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Archive for the "Employment" Category

Finding Your Next GC: Succession Planning for Corporate Law Departments

The general counsel of a business is integral to executing the company's strategy, handling litigation, overseeing compliance and, ultimately, the bottom line. So why do corporate law departments tend to pay so little attention to succession planning for the role?

Many GCs simply feel they don’t have enough time to look ahead, given day-to-day work and immediate needs to advance their strategic priorities. Moreover, not everyone thinks that succession planning is in his or her best interest. And, all too often, a burgeoning plan is sabotaged by a lack of progress in identifying and training successors.

How can a law department break through inertia and make a solid GC succession plan?

‘Tis the Season for Reason: Business Owner and Social Host Liability for Holiday Drinking

With the holiday season rapidly approaching – and with it, a succession of alcohol-fueled celebrations – business owners with liquor permits and those planning to host parties should consider what could happen if they are not appropriately vigilant when deciding whom to serve cups of cheer.

Liquor liability for businesses

South Carolina courts have become more severe in punishing those who serve alcohol to people who are intoxicated, so businesses with liquor permits should review their liquor liability policies – not only their insurance policies, but also their internal protocols.

Liquor permit holders already know they can’t sell alcohol to people under 21 years of age or who are intoxicated. But they also should be aware that state law defines “intoxicated” very broadly. Even if a customer doesn’t appear to be drunk when served, business owners can be held liable for the customer’s later actions, such as an accident or a fight, if they know the customer had something to drink before coming to the establishment and the business continued to serve them alcohol. Moreover, business owners can be held personally liable for the behavior of those who overindulge. This means that plaintiffs can go after a business owner’s personal as well as business assets. The costs can be overwhelming: In one case, a bar and its owners were held liable for $10 million dollars.

Noncompete Agreements in South Carolina: A Primer for Businesses

U.S. businesses covered nearly one in five employees with some form of noncompete agreement intended to prevent them from taking a job with a rival, according to research.

Recent press, including a feature in The New York Times, has placed a sharper focus on the impact that such agreements can have on the nation’s workforce and overall economy. Several states have cracked down on the use of these contracts, and in late 2016, the Obama administration recommended reform.

South Carolina law favors free enterprise and competition and generally disapproves of noncompete agreements. But such agreements can be valid if they are properly limited to strike an appropriate balance between protecting an employer’s interest in protecting trade secrets and investment in training employees with a worker’s right to make a living. 

Prevent Workers’ Comp Claims By Understanding How To Manage Risks

Accidents will happen – about 23,000 times a day in U.S. workplaces, on average, according to one study.

Workers’ compensation insurance pays for occupational injury and illness claims, and that typically protects businesses from defending against personal injury claims brought by employees. In South Carolina, which has a “no-fault” system, it doesn’t matter who is to blame for the workplace injury for a valid claim to be paid.

Although workers’ comp insurance covers an injured employee’s medical expenses and disability pay, the hidden costs for businesses are significant. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration calculates that lost productivity, higher insurance premiums and other indirect costs can total up to four times the cost of the workers’ comp claim itself.

With costs related to occupational injuries and deaths adding up to $192 billion annually, a plan to manage those risks is essential for every business.

First and foremost, employers must develop a culture of safety. OSHA says workplaces that establish safety and health management systems can reduce their injury and illness costs by 20 to 40 percent.

Changing an organization’s culture is not often easy, so leadership is critical to achieve buy-in from employees throughout the organization. Whether it’s a small business or large corporation, the message that safety is a primary concern must come from the top down.

A risk management plan can minimize workers’ comp costs in three ways: limiting opportunities for risk by controlling who comes through your door, identifying and fixing problems before something happens and managing additional risks once an accident occurs.

5 things every business should know about FMLA

Health issues are a part of life and often can have both personal and professional effects on employees.  Life events such as the serious illness of an employee or family member or the birth or adoption of a child may require an employee to take extended time off from work. A business must understand its obligations and responsibilities in such a scenario.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that protects an employee’s job and medical benefits while he or she takes up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for a qualifying event. Employers that meet certain criteria are covered by FMLA, and South Carolina businesses are no exception.

Under the FMLA, covered employers have specific obligations to their employees and can be subject to liability if these obligations are not followed. A business should review the following five-question checklist to assist in understanding its FMLA responsibilities:

Beware the Double Whammy of New Overtime Rule

By the end of the year, employers could get hit with a double-whammy from new overtime pay rules. You may have heard about the new minimum pay rule, but another aspect of the overtime rules could sneak up on you.

The big, publicized change, announced in May, is that executives, administrators, outside sales people and professionals (and some others) are exempt from overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) only if they perform duties that are considered exempt (the “duties test”) and are paid a minimum of $47,476 annually, or $913 a week (the new “salary test”). The current threshold, unchanged since 1975, is only $23,660.

Read our previous post on this change in overtime rules here

What makes it a double whammy is that the attention given to the new salary test likely will prompt many employees to ask if they are correctly being classified as exempt based on the “duties test,” which is separate from the salary test. Regardless of how much someone is paid, they must be paid overtime for hours worked over 40 per week if they don’t fall into an exempt category based on their actual job duties.

Employers won a major victory when the U.S. Department of Labor left the existing definitions for exempt classifications unchanged when it increased the pay threshold. We would caution employers not to breathe a sigh of relief, however. This unchanged part of the overtime rules may prove to be quite troublesome in the months ahead. 

Attorney-Client Privilege: Use with Care

A bedrock principle of our legal system is the protection that the law gives to communications between an attorney and the client.

Like most legal rights, however, attorney-client privilege has limits. Every word shared between a client and attorney isn’t protected. If you’re talking to a lawyer about a sensitive matter, don’t take attorney-client privilege for granted. The law provides exceptions, case law sometimes offers muddled guidance and opposing parties may litigate vigorously over what is covered. Your attorney can advise you as to how it applies to your circumstances, but here are some guidelines about relying on attorney-client privilege and waiving it. 

New Overtime Rule: What You Need to Know

Come December, 67,000 South Carolina workers will be newly eligible for overtime pay, following a revision of federal rules governing when overtime must be paid. Employers must take steps now to prepare for this rule, which goes into effect December 1, 2016 and will impact employees’ job duties, payroll expenses, and how work is assigned.

Depending on your point of view, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) regulatory change is either a severe burden for businesses – especially small businesses that may have less flexibility in how work is assigned – or a long overdue revision to allow lower-paid salaried workers to catch up to the rest of the economy.

Nationwide, the DOL estimates that about 4.2 million workers could benefit from the rule. In South Carolina, it will affect approximately 30 percent of salaried workers.

Announced May 18, the change addresses the overtime pay rule that is part of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). When Congress passed the FLSA at the tail end of the Great Depression, it mandated that workers had to be paid overtime at a rate of time-and-a-half for all hours over 40 worked in a given week. Exceptions were carved into the law, including exemptions for employees who worked in executive, administrative, outside sales, or professional jobs. (The logic behind these exemptions is that with this level of responsibility comes an obligation to get your work done, regardless of the clock.)

However, in addition to proscribing a baseline for the duties these employees engaged in on a day-to-day basis, Congress said employers could exempt only those employees who were paid a minimum salary. Since 2004, the minimum salary for each of these exemptions has been $455 per week, or $23,660 per year. In addition, employees compensated over $100,000 per year (and paid a weekly salary of at least $455 per week) could be exempt regardless of their job duties.

Don’t Let Your Workplace Become Collateral Damage in the Cultural Wars

The so-called cultural wars have roiled politics since at least the 1990s and now have invaded the workplace.

However you feel about these issues personally, you should know they are going to spawn confusion and litigation in the workplace as employers try to make sense of conflicting mandates in the courts and legislatures. Uncertainty is the enemy of risk management, and unless you want to make an expensive public statement about your beliefs, we advise you to approach these issues with caution – and sound legal counsel – until the smoke clears.

Many date the cultural wars to 1992, when presidential candidate Patrick J. Buchanan delivered what became known as the “cultural war” speech at the Republican national convention, warning that “there is a religious war going on in this country. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for the war is for the soul of America.”

You don’t have to agree with Buchanan’s politics to recognize that he was right about the nature of the battle. And with talk radio and cable TV’s insatiable appetite for controversy and our never-ending cycle of national campaigning, we don’t expect the cultural wars to abate, even following the election in November. 

Protect Your Loved Ones from Elder Financial Abuse

It’s a fact of life: as we get older, our powers of discernment diminish and our judgment of others – particularly their trustworthiness – often makes us vulnerable. Sadly, there’s a legal component to outliving our good judgment.

Elder financial abuse takes many forms, and the common denominator is theft. Sometimes a family member is involved. Sometimes it may be a caregiver who is a constant companion or someone met at church who seemingly just wants to help an older person manage his or her affairs. Families may seek legal help in regaining control over a loved one’s personal affairs or recovering squandered funds. Banks and others caught in the middle may seek legal help when they are unsure if granting a request for a joint account or other shared authority over finances is in the best interests of an older person. Lawyers called in on these types of cases often find that it is difficult to recover misappropriated assets, so if you suspect something is awry in an elderly person’s life you should seek legal counsel as soon as possible. 

Business Visas Help Companies Fill Critical Positions

Immigration is much in the news these days as the presidential candidates discuss border security, terrorism and preserving jobs for U.S. citizens. These public policy issues deserve a thorough vetting of candidates, but they shouldn’t be confused with the legal business visa process that thousands of American businesses depend upon.

Unfortunately, our schools are not producing a sufficient number of graduates in some professional fields, and American businesses have to bring in foreign nationals to fill critical positions. There is a common misconception that these businesses are hiring cheap labor that displaces U.S. citizens, but that’s wildly inaccurate. American businesses are incurring substantial expense to bring in foreign workers with specialized skills, and they would gladly hire U.S. citizens but for the dearth of domestic talent in some professional areas. 

Avoid These Legal Snares in 2016

We always like to look ahead and advise our business clients about legal issues that may receive more attention throughout the year. Some are pushed to the forefront by public policy and politics – immigration, for example. Other issues, such as data protection and workplace harassment training, always are important, but the beginning of the year is a good time to review whether your business follows best practices.

Protect Your Intellectual Property with Employment Agreements

In an era when confidential information can be secreted out the door on a thumb drive, business owners can’t depend on the goodwill of employees to keep their intellectual property safe. If you have any form of IP – and almost every business does – we recommend that you protect it with employee agreements. 

While many businesses have unique intellectual property concerns, here are some of the topics we often see emerge. 

Key Legal Issues for Entrepreneurs

If you're thinking of starting a business, you likely are focused on how to sell the product or service you plan to offer. But don't neglect to set up a legal framework that will protect your business and allow it to thrive. In our litigious society, a working knowledge of business law and a relationship with a law firm has to be part of your entrepreneurial toolkit. 

Here are six areas where we recommend that first-time entrepreneurs protect themselves by getting good legal counsel at the outset to reduce the possibility of problems down the road.

Business Start-up Legal Checklist

Anyone who has started a business can tell you that they were surprised at how many legal and regulatory hoops they had to jump through just to open their doors. My husband and I experienced this first-hand when we opened a coffee shop and retail business in Greenville. We’re both lawyers, and we still found the process daunting. 

When you start a business, be sure you have the right people in place to help you. A lawyer will be one of them, and here’s a checklist that will help new entrepreneurs stay out of trouble and increase the chances of getting their business off to a trouble-free start. 

The Perils of Social Media for Hiring Managers

Hiring managers increasingly are checking out job applicants on social media, and it’s easy to see why: The Internet holds a trove of personal information on most of us, and it doesn’t take much time or skill to mine this data. 

But, you do so at your peril, I always tell employers. 

A lot of what you come across in Internet searches about a job applicant will make my job as an employment litigator harder if I’m defending you in a discrimination lawsuit. The problem is that there are certain things that you should never ask in a job interview, and yet you can’t help but stumble across these areas in a search of social media. 

Remember, every click of your keyboard is subject to discovery in litigation. Once you’ve seen something, you can’t turn back the page. 

Be Careful What You Sign: Red Flags in Commercial Contracts

When businesses sign a contract, they’re usually focused on the opportunity it represents – a new customer, a better supplier or a partnership that expands their reach. Unfortunately, when we, as lawyers, see some of these same contracts, it’s after the air has gone out of such expectations and a deal has soured. 

While our best advice is to have every contract reviewed by your attorney, we realize that most businesses aren’t going to do that for every agreement. If there is a lot of money – or risk – involved, consider asking your attorney to review a contract – a process that usually isn’t time consuming for legal counsel familiar with your business. 

However, in those cases where you choose not to make a call to your attorney, here are some things to watch for based on our experience. 

How to Pick a Lawyer

Just as we all need a family doctor who we can rely on, every small business eventually finds that it needs a relationship with a lawyer. As with the family doctor, many small business owners find it beneficial to develop rapport with one lawyer as a point of contact. While the relationship attorney may sometimes direct the client to someone with specific experience, it’s reassuring to begin the conversation with someone who understands your business and industry – and remembers the names of your kids.

I frequently go shopping for other lawyers myself, so I have some experience in this area. In my case, I’m usually looking for a lawyer or firm in another state who can handle a matter for a client. Even as a lawyer, it’s not always easy to judge if another is going to be a good fit, so I understand how business owners may find it difficult to pick an attorney. Here’s my test for picking a lawyer. 

All Businesses Should Have a Document Retention Policy

Technology has made it easy for us to electronically store documents that would have required warehouse-size space in paper form. Now, businesses wrestle with the question of what they can safely get rid of, and what they must retain. This is especially a problem for small businesses, which may not have the luxury of designating someone to supervise document retention.  

Guns and the Workplace in South Carolina

Guns are a tough issue for many business owners. They may own guns and support the Second Amendment, but as business owners, they recognize that when employees bring guns to work, potential liability is created. And while some employees may feel like their Second Amendment rights are limited by workplace policies, most will understand their employer’s concern for dangerous accidents – and resulting lawsuits – that can occur when employees are permitted to carry concealed weapons. 

Don’t Automatically Include Arbitration Clauses in Commercial Contracts

For years, mandatory arbitration clauses have been almost automatically included in many commercial contracts, because they’ve been regarded as cost-effective detours for matters that might otherwise work their way through the courts. Over the last few years, we’ve adopted a more critical view of arbitration, and now regard it as a good strategy for some clients, but not for others.

How to Write a Workable Non-Compete Agreement

Employers invest time, training and trust in key employees, and they don’t want to see them walk out the door and help a competitor. Non-compete agreements can protect your investment in employees – but only if they’re written with reasonable restrictions. 

Criminal Background Checks are a Minefield for Employers

A big issue that will continue to vex hiring managers this year is criminal background checks of job applicants. Employers should be cautious in how they use background checks while we wait for the courts to clarify an area of the law that is fraught with peril.

To Sue or Not to Sue:  Protect Your Business Against Non-Compete Violations

Business owners invest time and money into setting themselves apart with unique product offerings, exceptional services or specialized customer retention strategies. They pass along their tricks of the trade to employees as they build their business. But it is information they don’t want leaving their control.

How to Handle a Whistleblower Complaint

On September 22, 2014, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced a whistleblower award of $30 Million to a whistleblower that came forward with information about an ongoing corporate fraud. Attorney General Eric Holder also spoke of a plan to boost payouts to motivate more whistleblowers.