In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

July 2016 Archives

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, has gained increased attention in the corporate world in recent years, as veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan and reenter the workplace. But it's not just members of the armed forces that may experience PTSD. Anyone who experiences or witnesses a traumatic event can develop PTSD. Indeed, the disorder is shockingly common: nearly one in 10 women, and up to 8 percent of the population generally, experience PTSD at some point in their lives.

For most companies, the question isn't whether they'll have to address PTSD in the workplace, it's when.

We're coming to the end of the major party's national conventions this week, and the election season is about to go into overdrive. So if you think you've heard enough about Trump and Hillary this summer, get ready to hear even more -- and that includes political talk (and more) at the office, something that could raise some tricky legal, HR, and management concerns.

To help you out, here are our top pieces of advice on politics and the workplace, from the FindLaw archives.

Verizon to Buy Yahoo! for $4.8 Billion

Netscape, Yahoo, Google. Each of these names were iconic during their times -- some of them still are.

But Yahoo's time as a stand-alone company is finished. This new development was announced this week. Now, with $4.83B less in its coffers, Verizon is walking away with the spoils of acquisition war: Yahoo's one-billion monthly subscribers.

Airbnb Hires Eric Holder for Damage Control

In order to develop a 'world-class anti-discrimination policy,' Airbnb recently hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. This move follows rather coincidentally after the company became tangled up in a lawsuit alleging discrimination by hosts against guests based on their sex or ethnicity.

Should Employers Restrict Political Speech at Work?

Are you for Hillary or Trump?

Yeesh, let's step back from that minefield for a moment and consider what it could do for company morale -- and stability. Many companies can be lax about what conduct should and should not be restricted within a workplace environment, including political speech. We all invariably start talking about politics at work, even if we know better. But should we? And more importantly, should employers watch their lax policies? The solution is probably the easiest compromise in the world.

Legal Considerations With Corporate Wellness Programs

Imagine you are in-house counsel for a large company and its executives have come to you for advice on the current corporate employee rage: wellness programs. What do you tell them? How do you best counsel your client?

Wellness programs are a relatively new craze as far as corporate perks are concerned, but some of the laws that control are old and settled. Here are a few things you should keep in mind.

The Department of Justice is planning on filing an antitrust lawsuit to halt two massive healthcare mergers, Bloomberg reports. The move could halt Aetna's $37 billion merger with Humana and Anthem's $48 billion takeover of Cigna.

If the deals go through, they would reduce the largest health insurance companies from five competitors to three, leading to concerns over stifled competition and harm to consumers. If the DOJ successfully blocks the deals, it could signal a further shift away from the merger mania that's spread throughout large corporate firms in recent years.

It took jurors less than an hour of deliberations to find Michael Coscia guilty of illegal "spoofing" and commodities fraud last November. Coscia was the first person convicted under the Dodd-Frank Act's anti-spoofing laws, for making $1.4 million off a bait-and-switch scheme.

His prosecution was widely watched and the ease the jury had in convicting him was taken as a sign of greater prosecutions to come. Last week, a little over eight months since his conviction, Coscia was sentenced to three years in federal prison and two years of supervised release.

In early April, the Treasury Department and IRS released new proposed regulations under Section 385 of the Internal Revenue Code. They have been called “sweeping” and “dramatic” by tax experts and partners at major firms across the board — terms not usually associated with IRS regs. And they come as a bit of a surprise, having only been hinted to in earlier Treasury rule-making notices.

The new Section 385 regulations are so broad that they “fundamentally redefine the extent to which an intercompany instrument will constitute debt, irrespective of whether that group is inverted and who in the group issues it,” as Kevin M. Cunningham, managing director of KMPG in the International group, explains in a new Special Report for Thomson Reuters Checkpoint. (Disclosure: Thomson Reuters is FindLaw’s parent company.) Here’s what in-house counsel need to know.

Social media can be a great way for a company to expand its reach and build consumer loyalty. REI's Instagram photos of kayaks and mountains have garnered a following of more than 1 million. Coca-Cola has nearly 100 million likes on Facebook. That's more followers than the population of Germany. And General Electric (yes, that General Electric, the one with the dishwashers and refrigerators) has been named one of the best brands on Snapchat.

So, social media has its benefits. But, of course, it also has its drawbacks, including potential legal liabilities. Here's what they are and how you can avoid them.

A disability discrimination lawsuit can be a major blow to any company, not just because they can be expensive to defend against, but because they can also tarnish an employer's reputation. Yet, disability discrimination claims are common, and growing. In 2015, disability discrimination made up 30 percent of EEOC bias charges, the third most common charge and an increase of six percent from the previous year.

But disability discrimination claims can be avoided. To help you out, here are our top tips for preventing workplace disability discrimination, from the FindLaw archives.

Google Hires First GC for Self-Driving Car Biz

Perhaps sensing blood in the water because of Tesla's driverless car legal troubles, Google Alphabet's self-driving car arm has named its first general counsel -- just in time for increased scrutiny by U.S. regulators over autonomous driving vehicle technology.

Google has said publicly that there is no current timetable for releasing self-driving cars to the public. And after the recent unwelcome attention to the sector, we can understand the cautionary language.

Tesla Investigated by SEC for Possible Securities Laws Violations

Not that there's ever a convenient time for someone to die in a car crash, but the recent fatality associated with Tesla's Autopilot feature that killed Joshua Brown was decidedly timed badly for the electric car company. Now Tesla is being investigated by the SEC amidst allegations that it breached securities laws in connection with that crash.

On top of being a phenomenally bad crash for the company, it could potentially cast a long and dark shadow over the technology for a while yet.

Running a massive corporation is a stressful thing. And sometimes, that stress can push executives to substance abuse. Imagine, for example, you're an executive at an American fast food chain specializing in build-it-yourself burritos, a chain that just can't seem to stop selling E. coli- and norovirus-contaminated wraps. Would anyone really be all that shocked if you turned to blow to get through the hump?

That may be what happened to Mark Crumpacker, Chipotle's chief creative and development executive, who was leading the fast food chain's post-health scandal rebranding -- until he was arrested for repeatedly buying cocaine from a New York delivery service.

Is Patent Law Overdue for a Change?

The patent system that was established in America back at the end of the 19th century has many notches in its belt. Under it, the cotton gin was patented as well as countless software designs. Some might argue that this is testament to its broad, flexible, and enduring nature.

However, others would say hogwash. An overwhelming number of patent filings today are software and tech related, the sorts of "patentable" material that was not in existence during the nascent years of this nation's founding. As it is, a single body of patent law presides over all sectors of patentable subject matter. Some are saying that the system is a bit long in the tooth, and costing companies time and money.

Gretchen Carlson followed up the Fourth of July holiday with some fireworks of her own, this week. On Wednesday, the former Fox News host filed suit against Roger Ailes, the chairman and CEO of the conservative news channel, alleging that Ailes created a hostile work environment and took her off air when she refused his advances.

Here's a look at her allegations, and what they might mean for Ailes' future at Fox.

Electronically stored information is vulnerable to hacking, point blank. Even some of the most sophisticated computer systems can find themselves vulnerable to a sophisticated cyberattack -- or, more likely, a careless employee. And so long as you have valuable information stored on computers, you need to be ready for a potential data breach.

To help you out, here are our top tips for in-house counsel on preventing and responding to data breaches, from the FindLaw archives.

When it comes to practicing in-house, attorneys occupy a unique position. Their duty is to their client, the company, but they are also bound by ethical responsibilities more so than other employees. And how in-house attorneys respond to ethical dilemmas depends on a variety of factors, from their own personal ethical standards to the infrastructure of the company in which they work.

Now, a new survey of 400 in-house lawyers by University College London has taken a detailed look at how corporate attorneys deal with ethical challenges -- including a taxonomy of in-house "ethical identities," ranging from ethical idealists raging against potential malfeasance to those who just shrug their shoulders and go along. Where do you think you fall?

Feel like you're reinventing the wheel every time you draft a contract? Do you wish you could get more done with the work you already have? You're not alone. For plenty of in-house lawyers, writing and rewriting legal agreements becomes a bit of Sisyphean task after a while; the mountain is the same, the rock is pretty similar, and only a few of the key terms have changed, like whether the rock rolls back down on your left or your right.

Even if you're using automated document and contract software, you still might not be making full use of the valuable data and information you already have. But you could be. Thomson Reuters, FindLaw's parent company, recently unveiled Contract Express 6.0, which brings new capabilities to your document automation software, allowing you to get even more out of your docs.