Free Enterprise - The FindLaw Small Business Law Blog

July 2015 Archives

Technology has consistently made our favorite music more mobile. Music streaming sites like Pandora and Spotify allow us to have our own soundtrack everywhere we go. Businesses are also taking advantage of streaming sites. By now we've all seen a bartender or a barista with their phone plugged into the sound system, setting the mood for the establishment.

But is this kosher, legally? Are there different rules for streaming Pandora at a business?

Those who were caught off guard by the Obama Administration's move to resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba might also be surprised by this fact: the U.S. is already the fourth largest exporter of goods to Cuba.

But this doesn't mean Cuba is completely open for business. The country is still subject to a trade embargo, meaning there are heavy restrictions on American exports to Cuba, and the Cuban government still sets the rules on who can do business in the country. So what do you need to know about doing business in Cuba?

With the ubiquity of small businesses on social media, many entrepreneurs are wondering if their business even needs its own dedicated website. Especially when (good) web design is expensive and Facebook is still free.

While there may be benefits to replacing your business website with Facebook, there are also drawbacks.

With over 50 million freelancers out there, businesses would be foolish not to take advantage of their services. After all, not all jobs require a full-time employee.

As businesses and employees are getting more flexible and agile, you may find yourself in the market for freelancers. To make sure you hire the right way, keep a few things in mind:

Poor Abercrombie & Fitch just can't get a break.

Soon after a stunning 8-1 defeat before the Supreme Court over religious head coverings, Abercrombie is going back to the courtroom. Approximately 62,000 of the company's California employees are suing over the company's strict uniform policy.

What trouble has Abercrombie gotten itself into now?

Throwing a frat-themed office party? Probably a bad idea. This idea is especially a bad for social media/tech companies, since they already suffer from heavily criticism for being overtly male-dominated. 

And then this happens: a team at Twitter through a frat-themed office party while being sued for gender discrimination? This is quite possibly the worst idea possible in terms of supporting gender equality in the workplace.

At least this serves as a good opportunity for other businesses to learn: don't do what Twitter just did.

Employees should theoretically love overtime. They get paid time and a half or even double for the same amount of work.

However, people have lives outside of work, so even the most loyal employees may be hesitant to commit to extra work. If an employee refuses to work more than the standard eight hour day, do you have any recourse?

Can you fire an employee who refuses to work overtime?

An employee is claiming harassment at work. The problem is that the employee doesn't know the identity of the harasser. How can you, the employer, resolve the harassment issue if you don't even know who to blame?

Can you just ignore harassment when the harasser is anonymous?

The Supreme Court may have extended the right to marry to same-sex couples this year, but the fight for equality, benefits, and rights is not over.

Just a month after the Supreme Court's decision in Obergefell v. Hodges Walmart is defending itself against a lawsuit that claims gender discrimination when it refused to extend health insurance to same-sex spouses of employees.

Throughout the United States, women, on average, earn only about 77 percent of what men earn for the same work. In some states, the pay gap is even wider, with women as much as 34 percent less than men.

So, it should make sense that women should pay less than men for the same products. Some businesses, in protest of the gender pay gap, are charging women less than men.

Should your business consider adopting a gender-based pricing strategy? Is it legal?

Congratulations on your new eBay business!

I hope the money is flowing in. But, to ensure you get to keep the money, make sure your business isn't skirting the law in any way.

Take these five steps to keep your eBay business legal:

Entrepreneurs are an optimistic sort, so it may be hard to admit that your small business needs to file for bankruptcy. But even the best of us go bankrupt, just ask 50 Cent, Kodak, and the company that makes Twinkies.

There are a few options for small business bankruptcy, and here's what you can expect if you file for Chapter 11 or "reorganization" bankruptcy.

One of your employees just hit you with the news that she's pregnant! In addition to your happiness at the news, no doubt you're also concerned about the implications for your business.

Your employee will probably need time off to go to doctor appointments, and then even more time off right before and after giving birth. During the pregnancy, she may need accommodations because she can no longer do all the duties required of her job. All of this impacts your business and costs, so it can be tempting to avoid the issue altogether by firing any pregnant employees or refusing to hire pregnant applicants.

Be careful. You could be violating a long list of laws protecting the rights of pregnant employees. Here are 5 laws protecting pregnant women's rights that all employers should understand:

Do employers never learn? Firing an employee solely because of the headscarf she is wearing as a part of her religious beliefs is just asking to be sued!

Rotten Ralph's, a bar in the Old City, Philadelphia, was happy to hire Tia Rollins when she wasn't wearing a headscarf. But, a few days later, Rollins was out of a job because her manager didn't like her headscarf.

Now, the restaurant is being sued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Firing an employee is never pleasant, even if you think he or she deserves it. Bringing a wrongful termination lawsuit can only add to the unpleasantness. No doubt you'd rather be focusing on your business than going to court.

So how can you avoid getting sued after terminating an employee? Here are a few things to keep in mind:

The recent debacle at Reddit over a popular moderator's firing has claimed its casualties.

Site moderators and thousands of Reddit users called for the resignation of Ellen Pao's, Reddit's interim CEO since Victoria Taylor, a well-like employee, was fired. As a result of the fiasco, Ellen Pao has stepped down as interim CEO, although she claims it was for different reasons.

What can small business owners learn from Ellen Pao and Reddit's mistake?

It's summer! Do you give your employees paid vacations? No? Well, that's too bad. Luckily, you don't operate your business somewhere in Europe.

The United States may be the second largest economy in the world, but we're definitely the stingiest country for paid vacation days.

If any small businesses have noticed the meteoric rise in "nerd culture" -- from trivia nights to blockbuster comic book movies to the ever-expanding Comic Con that just completed in San Diego -- they've probably been wondering how to capitalize on this burgeoning market. Nerd marketing is a thing these days, with companies large and small trying to cash in.

So how can your small business appeal to the "nerd" demographic, and do so legally?

Any business that has never had to deal with at least one personal injury case must be the luckiest business in the world. For many businesses, personal injury lawsuits are just another cost of doing business.

So, to help you protect your business, here are five personal injury laws that every small business owner should know about:

The good side to being a publicly traded company? People buy shares in your company, giving you revenue. The bad side? Some of those shareholders can meddle in your company's affairs.

But only so far. A church that owns a significant amount of shares in Walmart sued the retailer last year, trying to force it to stop selling assault rifles in its stores. But a federal appeals court dismissed the lawsuit, saying the church couldn't interfere with the company's ordinary business operations.

Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that same-sex couples have the right to be married, many are wondering what that will mean for small businesses. The big question being whether businesses can discriminate against same-sex couples in terms of providing wedding services, etc.

Last week, an Oregon bakery that refused to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple was fined $135,000, and this week another baker argued before the Colorado Court of Appeals, defending his refusal to make a cake for a gay couple. So where does the law stand now?

We've all heard the adage: The easiest way to start a fight on a plane is to ask the person next to you how much they paid for their ticket. We're so used to airlines charging passengers different amounts for essentially the same seats that we don't even discuss it.

Dynamic pricing, known also as price discrimination, is the practice of charging different prices for identical products. So is it legal for airlines and other companies to engage in price discrimination?

How much do you charge your customers? Be careful. Don't make Whole Foods' mistake and overcharge or you might run into legal trouble.

Whole Foods is currently in damage control mode after it was investigated by several cities for pricing irregularities and overcharging customers. Now the company must pay $800,000 in fines and implement new pricing measures.

Monday, your employee Bob doesn’t show up to work. He doesn’t even call to tell you why he won’t be in. Tuesday, he’s a no show again. Wednesday, you’re getting worried and angry.

Can you fire a no-show employee? Are there steps you must take first?

We have all been told the importance of contributing to a 401(k) as a retirement plan. 401(k)s are great because your employer sends your contribution straight to the company managing the investment plan, tax-free. Some employers will even make matching deductions to your retirement plan.

But what happens when you are your own boss? Can you still have a 401(k)?

A trusted employee has been missing more days of work than usual. His productivity is down and co-workers are complaining about his attitude. In this and similar situations, it's possible that your employee may be dealing with substance abuse.

Here are some signs of drug abuse to look out for:

Americans work too hard. Many people don't even take vacation time because they don't get vacation pay.

When employers do offer their employees the benefit of paid vacation, they usually do so voluntarily. Are employers ever required to offer paid vacation benefits?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers don't need extra protection from discrimination in the workplace ... because they are already covered. Any discrimination based on sexual orientation would amount to discrimination based on sex, which is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The announcement comes three years after the EEOC prohibited discrimination based on gender identity, and less than a month after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

Last week, we wrote about Obama's plan to seek changes in current overtime pay rules to allow more workers to get overtime pay.

This week, President Obama has finally proposed a rule change. Here is what you need to know about the President's proposed overtime rule: