JUSTLAW

The Importance of Website Terms of Use

INTRODUCTION

On a website, ‘Terms of use’, which are more often referred to as the ‘Terms of Service’ or Terms and Conditions’ (hereafter, “Terms”) set out rules and regulations which are applicable to the visitors of a website or mobile application. Despite their importance, many entrepreneurs and other site operators often copy these Terms from other sites, giving very little thought to their unique application. At JUSTLAW, we always caution against doing so, as these terms should be tailored to your business and its customers, and they do carry important legal significance.  Read on to learn more.  (Est. read time 2-3 minutes)

At bottom, these Terms are a legal document. They create a contractual relationship between the website visitor and the website owner. Such Terms clarify various aspects of that relationship,  from conditions of providing service, IP ownership, the code of conduct of one user in relation to the other, limits of liability if something goes wrong, disclaimers, and how a user can be suspended from usage.[1]

NEED FOR ‘TERMS OF USE (ToU)’

Because of the legal nature and protection afforded by Terms, they are a ‘must- have’ for all the parties who desire to run their business or offer service efficiently and without any hindrance. These Terms are essentially sine qua non for every company or business who desires to flourish online. This furnishes a need for the development of code of conduct to regulate the user-service provider relation and at the same time govern the relation among different users with ensuring minimal interference with their right to privacy and self-expression.

IMPORTANCE AND ADVANTAGES OF ‘TERMS OF USE’

While is it true that a business does not require legally to set up Terms at the initial stage of their business, to ensure clarity and avoid misunderstanding any good business attorney will recommend that you do so. Such Terms and conditions legalize the control of the service provider on deliberating as to what is acceptable and what is not.[2]

There are a number of inherent advantages that are provided by the Terms.  One of the most important is permitting a site owner to limit the scope of their liability by adding disclaimers, affording substantial protection to the owner in case any error presents itself on the website. Another important benefit of setting up such governing regulations is allowing the effective use and applicability of the Intellectual property law which allow the website owner to product their trademarks, copyrights, patent and other intellectual property or proprietary rights which may be registered or not. This advantage allows the website owner to protect their content, logo, design etc. Furthermore, such terms and conditions are one of the main policies of every company or website owner which  ensure that their website offers a safe environment, free from any abuse, misuse etc. It also allows parties to establish guidelines for suspending account, to mention the laws applicable and the terms to be followed in case a dispute arises.

CONCLUSION: HOW CAN WE DRAFT A STRONG TERMS OF USE DOCUMENT?

Terms of Use plays a Pivotal role in governing the relationship between the owner of the website or service provider and the user for the time period till the service provider carry out his operations, therefore, utilizing term of use which are not properly drafted to cater the need and requirements can be titled as a perilous approach. There are many ways of creating Terms of Use; one may simply duplicate the sample available online or use a terms of use generator. One of the best option available is to hire a professional lawyer who is well-versed in such technical drafting. A good business lawyer can not only draft a strong document of terms of use which may protect the service provider but at the same time allow such Terms to be flexible in case of occurrence of any contingencies.[3]

How to use FL’s Sunbiz to form an LLC

Using Florida’s Sunbiz: What to Know Now

Quick primer from your friends at JUSTLAW on how to use Florida’s Sunbiz system (3 min read)

Florida is on fire these days from a business and cultural perspective. For that and other reasons, we see a lot of folks wanting to form new companies in Florida. If you want to form an LLC in Florida, you should read on. There are 4 steps to get your LLC started:
    1. Understand the requirements for filing your LLC’s Articles of Organization.
    2. Assemble and organize the information you’ll need to file.
    3. Complete the online Sunbiz Articles of Organization.
    4. Pay for the filing with an acceptable method of payment.

FAQs

Where can I find more information about starting and running a business in Florida?

The Florida Division of Corporations has published a very helpful set of content to answer most general questions that is available free of charge on their website.

How can I pay when filing my Articles of Organization?

There are multiple options, but we recommend using your credit card.

Is the name of my LLC available for use?

Good question. To answer it, just head over to the Sunbiz name search tool to perform a free search.

Do I have to file online?

No. But we find it to be the fastest, most convenient manner of filing.  But you can also download an Articles of Organization application and then submit your application and payment by mail. When submitting by mail, you must pay with either a money order or check.

Do I need to hire a registered agent?

No. But many entrepreneurs do for a few reasons. A registered agent agrees to ALWAYS accept mail and lawsuits on behalf of the business. You may move and change addresses in the future, but the agent won’t (or at least will keep the records updated). In addition, hiring a registered agent, like JUSTLAW, will help you personally keep private. Many entrepreneurs value the privacy.

After filing the Articles of Organization, how long will it take for them to be processed and posted?

It depends on how you filed and current demand, but it’s typically fast. Sunbiz is a remarkably efficient engine for the State of Florida. If your Articles of Organization were submitted and paid for online, they are processed in the order received, which typically results in a 2-3 day processing time. If you submit the Articles by mail, expect processing time in the 3-5 business days range.

How can online forms be signed? 

Under s.15.16, F.S. typing your name will fulfill the signature requirement. Legally, e-signatures are the same as physical signatures. If you sign someone else’s name without their permission, this is considered forgery.

How do I get a copy of my Articles of Organization?

After your Articles of Organization have been posted, you can download a free copy at Sunbiz.

Why would my application be rejected?

Every application will be closely reviewed to make sure they meet state requirements. In the event your application is rejected, you likely failed to fulfill one of these requirements.

What can I do after my application has been rejected?

You can make any necessary corrections to your Articles of Organization by visiting the Sunbiz website and entering your PIN and tracking number.

Limited Liability Company Name

Florida, like most (if not all) states, requires you to have a unique name for your LLC.

Before you submit your formation documents, you should perform a search to determine the availability of your LLC name. In addition, make sure that the name of your company includes the words limited liability company, or LLC/L.L.C. If you’re establishing a professional limited liability company, the name of your company should include the abbreviations PLLC or P.L.L.C, or the words Professional Limited Liability Company or Chartered. You should not use your LLC name until it has been approved by the Division of Corporations.

Requirements

When submitting your formation documents, you should make sure to include the following:

    1. The business name
    2. The business purpose of the LLC (eg, “to engage in the sale of apparel”)
    3. The principal place of business of the company
    4. The mailing address of your LLC (or other entity), if different
    5. The registered agent’s name
    6. The registered agent’s mailing address
    7. Signature of the registered agent

Optionally, you may include the names and addresses of the managers and authorized representatives of the LLC.

If you need help with your LLC Sunbiz filing, you can use the JUSTLAW marketplace to find a top attorney at an affordable price. At JUSTLAW, we have over 300 attorneys in our network, and many of them are drawn from top law schools like Yale and Harvard, and have worked in the top firms in the world.

How to Form an LLC Quickly and Cheaply

Most lawyers won’t tell you this, but you can form an LLC by yourself. It’s fast and affordable. You’ll need a little patience and attention to detail, but that’s it. And for a very limited time, JUSTLAW will even do the work for you. Free of charge!  That’s right. See the button below for more details.  (Estimated 3 min read)

1. The LLC Business Type
2. Clear the Name
3. Get a Registered Agent
4. File the Articles of Organization

Want to form a limited liability company (LLC) yourself, quickly and cheaply? To do so, you need to select a business name, appoint a registered agent (which in some cases can be you), file the Articles of Organization, obtain an Employer Identification Number, and open a business bank account. The time and cost associated with forming a new LLC varies by state.

The LLC Business Type

The LLC entity type is probably the most popular business type in 2021. This popularity stems from its flexible nature, limited liability protection and ease of administration, especially in contrast with traditional corporations. Many entrepreneurs would like to set up an LLC, but have avoided it due to time and costs. A traditional attorney might charge upwards of $2,500 to form an LLC and complete and prepare the associated paperwork. This essential primer will help you understand how you can form an LLC by yourself.

Clear the Name

Searching your state’s database of corporate names before you file the Articles of Organization might be a good idea. If your name is relatively common, someone else may have already taken it. That would lead to your filing being rejected. Many secretaries of state, such as Delaware, have free, online databases where you can research the availability of any name you have in mind. In some states, you can even reserve a name online by paying a small fee. Naming requirements may vary slightly from state to state, but generally you must assure:

  1. Your LLC name must differ from the names of other businesses that are already registered in the state; and
  2. Your LLC name must contain a limited liability signifier, such as “LLC”, or “Limited Liability Company”. Eg, ACME LLC.

Get a Registered Agent

The name and address of a registered agent are normally required on the formation papers for your LLC. An agent is a person or entity tasked with receiving legal papers on behalf of your LLC in the event that your company is sued. The agent must have a physical address in the state and must be available during work hours on all workdays for this purpose.

Get Your Free LLC Today

File the Articles of Organization

Articles or Organization are usually submitted to the state’s Secretary of State along with a filing fee. When the Secretary of State accepts your Articles of Organization, your LLC has officially been formed. Many states will accept articles and have your company “live” in 24-48 hours. This document provides the fundamental details on your business, such as:

  • The name and address of the company.
  • The business purpose of the company (e.g., “to engage in e-commerce cat food sales”).
  • A statement on whether the company will be managed by a manager or the members.
  • The name and address of the registered agent of the LLC.

Although successfully filing the Articles of Organization indicates that the state recognizes the LLC, there are additional steps to get yourself truly in business.

After the Articles have been filed and accepted, other considerations are:

  • Publishing the Articles of Organization. In some states, such as New York, new LLCs must publish the fact of their formation in a local newspaper and to file an affidavit of publication with the state. Publication costs can exceed $1,000, so you should consider this fact when selecting a state.
  • Drafting an operating agreement. You will not file your operating agreement with the state, but you need one as an internal contract between the members of the company. If you have partners, or other members, you should likely find a good business lawyer to help you with this work.
  • Procure an Employer Identification Number (EIN). Banks and governments both require an employer identification number. This number acts, in essence, as a social security number for your new company. EINs are available free at the IRS website.
  • Getting a business bank account. Your LLC will need a business bank account or the members’ limited liability protection can be called into question by the authorities.
  • Determine if your business requires a license.  Some states or cities may require you to obtain licenses to do business. It varies by jurisdiction and a complete survey is beyond the scope of this primer, but Google will at least get you started.

Hopefully, this primer gives budding entrepreneurs all they need to set up an LLC alone. If not, and you’d still like to set up your own LLC, for a limited time (through Labor Day 2021), JUSTLAW will do the paperwork for free. JUSTLAW maintains a network of over 300 attorneys in all 50 states. Our lawyers graduated from places like Harvard, Yale, Berkeley and UVA.   Click the button below to get started.

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9 Steps to Start Freelancing the Right Way

June 30, 2021
New York, New York

In a recent podcast from the Wall Street Journal, a different kind of outbreak was featured in the episode “Why is everyone quitting? Workers, especially young ones, are leaving their full-time jobs in droves in search of more satisfying, more flexible and often more lucrative work. In fact, 2.7% of workers quit their job in April 2021, according to the podcast.  And freelancers are more in demand than ever before, as everyone from small businesses to large corporations hires freelancers for a variety of projects, ranging from copywriting and web development to catalog design and consulting.

Working as a freelancer typically means working your own hours ( remember, if you’re successful, you’re going to have a new boss: your clients) on your own terms. But it also means sourcing your own clients and managing an entire business yourself. 

If freelancing sounds like the right fit for you, this guide can help you. Below we outline 9 simple steps you should take in order to get started in your new career as a freelancer. 

1.  Set up a website. Establishing an online presence for yourself is important. Clients need to be able to look at your work and find you quickly. Maintaining a basic website is fairly simple. Nowadays, no-code platforms like Squarespace allow you to get a professional looking site designed and launched without any particular design or html expertise.

Remember that your website will need a well drafted privacy policy, terms of use and it should be compliant, at minimum, with the ADA’s laws on accessibility, the GDPR if you’re doing business in Europe, and the CCPA if you’re doing business in California. Subscription legal plans for small business sometimes include this legal work at no additional cost.

2.  Get a DBA, sole proprietorship or another entity. For most business entities other than LLCs and corporations, the legal name of the business is the personal name of the business owner(s). If you want to do business as “John Doe”, you can stop reading this section now, as nothing else is required. However, if you plan to do business under a name other than your own, such as ACME Digital Consulting, or if you want to set up a bank account under your business’s name, you’ll likely need a DBA. In this case, you’ll be operating as a “Sole Proprietor” and should become familiar with two tax forms: W-9 and 1099-MISC.

3.  Plan for taxes. Equally important to your choice of business structure (#2 above) is planning to optimize your taxes. Expenses on business meals, home offices, and mileage when you’re driving for business, among other items, can all serve to minimize your income – through deductions – and lower your tax liability. Understanding the tax impacts of these expenses will be important to your finance well-being, so start early. 

4.  Get your permits in place. In addition to a DBA, your state may have specific laws for individuals doing business. Research and obtain any state and local permits or licenses you’ll need for your business. Or check a site like NerdWallet that does some of the research for you.

5.  Order business cards and stationery. A significant challenge as a freelancer will be sourcing clients (more later). Online companies like VistaPrint offer inexpensive solutions for business cards and stationary, to give you a polished and professional look, and to make sure you make a lasting impression as your network grows. 

6.  Think about your future. As a freelancer, you’ll have to sort out your own path for retirement savings, medical insurance, dental, etc. Speak with your accountant or a financial advisor and set up a plan to make sure your needs and goals will be met and review websites like Value Penguin to see and compare health insurance quotes from a variety of insurers.

7.  The infrastructure plan. Without the right tools to perform your trade, your work product and efficiency will suffer. Freelancers will often tell you that while working at your leisure sounds glamorous, there are a few drawbacks. For some, the solitude can get lonely. Freelancers working remotely can’t talk to a co-worker between projects the way employees in an office can. On the other hand, freelancers don’t have to deal with office politics.
For maximum productivity, set up an in-home office, or find another place where you can focus and get work done. The absence of a boss down the hall may be a highlight; however, that just means you have to be the one to manage deadlines and productivity.

8.  Promote and network. Working for yourself means promoting yourself, and getting started as a freelancer can be very time-consuming. Online networks like LinkedIn permit you to publish your goals, ask questions, and network with other professionals.

But don’t stop there. Spread the word to friends and family that you’re venturing into freelancing and ask for referrals where appropriate.Set up a blog. A blog can help you connect with other freelancers and bloggers as well as potential clients. It will also help your website with search engine optimization (SEO) over the long term.

9.  Be an influencer. You don’t need a famous TV show or a massive social media following to be an influencer. You just need to own your lane. So figure out what it is, and get to work. Many times, asking and answering questions is the easiest way to get people involved and invested in what you do, and while you could meet 10 people during a networking event, you could meet 75 online. When you combine a strong digital presence with meaningful personal interactions, you’ll really see your stock rise. So get busy! 

* * * * *

Working as a freelance entrepreneur can be intellectually rewarding and financially lucrative, but you need to build the right foundation from the beginning. Using this article as a guide to start laying that foundation can help you to later focus on your work, your customers and enjoying the flexibility you’ll gain from this important career choice. 

 

What you must know about conformed signatures

Electronic signatures facilitate rapid and efficient signing of documents, more commerce, and a great deal of flexibility to tailor tools and protocols across an organization. In recent years, the practice of and market for electronic signatures has exploded, and many technology analysts predict this trend will continue into the future. 

person signing document
A person prepares to sign a document with a “wet” signature.

The transition, however, has not been easy for some, and many business technologies have yet to be phased out. Signatures, faxing, scanners, and landlines are all antiquated business technologies that have yet to become fully phased out. There are plenty of new technological solutions that effectively eliminate the need to keep up with these methods but the adoption rate has been relatively slow, which comes to the detriment of business speed and efficiency. 

When looking at the concept of signatures, it is easy to understand the reasoning as to why e-signatures have yet to have full adoption across the board. 

Everyone has a unique signature, and signatures are an integral part of validating that an individual actually signed and agreed to the terms of the document. The s-signature has become a standard way of electronically signing documents that has become accepted in some use cases. 

Below is a discussion of what the characters /s/ means in a signature line and why it is utilized.

What is a Conformed Signature?

“Conformed signature” almost sounds like an oxymoron. A conformed signature is a typewritten signature indicating that the original version of the document has been signed by the appropriate party, and it should be maintained with the records of the company. A conformed signature replaces the traditional “wet” signature line with a typed name preceded with a “/s/” designation. A conformed signature usually looks similar to this example:

/s/ Ronald McDonald

Ronald McDonald

There are a multitude of  ways that a conformed signature can be written, and the United States Patent and Trademark Office provides resources to what formatting an electronic signature should follow. 

As you will see below under “When is it legal?”, governing bodies have different regulations regarding acceptable formatting for conformed signatures. 

Because of these differences, it is important to have a competent and tech savvy legal team. As a business owner, your signatures are constantly needed, and the ability to utilize a conformed signature whenever possible will save time and effort. 

Having a legal resource that acknowledges the importance of your time and providing e-signatures whenever possible is a must. 

Why Is It Used?

A conformed signature is utilized mainly as a way of making signing contracts and documents easier. Convenience of a conformed signature is what has drawn many to utilize it, and some government agencies now accept it in lieu of a traditional signature. 

The conformed signature eliminates the need for an individual to print, sign, and scan a document to submit it electronically. To save paper and reduce the number of intermediary steps, conformed signatures offer a perfect efficient solution to a signature. 

Conformed signatures allow for a seamless process of viewing, signing, and submitting a document all without having to print or scan. Conformed signatures are utilized in a number of ways and gives a signer the option of how they are able to digitally sign a document. 

Conformed signatures can be easily done from a smartphone, tablet, laptop, or other mobile device, drastically increasing the speed at which individuals can certify a document. 

Additionally, a conformed signature is a great tool for attorneys to quickly and efficiently certify batches of documents. Many courts in the United State permit attorneys to use conformed signatures, including New York and CaliforniaThis process saves countless hours for attorneys, allowing them to focus on the highest value add activities for clients. And when value is prioritized, a lawyer is better able to advance a client’s interests.

When is it legal?

E-signatures, and more specifically, conformed signatures, are not a full substitute for legal handwritten signatures. The signature itself is not more reliable than a standard signature, and as such, makes the acceptance of e-signatures vary greatly, especially when it comes to geographic location.

sign here
Sign Here

The following states allow conformed signatures, with some exceptions:

  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Florida
  • Kansas
  • Massachusetts
  • Nevada
  • New York
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Virginia

In some of these states, a conformed signature may be allowed for certain filings and not others. In Florida, for example, an LLC document can have a conformed signature, but a filing for a non-profit corporation cannot.

While a lot of states allow conformed signatures in contracts, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) doesn’t allow such signatures; therefore, SS4 forms and other tax documents must have an original signature.

The two regulations regarding e-signatures are the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act and the Uniform Electronic Transaction Act, which give a basis for the inability to deny a document’s validity only on the basis that it has an electronic signature. 

Ultimately, it is the states’ decision in whether or not to accept conformed and electronic signatures.

Because these laws vary from state to state and agency to agency, it is important to ensure that a business has legal representation that is well-versed in the process of online signing and document submission. Documents signed inappropriately can lead to costly and time-consuming missteps. In the world of legal filings, this could mean the difference between the closure of a successful business deal or a costly mistake. 

Conclusion

Essentially, the “/s/” in a signature line signifies that a conformed signature is being utilized in lieu of a traditional handwritten signature. 

There are many forms of e-signatures and each have specific utilizations and formatting requirements. The s-signature is a great e signature method that can be utilized by many people. 

The ease of use and convenience of the signature type allows for businesses and attorneys to waste less precious time and energy printing, signing, and scanning documents, and more time to focus on their clients. 

If you need legal assistance, we suggest you look for lawyers that readily utilize new technology to eliminate inefficiencies. Traditionally, you pay lawyers by the hour and benefit from time-consuming, antiquated technology. 

JUSTLAW has over 300  highly trained and licensed attorneys that can ensure that your legal documents are as they should be. JUSTLAW saves you time, effort, and money. Leave the guesswork out of your legal needs and allow a JUSTLAW attorney to help you through complex paperwork. A good lawyer will navigate the different signature requirements for different documents and ensure that they are done correctly to reduce inefficiencies in having to refile for something that was done incorrectly the first time. 

The utilization of e-signatures is just one way in which a lawyer is able to save time and facilitate a smoother experience for their clients.  With a smart legal team on your side, you can avoid the legal headaches surrounding what type of signature to use and focus your precious time on business.  

 

 

 

Starting an eCommerce Business? Legal Issues to Watch.

eCommerce is the process of buying goods or services via the internet, and has become the most crowded business venture for start-up entrepreneurs. While the blueprint for starting an eCommerce website is seemingly straightforward, the industry’s takeover of more than three-quarters of retail growth has created demanding changes to legal regulations. In this post, we share with you some examples of legal concerns you may encounter launching your eCommerce company.  We also hope to help you understand when you can manage alone, and when you should look for a good small business attorney.

Liabilities

Product recalls don’t just impact the reputation of manufacturers, the fault also lies on the retailer, and third-party sellers who use other platforms for product distribution should not take product liability lightly. In the 2020 lawsuit case of Bolger vs Amazon, a third-party seller, E-Life, sold a defective computer battery that exploded and burned the customer. Because Amazon had a major role in distributing the product, the company had to put pressure on sellers, requiring eCommerce sellers to purchase product liability insurance to minimize risk; this type of insurance is recommended by lawyers alike.

Third-party sellers must also be weary of IP infringement, as patent, copyright or trademark violations could result in expensive lawsuits. eCommerce resellers should confirm they have the rights for product stock photos or in their product descriptions. Here is a list of ways your eCommerce business could violate IP infringement.

Another liability can arise through data breaches, as personalized information is growing quickly, customers are at risk of hacks and identity theft. Amazon and Facebook have shown widespread scandals on misusing customer data, and eCommerce companies are recommended to limit their customer data to prevent cyber-hack scenarios. Securing your website, maintaing updated software, and encrypting information and data with secure socket layer (SSL) protection, all go a long way for business owners. It’s beyond the scope of this article, but you can find more on handling data breaches here.


Transactions

Payment gateways are high in demand, but have limitations such as hosting capabilities, anti-fraud control or service fees, but most importantly, entrepreneurs should pick a getaway by their individual terms and conditions; features for transactions can include setting up shipping time frames, return policies, payment terms, etc. Most terms and conditions, however, are already procured through state regulation. For example, Florida has developed their own 2020 Florida Statutes that simply ensures customers have the right to return products sold online for a full refund within 7 days.

As the world of online selling is constantly changing, it is always good to be updated on the laws. Electronic payments through third-party vendors have created a new stream of chargebacks, an example is found through restaurants using food delivery services, and loss of orders and/or incorrect orders calls for chargebacks. The Electronic Transaction Association (ETA) underwriting guidelines help dispute refunds by exploring how banks and card processors manage payment. The chargeback process involves investigations from the transacting bank, beginning with the customer request for a refund, bank investigation within merchant accounts and a final dispute.


Other Complications

While transactions and liabilities create a lot of the problems for eCommerce businesses, there are some other smaller landmines to mind.

  • Taxes: Depending on your state or country, taxation can vary on products and can be solved by contacting your applicable revenue agency or seeking counsel from a small business tax attorney.
  • E-Contracts: Ensure all contracts are consented to by both parties.
  • International Laws: international transactions, exchange control and distribution laws must be verified.
  • Inventory: ensure that lease, deed, or zoning codes don’t prohibit you from running your business at home.

And if you start feeling uncomfortable making these decisions alone, it might be time to hire a good small business attorney to help you.

Other sources used

https://www.ecomcrew.com/legal-issues/

https://www.electran.org/publication/transactiontrends/guest-post-e-commerce-fraud-dealing-with-merchant-chargeback-challenges-in-a-covid-impacted-world/

Attention Small Business Owners: Is it Time for your Business to Get Back in the Office?

If your business is still working remotely, it could potentially be time to get back to the office. In order to do so, small businesses must put together a robust reopening plan to properly address any and all concerns you or your employees may have. 

 

Employers who have returned their companies to the office have done so in a variety of ways. Some businesses have mandated their entire workforce to return. Others have asked employees to return, but have not mandated it. Another group of businesses have created flexible schedules where employees rotate on when they come to the office. Choosing which path to take, if any, is unique for each business. Therefore, keep reading to receive more insight on what your company should do. 

employee legal rights
Returning to the office

 

JUSTLAW has recently surpassed 1,000 small businesses enrolled in their small business legal protection plan. Thus, our small business members have asked two questions that I am sure all other small businesses are wondering as well: (1) Am I able to require all of my employees to return to the office? (2) Can I get in trouble for any employees who are infected with COVID-19 while at the office?

 

(1) Am I able to require all of my employees to return to the office?

 

The short and long answer is yes, but it may be dependent on your state’s laws. Generally, it is acceptable for employers to condition employment on a return to the office. Exceptions do apply to employees who have a specific reason as to why they cannot return. Those employees cannot be compelled to return to the office as a condition of employment. 

 

While it is true that employers generally are permitted to mandate a return to the office, subject to state laws, that does not mean all small businesses should. There are potential issues with returning: 

 

  1. Will you mandate that everyone has to get the vaccine?
  2. Is the office large enough to follow CDC guidelines and precautions? 
  3. Will your workforce feel safe returning? 
  4. Will your workforce productivity increase or decrease as a result of returning? 

 

These are all questions worth asking yourself before you mandate a return to the office. 

 

(2) Can I get in trouble for any employees who are infected with COVID-19 while at the office?

 

If an employee contracts COVID-19 in the office or an outbreak of COVID-19 occurs in the office, small businesses can be liable for workplace safety laws such as OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970

 

Are you providing your employees a safe working environment?

 

In order to protect against your business from liability of such occurrences, employers should have employees sign waivers. The waiver would state that the employee agrees to return to the office, provided that the employer provides employees with a safe work environment. 

 

* * * * * *

 

Clearly, the status of returning to the office for all businesses is still a question mark in the minds of most employers. JUSTLAW hopes this article has provided employers with some insight on whether or not your business can open up. 

 

JUSTLAW also urges small businesses to sign up for its small business legal protection plan. Continue your business with the legal security and comfort you need to be as productive as possible. 

 

Speak to a JUSTLAW attorney today to initiate your first consultation. 

 

This post is not legal advice. It is for general informational purposes only. No reader should rely on this information in any way whatsoever without first seeking legal advice. 

 

Grants & Lending Programs for Women and Minority-Owned Business Leaders

As a business owner, it’s not unusual to have a lot on your plate. The pressures of leading a business sometimes make it difficult to look at things past your daily to-do list. But as a female or minority business owner, did you realize you could be passing up on financial opportunities?

 

There are several grants and lending programs available through CDFIs (Community Development Financial Institutions) and related organizations that provide lending specifically to minority and female-owned companies and small businesses. Here are a few you should know about:

 

5B Small Business Grant

As of April 23, the Small Business Administration has been giving out an additional $5 billion in grants to businesses hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. These are available to businesses even if they already took advantage of the EIDL Advance from March-April 2020. Find out who qualifies here.

 

Finance Justice Fund

Opportunity Finance Network selects CDFIs that work towards financial justice in underserved communities. These include businesses that primarily cater to Native, Black, Latinx, and other communities that have historically experienced hardships. Terms and applications can be found here. Small businesses seeking financing can find out more here.

black and minority business grants

 

Grow With Google Small Business Fund

The Grow With Google Small Business Fund was established during the COVID-19 crisis to help minority and women-owned businesses reach their financial goals. This fund works with both for-profit and non-profit institutions.

 

Google.org Grant Program

The Google.org Grant Program is providing grants to underserved communities during unprecedented times. Grant Program 1 will be awarding $125,000 grants to 28 CDFIs working with women and minority-owned businesses in underserved communities, including nonprofits. Grant Program 2 will be awarding grants ranging from $125,000 to $500,000 to CDFIs with a focus on those that serve Black-owned businesses.

 

Native CDFI Awards

The Native CDFI Catalyst Award picks one Native CDFI to provide a $100,000 grant based on plans and strategy via an application process. The Native CDFI Seed Capital provides a $25,000 grant through an application process based on potential. Find both applications here and more information about previous winners here.

 

Wells Fargo Diverse Community Capital Program

The Wells Fargo Diverse Community Capital Program works with CDFIs that serve diverse small businesses, with the end goal of increasing lending to these small businesses. Find out more here.

 

 

Unfortunately, applying for the various programs and grants and managing the process thereafter can be extremely complicated and time-consuming. Fortunately, JUSTLAW is here to help. With any of our paid annual memberships, we provide free assistance in applying for these programs and managing the application process.

 

But the benefits don’t stop there. All company owners can benefit from an affordable prepaid monthly legal plan from JUSTLAW. A plan like this can help you identify, mitigate and manage legal risk, seize new opportunities and provide you with round-the-clock legal peace of mind. Protect your small business as it grows with this simple long-term investment.

 

Covid-19 Vaccine, the Employers Perspective

It was only about a year ago that our pre-pandemic world changed, and employers everywhere sat up and took notice. Before March of 2020, going to work used to mean having a cup of coffee with a colleague and talking about the day. Good employees made every effort to get to work on time and do their job well. Good employers ensured their employees were safe and treated fairly. This was according to the brick-and-mortar business model we all took for granted. Then, Covid -19 hit the world.

At that point, all the rules seemed to change. A lot of confusion ensued about what was allowed and what was required. Vaccines became available and with them, a myriad of information. What was right to do? What was safe to do? What was legal? One of the biggest questions was about rights surrounding the vaccine. Did an employer have the right to require the vaccine for its workers? If an employer did not require it, could they face legal ramifications?

While this situation seemed uncertain and chaotic, the answer to this question was straightforward. Federal law states that employers do not have to require their workers to receive the Covid-19 vaccine because the vaccines are not licensed by the Food and Drug Administration. This means that employers can encourage employees to get the vaccine, but everyone has the option to accept or decline so they cannot require it.

Although this answer was straightforward, the issue of employer responsibility in the midst of Covid-19 is complex and multi-layered.

For example, while employers do not have to (and are not legally allowed to) require the vaccine, they do have to provide a safe working environment for all their workers. Employers have to show proof of providing reasonable accommodation for their employees such as remote work, protective gear, and social distancing. If these accommodations are not provided when there is a “direct threat”, then there could be legal trouble for the employer.

 

worker safety
Are you providing a safe working environment for your employees?

 

Under the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) describes the pandemic as a “direct threat” which is defined as “a significant risk of substantial harm to the health or safety of the individual or others that cannot be eliminated or reduced by reasonable accommodation.”

Evidence of providing reasonable accommodations is required and protects the employer. On the other hand, if reasonable accommodations present an undue hardship on the employer to run the business, then the employer can require the vaccine of its workers instead. This is where things get multi-layered.

This exception to the rule stands unless the employee has a medical reason not to have the vaccine. In this case the employer is required to provide reasonable accommodation for the employee and allow their employment to continue. In addition, religious beliefs preventing an employee from having the vaccine is a valid circumstance to not have it. In this case, the employee is protected by Title VII.

For an employer, liability exposure could come under ADA, Title VII, OSHA, or Tort Liability. With the ever-changing pandemic landscape, employers need to be constantly aware of new and evolving laws. The truth is this is not simple. Everything is still changing. It is also true that despite the world’s current situation, employers are not alone. There is help. For current guidance to employers, please read this CDC page.

 

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Speak to a JUSTLAW attorney today to initiate your first consultation and receive immediate advice as to whether to hire an employee or an independent contractor.

This post is not legal advice. It is for general informational purposes only. No reader should rely on this information in any way whatsoever without first seeking legal advice. 

Employee v. Independent Contractor

Are you starting a business and need to hire more personnel? If so, have you thought about whether to hire an employee or an independent contractor? If not, please take a second to learn of the main differences between the two, below:

Why does it matter?

At first glance, you may be asking yourself: why does this even matter? Well, JUSTLAW is here to tell you it does, most importantly for tax liability purposes, among other things. 

Employers must pay a whole variety of taxes for their employees. However, that is not the case for employers who hire independent contractors. Employers don’t have to pay any taxes such as Social Security, state and federal unemployment tax, etc. If employers hire employees for their business, those taxes mentioned above and a list of others must also be paid. Therefore, it is clear that employers almost always prefer to hire independent contractors over employees from a tax liability standpoint. 

In addition, employees are protected by federal laws such as minimum wage, laws protecting their overtime work, and employment discrimination. Independent contractors have no such rights provided by federal law, specifically for overtime and employment discrimination. 

business law regarding freelancers
It’s vital to establish whether someone who works for you is an employee or independent contractor

Employers also should know that independent contractors do not normally receive employment benefits. To the contrary, employees enjoy such benefits including paid time off and various health benefits. 

Accordingly, it is quite obvious that almost anyone would prefer to work as an employee. However, most employers prefer independent contractors. From an employer’s standpoint, it really depends on the type of business they are operating and the type of positions they are looking to fill. For example, a startup has different needs compared to that of a 20-year successful public company. 

How can you tell if someone you have hired is an employee or an independent contractor? 

Usually, it is pretty obvious and easy to decipher. Employment contracts will explicitly state if the person hired is an employee or an independent contractor. 

However, in other cases, it is not as obvious. Luckily, courts have provided us with an array of factors to consider to determine whether someone is an employee or an independent contractor. These factors are commonly referred to as the “Economic Realities Test”: 

 

  1. What is the degree of control over the person’s work? Who exercises that control?
  2. What is each party’s (person and business) degree of loss in their exchange?
  3. Who has funded the person’s purchase of materials needed to complete their tasks such as equipment and supplies?
  4. How long-lasting is the person’s position? 
  5. Would the business suffer if this person was not present? How important are they to the business? 
  6. What degree of skill and expertise is needed to complete the applicable work? 

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Speak to a JUSTLAW attorney today to initiate your first consultation and receive immediate advice as to whether to hire an employee or an independent contractor. 

This post is not legal advice. It is for general informational purposes only. No reader should rely on this information in any way whatsoever without first seeking legal advice.