A Business Owner's Legal Guide to the Holidays

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on November 17, 2014 7:45 AM

Like the song says, "It's the most wonderful time of the year."

For many business owners -- especially retailers -- the holidays are the busiest, and most important, time of the year. But even if your business doesn't pick up during the holiday season, you'll likely still have to handle many holiday-related issues, from employees taking time off to dealing with with icy sidewalks.

What are some of the important legal issues that business owners should be aware during the holiday season? Here are our Top 10:

  1. Holiday advertising. With the scramble to offer customers the best deals for Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday, it's important to remember to abide by state and federal advertising laws. Especially when it comes to offers for items with limited inventory, be sure to make clear that a promotion is "while supplies last" and to avoid embellishing or otherwise misleading consumers.
  2. Return fraud. Lots of holiday purchases inevitably mean lots of post-holiday returns, including some that may be fraudulent. Among some effective methods for discouraging return fraud: not offering cash refunds for purchases, not accepting returns of online purchases in-store, and tightening your return period to prevent items being returned weeks or even months after the fact.
  3. Accommodating religious holidays. If you are a private employer, you're under no general obligation to recognize religious holidays such as Christmas or Hanukkah; however, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does require employers to "reasonably accommodate" an employee's religious practices, unless doing so would impose an "undue hardship" on the employer. Also, in order to avoid religious discrimination claims, employers who give time off for one religious holiday, such as Christmas, should provide similar opportunities for workers of other faiths to take their religious holidays off of work.
  4. Holiday pay. Employees working on holidays may expect to get paid a little something extra. Generally, however, employers are not obligated to pay employees a higher rate than the normal wage for working on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or other holidays, unless the workers are covered by a collective bargaining agreement or an individual employment contract that states otherwise.
  5. Seasonal employees. Many businesses hire extra help during the holidays to keep up with increased business. Generally, these employees are entitled to the same employee rights regarding minimum wage and overtime as regular employees. However, depending on the rules in your state, some seasonal employees may be exempt from overtime.
  6. Black Friday. As the shopping "holiday" known as Black Friday has increased in popularity, so have problems tied to consumers scrambling to get their hands on deeply discounted products. If you are planning a blowout sale for Black Friday, be sure to take precautions such as placing limited supply sale items behind the counter and hiring security guards to keep things from getting out of hand.
  7. Small Business Saturday. Black Friday is just the start of the holiday shopping madness these days. Smaller businesses are increasingly dealing with many of the same issues that larger retailers face on Black Friday the next day, Small Business Saturday.
  8. Cyber Monday. Online businesses are also getting into the mix with Cyber Monday. Although online retailers can avoid many of the problems faced by businesses facing a Black Friday rush, Cyber Monday has its own range of security issues and may make your business a target for online fraud.
  9. Mobile Tuesday. The latest entrant into the holiday shopping litany is Mobile Tuesday. Allowing customers to shop your business via mobile device is increasingly necessary. But mobile shopping platforms offer their own host of potential issues.
  10. Holiday parties. Office holiday parties are a great way to celebrate the end of the year with your employees. But be sure to avoid potential problems by making the party non-specific to any one holiday, limiting alcohol, and providing rides home for employees who may be intoxicated.

Find more legal tips for business owners at FindLaw's section on Small Business Law.

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