are five initial questions you may want to jot down before your consultation:

'Dumb Starbucks': Smart Parody or Infringement?

The appearance of a "Dumb Starbucks" store in Los Angeles has drawn the ire of the real Starbucks corporation, demanding its "dumb" counterpart stop using its name.

On Friday, "Dumb Starbucks Coffee" opened in a strip mall in L.A.'s Los Feliz neighborhood, serving "Dumb Frappuccinos" and "Wuppy Duppy Lattes." The store is a pretty decent parody of the real Starbucks, but according to the Los Angeles Times, Starbucks corporate isn't laughing.

Can "Dumb Starbucks" use the Starbucks name without getting nailed in court?

5 Tips for Your 'No Fraternization' Policy

Love may be blooming at your workplace as Valentine's Day approaches. For savvy business owners, this may be a good time to review (or draft) your "no fraternization" policy.

While The Beatles may have sang "All You Need Is Love," an office romance may be the last thing you business needs. It can lead to tension in the office and at times, lawsuits. Having a "no fraternization" policy in place may help avoid personal and legal drama in the workplace.

Here are five tips to get you started with your office's fraternization policy:

Don't Let Slippery Conditions Get You Sued

A business that doesn't clear off slippery conditions is a business waiting to slide into a slip and fall lawsuit.

Whether they're icy sidewalks or puddles in aisles, business owners can face slip and fall liability when they fail to take reasonable steps to maintain a safe premises.

Here are three legal reminders about slip and fall liability:

Is It Legal to Use the Olympic Rings in Ads?

Is it legal to use the Olympic rings in ads? The answer to this question will depend primarily on why you're using the trademarked symbol and whether you got the proper permission to use it.

The International Olympic Committee is notoriously aggressive about protecting its trademarks, as explained in a Wired story from the 2012 Summer Olympics. Same goes for the Sochi Olympics that officially kick off Friday.

Here's what small business owners need to know:

Incorporating in Delaware? 5 Issues to Consider

When starting a business, a major consideration is deciding where to incorporate.

The state of Delaware is known as a somewhat magical place in the realm of business. Although it's an incredibly popular place for businesses to incorporate, it doesn't necessarily make a good fit for small business owners -- especially if you only conduct business in your home state.

Here are five issues you'll want to consider if you're thinking of incorporating in Delaware:

Top 10 Facebook Tips for Business Owners

It may be hard to believe, but Facebook has been around for a decade now. "Like" it or not, it's time for business owners to realize that the social media company is not going anywhere.

With more than 1 billion Facebook users worldwide, including many small businesses, tech-savvy entrepreneurs have taken advantage of Facebook to reach current and potential customers.

So what are the best ways to make Facebook for Business work for you? Here are 10 tips to help business owners get the most out of Facebook:

Yelp Defamation Lawsuit Ends in a Draw

A closely followed Yelp lawsuit in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., didn't end with a clear winner. A jury found that a homeowner had indeed defamed a contractor by writing scathing reviews on Yelp and Angie's List.

But then came the surprising twist: Jurors determined the contractor, in turn, had also defamed the customer by responding to the customer's comments with accusations of his own, reports The Washington Post.

Yelp defamation lawsuits are becoming a reality for customers and business owners alike. But as this case reveals, it's tough to predict who will reign victorious in such a suit.