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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Negative Online Reviews - Do They Constitute Business Defamation?

We are living in the digital age and consumers use the internet to make a variety of decisions, including what products to buy and what professionals to hire. During their research,  many savvy consumers go online to look at the reviews the business has received on local business directories like Yelp or Google+.  These online reviews can have a profound effect on the success of your business so it is important to understand your rights should your business receive a negative one. 

In the case that your business has received a negative online review, you may have recourse under state or Federal defamation laws.  However, before pursuing that route, you should consider using any dispute or review process provided by the review site.  Defamation is generally defined as the act of intentionally publishing a false statement that has the ability to negatively effect another’s reputation.  Defamation laws protect individuals and businesses alike.  Publication is the communication of the defamatory statement to another person and the act of posting a review to a website usually qualifies.  Whether a statement has a negative effect on another’s reputation is judged using a reasonable person standard and will be looked at on a case by case basis.  In order for the statement to actionable, it does not have to be intentionally defamatory; it just has to be intentionally published.  Defamatory statements must be false and cannot be opinions.  Whether your situation meets the necessary threshold for defamation may be difficult to ascertain, so it is important to consult with a qualified attorney before pursuing a claim for business defamation.

If you believe that your business has received an online review that contains false information and is damaging to your business reputation, you might have a claim for defamation.  Recent civil cases for this type of wrong have resulted in large verdicts for the businesses that were injured.  While you most likely cannot pursue an action against the hosting website, as they are usually exempt under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), you might be able to recover from the individual that made the statement.  All litigation should be considered using a cost-benefit analysis and business defamation cases resulting from online reviews are not any different.  


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Why Your Business Needs an Email Policy.


In the contemporary workplace, email is an essential and efficient form of communication. Whether it is used internally among staff members, or for exchanges with vendors and customers, email is a necessary business tool. At the same time, misuse of this technology can expose an organization to legal and reputational risks as well as security breaches. For this reason, it is crucial to put a


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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Entrepreneurial Immigrants: Building the American Dream.

The American Dream of starting your own business and pulling yourself up by your bootstraps is alive and well. If you are an immigrant and are considering starting a business in your new homeland, there may be a number obstacles ahead of you.
Read more . . .


Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Are employees owed overtime for checking and answering email after hours?


Technology is a double-edged sword. It allows us to work remotely and to have greater flexibility as to where and when we work, but the freedom it affords can also be a burden. All the work that is being done outside of work hours is creating a compliance problem for many businesses.


Read more . . .


Monday, March 13, 2017

Hiring The Right Person The First Time -


With the improving economy has come a tightening in the job market. Good employees are becoming harder to find. While no one can guarantee that you will always make a sound hiring decision, here are several tips to improve the odds that you will find and hire the best person available for your open position.


Read more . . .


Monday, February 27, 2017

Employment Discrimination Laws in a Nutshell -

There are a variety of state and federal laws that make it illegal for employers to discriminate based on certain characteristics when making decisions about hiring, terminating, promoting, demoting or compensating employees, or any other terms and conditions of employment. Employers are also barred from retaliating against employees who file a discrimination-related complaint or engage in other protected activities. While the laws vary from state to state, all employers have an obligation to adhere to the following federal laws.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

This law prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on race, color, national origin, religion and gender. Title VII also established the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the government agency that is tasked with investigating employment discrimination claims.  Before an employment discrimination lawsuit under federal law can be brought, it is necessary to file a claim with the EEOC. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

The ADEA prohibits employers with 20 or more employees from discriminating against individuals who are 40 years or older and their age cannot be used as a factor in any employment decision.

The American with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA prohibits employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating or harassing disabled employees and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations that will enable a qualified disabled worker to complete his or her job functions.  

The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA)

The PDA prohibits discrimination based on pregnancy regarding any aspect of employment in businesses with 15 or more employees. Women who are temporarily unable to perform their jobs due to pregnancy must be treated similarly to other temporarily disabled workers. The ADA may also protect a woman who suffers from a pregnancy related medical condition.

State and Local Laws

Most states and many municipalities have laws governing the treatment of employees. For example, The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD") NJSA 10:5-1 prohibits employment discrimination based on race, creed, color, national origin, ancestry, age, marital status, familial status, sex or sexual orientation, atypical cellular or blood trait, generic information, or service in the armed forces.  This law is considered "remedial legislation" and can provide relief beyond what federal law may permit.

An example of protection under municipal law is the New York City Human Rights Law, Title 8 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York. This law prohibits discrimination in New York City and provides relief in excess of what is required under New York State law. Individuals are protected from discrimination in many areas, based on a number of protected classes.

The Bottom Line

In sum, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees and potential job candidates because of race, religion, sex, age, disability, pregnancy or national origin. Not only can violations lead to financial penalties, a discrimination lawsuit can damage a business' reputation. By engaging the services of an experienced employment law attorney, you can establish policies and procedures to ensure that your business is in compliance with these laws.

The Law Office of Randall P. Brett assists employers to avoid claims of discrimination and provide strong legal representation in court if needed. The firm also works with employees who have suffered discrimination to achieve just outcomes for their claims.

 


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Oral Contracts - Are They Binding? -

There is quote attributed to Samuel Goldwyn, a famous film producer in the early years of Hollywood, that goes "A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on". While this is actually a misquote of what was really said, nevertheless it conveys a widespread misconception that verbal contracts are unenforceable.  However, a contract made orally with another party, without embodying the particular terms in a signed writing, can still be valid and binding. Even so, any disagreement concerning the deal may pose multiple problems for both parties. 

In order for the court to give a verbal contract legal effect, the terms of the deal will have to be demonstrated.


Read more . . .


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Opening a new restaurant? -


Some key legal considerations for restaurateurs

Each year, approximately 30,000 new restaurants are opened in the United States. Most restaurateurs understand the great risk that comes with these ventures; in fact, some sources estimate as many as 18,000 of the 30,000 restaurants opened this year will fail within the first three years in business. Despite the risk, many chefs and hospitality professionals dive right in. If you’re a hopeful restaurateur, legal planning is an absolute necessity to ensure you don’t fall victim to many of the common mistakes that cause these businesses to fail. Consider the following:

Business Entity
All restaurant owners must carefully consider the best corporate structure for their businesses.


Read more . . .


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Can Non-Compete Agreements Be Enforced?

Hiring a new employee or training an existing staff member in new skills is a costly endeavor. Employers want to make sure that the money is well spent and the employee will not use the skills or knowledge of the employer's business to compete. Employers try to restrict employees from going to competitor and employees, of course, do not want to be limited to working for only one company especially if a better offer comes along or things do not work out with the employer. Employees also make an investment in their skills and capabilities, and may bring to the employer decades of knowledge of their industry, their profession, or customers. Each side has valuable rights and interests that need to be balanced. What often results is that the employer requires employees to sign a document that restricts who the employee can work for if he/she leaves the current employer.

While permitted in most states (California being a notable exception) Courts typically disfavor “covenants not to compete” or “non-compete agreements.”  Therefore, the terms and provisions of these contracts must not be overly restrictive of the employee.  In order for a non-compete to be upheld, the document must “be reasonable in scope, geography, and time.”  It cannot last for years on end, or prevent the employee from working anywhere in the entire state or states. Likewise, an employer cannot prohibit an employee from working in a large variety of industries, especially if the restriction includes industries wholly unrelated to the employer’s line of work. 

Two other elements are analyzed by a court to determine the validity of a non-compete agreement:  (1) there must be mutual consideration between both the employer and employee at the moment the contract is signed and (2) the non-competition agreement must protect “a legitimate business interest of the employer.”  Preventing a former employee from working for an employer’s business rival, or preventing disclosure of trade secrets or personally identifiable information of important clientele, are typically considered justifiable business interests.

Non-compete agreements are generally implemented to protect a company’s most important assets:  its reputation and its confidential information.  However, the terms protecting these assets cannot be overly broad or vague.  Thus, in evaluating the “reasonableness” of a non-competition agreement, the court will conduct a “balancing test.”  This is a comparison of the employer’s need to protect its “business interests” with the “burden that enforcement of the agreement would place on the employee.” 

The validity of non-compete agreements is decided on a case-by-case basis. The court will consider circumstances such as the length of time certain information will be kept confidential, and the company’s reasons for limiting the employee's job search to a geographical area. If the court finds that the agreement serves a valid interest and does not exceed the range necessary to protect that interest, the entire agreement may be upheld. The agreement cannot prohibit the employee from earning a living or be against the public's interest (for example, it is in the public's interest to permit people to hire any attorney they wish to, so non-compete agreements are generally prohibited in law firms).

The court also has the option of doing away with overly intrusive terms in a non-compete, rather than invalidating the agreement entirely. In cases in which a non-compete is perceived by the court as punitive, unduly restricting an employee from obtaining employment, the agreement will not be upheld.  A licensed attorney who specializes in employment law will be able to gauge the likelihood that a particular non-compete agreement will be enforceable.

The Law Office of Randall P. Brett assists employers and employees in navigating this important but difficult area of the law. Give us a call if you have questions about non-compete agreements or any other matter.


Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Deposition Do’s and Don’t’s -

 

Litigation, or resolving disagreements through a lawsuit, are a growing concern to both business owners and individuals. While there are alternatives to litigation (and should be considered if you have a dispute), the fact is that most significant disputes end up on the path to court.

Matters that are subject of litigation are ultimately decided on facts and the applicable law. The process by which parties uncover those facts is called discovery.  There are many tools in the discovery toolbox.  A deposition (questioning of a party or witness under oath, often referred to as a “dep” or “depo”) is one of the most powerful tools.  

 
At the start of the proceeding, the judge sets a date by which depositions are to be completed.  Attorneys issue subpoenas requiring a party or witness to appear at a certain place on a certain date and time (production of documents or other evidence may also be requested).  A court reporter is present to create a record of the questions and answers.  Some depositions are video recorded.
 
At the deposition, both parties should have their attorneys present.  A witness can have his/her own attorney present if he/she so desires.  Those testifying are placed under oath, and the attorney issuing the subpoena then starts the questioning.  Next, the opposing attorney has a turn to ask follow up questions.  This normally goes back and forth until the attorneys are done.  
 
Depositions aren’t just about questions and answers.  Just as critical as what was said can be how it was said.  Was the person evasive?  Uncomfortable?  Credible?  Nervous?  Sure of the facts?  Would the person damage or help the case if testifying in court?  These issues can be critical when deciding whether to settle a case or proceed further.  If one party’s witnesses are much weaker than those of the opposition, it may make that party much more willing to settle.
 
If you’re going to be deposed, you should keep the following in mind:
 
Tell the truth.  If you knowingly make a false statement while you’re under oath, you may be charged with perjury. In addition, you will lose credibility, and weaken, your case.
 
If you honestly don’t know the answer to a question, say you don’t know.  A deposition isn’t a contest and you won’t lose points by truthfully admitting you don’t know something.
 
Stick to the point and answer the questions as asked.  Needlessly stating information not requested may damage your case.  
 
If you don’t understand a question, ask that it be repeated or re-phrased.  If you feel you need to talk to your attorney before answering, ask to speak to your attorney. After doing so, answer to the best of your ability, in light of your attorney’s advice.  Your attorney may object to a question, but you may have to answer it anyway.  Prior to trial, your attorney may ask the judge not to use the response as evidence, as the question was improper. 

 

Answer the question asked, not the one you wanted to have asked. Listen carefully to the question and wait until the person asking it has completed the question. Too often, people hear what that want to hear, which may not be what was asked. Answering a question that was not asked could put testimony into the record that could damage your case. When in doubt, ask the questioner to clarify his or her question before you try and answer it.

Though depositions can be stressful, they are not to be feared.  They are opportunities for all parties involved in a legal matter to tell their side of the story.  

 

The Law Office of Randall P. Brett represents both plaintiffs and defendants in many different types of lawsuits as well as in arbitrations and mediations. If you have litigation-related questions, need an attorney to represent you, or are considering litigation, give us a call.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Protect Your New Business with Preventative Legal Planning -

Most Legal Issues Can Be Resolved Before They Even Arise. Here’s How.

Most people are familiar with the idea of “preventative medicine". But business owners, especially those who are just beginning a business, should also know about "preventative legal strategies".

The term refers to anticipating legal issues and conflicts and working to prevent them, rather than solving them or “winning” them once they occur. Companies can benefit from implementing preventative legal strategies as this approach is often less expensive than litigation, mediation, arbitration, and local, state and federal fines.

By working with an attorney early on in the creation of your new business, you can build a sound foundation for your company while likely saving money down the road. The following steps can serve as a great starting point for sound legal planning:

  1. Establish a relationship with an attorney who can assist you with the legal issues your new business will face early on in the start-up process. When an attorney is familiar with your firm from the onset, he or she can more effectively anticipate and address legal challenges and provide solutions. Also, many business law attorneys will allow for a flat-fee relationship that enables you to address legal issues as they arise without incurring any additional expenses.

  2. Determine what you want, negotiate it and memorialize it in proper legal documents. Businesses encounter disagreements with vendors, landlords, employees, partners and others. To minimize the number of conflicts, it’s important to establish written contracts for all important agreements, arrangements and accommodations.

    A business law attorney can help you identify all key concerns regarding employee compensation and benefits, property usage and maintenance, relationships with suppliers and responsibility and profit sharing with partners. An attorney can ensure that, when a question, disagreement or conflict arises, your interests are written down, clearly stated and legally protected by a mutual agreement with the party in question.

  3. There are many exciting steps in starting a new business venture; selecting the type of legal entity the business will be is rarely one of them. Yet, it’s important to select a business structure early. Corporations offer numerous advantages but also require officers, boards, articles of incorporation and other formalities. Partnerships and sole proprietorships are simpler than most other business structures but open owners to potentially costly liability. Limited liability companies offer a middle ground for many, providing a liability shield and comparative simplicity. A business attorney can help you determine which business structure will work best for you by taking into account tax planning, location and other key considerations.

Even with preventative legal planning, a lawsuit may arise. If it does, it’s important to approach it from a business, not a personal standpoint. This strategy can help you make decisions that are best for your company’s future, keep your focus on the day-to-day needs of your business and avoid unnecessarily disclosing information.

The Law Office of Randall P. Brett can provide legal advice and hands-on assistance during the formation and continued operation of your business.


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