Articles Posted in Small Business

By Misty J. Cygan, Attorney at Law

George Bellas Small Business Attorney

Aileron is a trained emotional support dog.

Business owners and their customers are perfectly used to service dogs who assist people with disabilities in getting around and performing daily tasks.

buscemiA proposed federal rule change that would allow owners of restaurants, bars and other businesses whose employees receive tips to distribute those gratuities as they see fit would add flexibility for employers—but might raise questions in the minds of customers.

Those who agree with the Mr. Pink character from “Reservoir Dogs,” who famously refused on principle to tip a diner waitress in the movie’s opening scene, would have a whole new set of arguments to make about which jobs society deems to be tip-worthy.

Currently, a 2011 Obama-era Department of Labor rule mandates that tipped workers get to keep the 15 percent or 20 percent that’s added to the credit card receipt or stacked under the salt shaker. The rule change would allow management to pool these tips and spread the wealth more evenly, including traditionally non-tipped staffers like dishwashers and cooks.

data-protection-represents-forbidden-secured-and-wordcloud-266x300Have you thought about or bolstered your cybersecurity lately?

Because while government agencies, corporations and banks might be the top targets of would-be cyber attackers, small businesses need to make sure they’re protected, too, lest hackers succeed in their attempts to intrude and, in some form or fashion, monetize their information and data.

Such efforts start with educating yourself and your employees about malware and phishing attempts, ensuring that everyone knows not to open an attachment or click on a link—whether on their computer, phone or another device—if they don’t recognize the source.  You must regularly remind your employees and family never to open questionable emails or emails from an unknown source.   In particular, never open any attachments from people you don’t know or recognize.

George Bellas business lawyerThe growth of e-commerce and the resulting physical distance between parties in various transactions, along with advances in technology more broadly, have helped lead to the rise of online dispute resolution, a digital offshoot of traditional alternative dispute resolution that provides greater efficiency and convenience to the parties involved.

While online dispute resolution does not necessarily arise from online transactions—and can be used in marital separations, property tax appeals, no-fault insurance claims and other types of cases—many believe it applies especially well to e-commerce given that it resides in the same jurisdiction, so to speak, of cyberspace.

A third-party mediator or arbitrator is still often involved in resolving such disputes, however, the process also includes a “fourth party” automated tool that can, for example, schedule meetings, organize information germane to the case, and tone down inflammatory language found in communications by blocking certain verbiage.

George Bellas Business LawyerThe burgeoning science of biometrics both excites and unnerves people, the subject of both a razzle-dazzle upgrade in the new iPhone X and a growing body of privacy-related litigation in Illinois stemming from the 2008 passage of the Biometric Information Privacy Act.

That law requires companies using biometric data—which includes facial scans, fingerprints, iris scans and any other identification data except for a person’s name and demographics—to obtain a consumer’s consent to use the data, explain how it will be used, and tell them how long it will be retained. The consumer must sign a written release acknowledging this.

Companies and other organizations that violate the terms of that release can be and have been sued under the law, which is designed to protect individuals against the risk of identity theft in financial transactions and security screenings. Biometrics are considered a better security risk than even a Social Security number, since that can be changed; but they’re also a greater risk for individuals since they’re biologically unique and once compromised leave a person permanently vulnerable.

Bellas-Business-Lawyer-300x194Should your small business be dealing in the online currencies (“cryptocurrencies”) like Bitcoin? What are they, anyway, and what are the risks and benefits?

Bitcoin is what’s known as a “cryptocurrency,” a digital coin that buyers and sellers of goods and services can use to undertake transactions over the Internet such as restaurant bills and tuition fees. Bitcoin is not the only such cryptocurrency—Ethereum is another example—but it’s probably the best known.

One acquire Bitcoins in one of several ways: as payment for goods or services, by purchasing them at a Bitcoin exchange, by exchanging them with a willing partner, and through what’s called competitive mining, which involves using special software to solve math problems. They are stored in one’s encrypted online “wallet” and transmitted via a “blockchain” when a transaction is consummated, assuming the price of the good or service does not exceed the buyer’s available balance. One can convert Bitcoins to cash if another party agrees to buy them.

George Bellas Business LawyerIt’s the holiday season: time for small businesses to plan their annual parties and give employees a chance to celebrate, unwind and get to know one another better, right?

The correct answer is yes, but. But you need to make sure that employees understand they are still at a work-related function and certain behavior remains out of bounds. But if you are planning to serve alcohol, employees need to comprehend that’s no excuse for being sloppy drunk and obnoxious.

But if they are over-served, employees need to know that’s no excuse for sexual harassment–nor, in the age of #metoo, is anything else. It’s not only morally and ethically wrong but can result in a legally problematic morning after for not only the perpetrator but also your business.

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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

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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.