Articles Posted in Small Business

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.

CYBER-SECURITY–A VITAL PRECAUTION

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It is time for businesses to give cyber-crime protection high priority; the sooner the better.  The mounting numbers of cyber-attacks on businesses are a serious threat to every sort of commercial enterprise.  Cyber intrusions have become really dangerous, sophisticated, and commonplace.

Businesses are attacked (whether they know it or not) on an average of 16,856 times a year, according to statistics compiled by IBM. That’s 46 attacks every business must deal with every day — or nearly two attacks an hour. Most of these–the vast majority of them–never get past a business’s firewall. But on average, about 1.7 attacks get through.

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.

electronicsignature-222x300Are Digital Contracts Legal?

If you are a Chicago business owner who is over the age of thirty, you remember the days of paper contracts that were typed and then snail mailed before they were revised, retyped and then mailed again.  Once the final terms were agreed upon, the parties signed the original paper document, sometimes by coming together to sign and have signatures authenticated by a notary.

While written contracts were not necessary or even preferred in every business situation, the days of paper contracts for most types of transactions are fading into the Illinois sunset.  In the digital era, electronic contracts with electronic signatures are the norm except in those areas that the statute of frauds[1] requires in writing such as a transfer of land, a Will or a contract where performance cannot be completed in one year. If your small business is not using electronic contracts and signatures on a daily or weekly basis, you may want to consider consulting with a Chicago business lawyer who is familiar with the laws and regulations affecting electronic records and signatures and can confirm that your company is in full compliance.

crowdfunding-620x480-300x232What is Equity Crowdfunding?  Is this the Future of Raising Investment Capital?

It seems that while nearly everyone  has heard of crowdfunding, the concept of equity crowdfunding is not as well known but is gaining traction.  For those Chicago business owners that are new to this developing area, prior to May 2016 crowdfunding was available only to accredited investors (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.