COVID-19 UPDATE from Bellas & Wachowski

Articles Posted in Contracts

Protecting Data while Working Remotely

Cyber Security Issues while working remotely.

Does your cyber liability insurance cover data breaches that occur while employees are working at home, using their personal devices such as tablets and laptops?

There’s no time like the present to look into this issue, with most employees telecommuting and hackers perhaps sensing new opportunities to do what they do—and in fact, cyber intrusions have been on the upswing in recent weeks.

Did someone say force majeure?

Force Majeure Clauses

COVID-19 Pandemic and Force Majeure clauses

According to Black’s Law Dictionary, force majeure is defined as “An event or effect that can be neither anticipated nor controlled.”   It is generally viewed as an unexpected event that prevents someone from doing or completing something that he or she had agreed to do.  The term is usually applied to acts of God (such as floods and hurricanes), riots, strikes and wars.  It is unclear, however, if the term includes an epidemic, such as COVID-19.   That legal term for unforeseen circumstances resulting in non-fulfillment of a contract is likely to be invoked widely this spring and summer as businesses are unable to make good on commitments due to the corona virus crisis.

The Illinois Freedom to Work Act, which prevents non-governmental employers from requiring that low-wage employees enter into non-compete agreements, has begun to impact case law in the past three years since it was enacted. Employers would be wise to take note.

Help with Business Law Issues

Chicago Business Lawyers

The act, which defines “low-wage employees” as those earning the greater of $13 per hour, or the federal, state or local minimum wage, pushes back against employers who insert such agreements into new employee packets as a matter of course.

An arbitration agreement is a contract, in which two or more parties agree to settle a dispute outside of court.  Usually, an arbitration agreement is a clause in a larger contract. The arbitration clauses are often subjects to hotly disputed litigation, stemming from the vague verbiage and possible inconsistencies with other parts of the contract.  One of such issues – the admissibility of the “Wholly Groundless Exception” – was decided by the Supreme Court in January in the case of Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc , 586 U.S. __ (Jan. 8, 2019).  This is a tricky issue for those in the trucking industry who include arbitration clauses in their contracts with drivers.

What Is A Wholly Groundless Exception?

A “wholly groundless exception” was born out of the “delegation clauses” ordinarily found in arbitration agreements.  A delegation clause represents an agreement between parties that an arbitrator, not the court, will determine the threshold issues of enforceability of the arbitration clause and the scope of the arbitration agreement.  In other words, it is up to an arbitrator to decide whether, according to the contract or the rule of law, an issue may be decided by arbitration or needs to be determined by a judge.  These clauses were held to be valid by the Supreme Court in 2010 in Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson, 561 US 63 (2010). Since then, several circuits decided that this provision must be limited; thus creating a so-called “wholly groundless exception” to the delegation clause. This exception lets parties avoid compelling arbitration in cases where the claims are so obviously not within the scope of the agreement, that it would be a waste of time to go through arbitration before filing a lawsuit.

https://www.businessattorneychicago.com/files/2017/11/agreements11.1.17.jpg
Under a new Illinois law, non-compete agreements must be premised on a legitimate business interest and narrowly tailored in terms of time, activity, and place.  In addition, under the newly enacted Illinois Freedom to Work Act, employers are prohibited from entering into non-competes with employees who make less than $13/hour.

To prove the point, the Illinois Attorney General filed a suit in October against a payday loan company (Check Into Cash) because the employer required all store employees, including those making under $13 an hour, to agree to a one-year non-compete.  The suit alleges that the non-compete prohibits all store employees from working “directly or indirectly . . . as an employee, officer, consultant, or in any other capacity, for any individual, firm or entity, which provides deferred presentment, deferred deposit, and/or any other payday advance services, . . . and/or any other consumer lending services or https://www.businessattorneychicago.com/files/2017/11/11.1.17-1-300x150.jpgmoney services.”  The suit contends that the non-compete in question: (1) prohibits employees from working within 15 miles of any Check Into Cash location, not just the store the employee works in; (2) prohibits employees from working for any company that directly or indirectly provides consumer lending services, regardless of whether that company competes with Check Into Cash; (3) applies equally to all store employees, regardless of position or time spent with the company; and (4) applies to employees who make less than $13 an hour.  See: http://www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov/pressroom/2017_10/20171025d.html

Employers should review their non-compete agreements to ensure compliance with Illinois law.  All restrictive covenants should: (1) be supported by adequate consideration; (2) narrowly tailored, in time, activity, and geography, to protect the employer’s legitimate business interests; and (3) not apply to low-wage employees as defined by the Freedom to Work Act.  If the employer is concerned about a low-wage employee’s exposure to trade secret information, they should also consider other means of protection, such as confidentiality agreements.

Can Student Loans Ever Be Discharged?

Yes, and there’s a new tool to help bankruptcy lawyers deter29905732 mine whether clients qualify

Contrary to common perception, not all student loans can be wiped out in bankruptcy court. Although the Bankruptcy Code does protect federal loans and some private loans from discharge, student loans can be discharged if the debtor can prove an “undue hardship,” which usually means you’re living in poverty and not likely to escape any time soon.

BIG WOES FOR ZILLO

download
Zillo, the gigantic online real-estate database company, has a gigantic headache, legally speaking. It is currently the target of a class action lawsuit in Illinois. Zillow is the website that allows a person to search for properties for sale–properties located just about anywhere. And Zillow’s cornerstone feature–Zestimate–allows one to look up the estimated value of a property–most any property, most anywhere, whether it is for sale or not.  (Your own home may well be listed there right now; just go to the site and put in your address.)

Lots of people love Zillo; it is free, comprehensive and convenient.   Its legal problems stem from its Zestimate feature.

DRIVERLESS CARS: THE FUTURE OF PRODUCT LIABILITY LITIGATION?201606_TE_CAR_090-header-300x225

 Any business that will contribute to the production of driverless vehicles must give serious thought to the risk of products-liability lawsuits. And that includes suppliers, even of minor parts. We may think of driverless cars as a phenomenon of the future, but that future is closer than you think.

“Driverless car” is generally defined as a vehicle which, for most of a journey, will take charge of steering, accelerating, indicating, and braking. For the near future, the technology is intended only to assist the driver, not to replace him. It is expected that the driver will be able to take control of the “driverless” vehicle at any time.

Are Employee Non-Compete Agreements Still Valid for Low-Level Employees? Non-Compete-Clause-e1417451038467-300x171

Non-compete arguments are staple in every Chicago Business Lawyer’s legal arsenal and a necessary to protect a business under certain circumstances.  A non-compete agreement, also known as a non-competition covenant or clause, is an agreement between an employer and an employee that places restrictions on the employee after the employment relationship ends.  Non-compete agreements can be useful tools for businesses that want to protect their investment in the training and development of their staff.  Typically, these agreements restrict former employees from working for certain competitors for a specified period of time.  Although Illinois courts tend to dislike non-competes, courts will enforce a non-compete agreement if drafted property.

When considering the enforceability of non-compete agreements, Illinois courts look to see if the agreement is reasonable and supported by adequate consideration.  In particular, when determining the reasonableness of a non-compete, the court considers whether the terms of the agreement are no more than what is required to protect the legitimate business interest of the employer, and narrowly tailored in terms of time, activity and place.

equitycrowdfundingEquity Crowdfunding – The Future of Investing?

While nearly everyone has heard of crowdfunding, the concept of equity crowdfunding is not as well known.  For those Chicago business owners that are new to this developing area, prior to May 2016, crowdfunding was available only to accredited investors or those with an annual income of at least $200,000 or a net worth of more than 1 million, not including the value of a primary residence. Although the 2012 federal Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act[1] (JOBS) provided for non-accredited investors, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) did not authorize equity crowdfunding to begin until May 2016.

Since that time, Article III of the JOBS Act has seen 49 successful offerings with 11.5 million dollars committed according to a November 17, 2016, Forbes report[2] on the state of equity crowdfunding. While the report suggests that the large majority of startups are not yet using non-accredited crowdfunding under Title III, it is anticipated that equity investment platforms will see tremendous growth moving forward.