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Fort Lauderdale Business and Commercial Law Blog

Why is ongoing business counseling crucial?

As a business owner in Florida, you may have opted for business counseling when everything was first being established, but what about after that point? Do you still need counseling when you are already a well-established business? We at the Law Offices of Levi Williams, P.A., will explain why it can be crucial to have business counseling throughout the entire lifespan of your business and not just at the start.

Business counseling exists for several reasons. It is a service provided by legal professionals who often know business law inside and out. They specialize in the laws that govern your area, and they often stay on top of changes to current laws, removal of old ones, and the addition of new ones. This is important because many business owners like you don't have the time to keep up with the changing laws when you are busy running everything else.

What to know about whistleblower laws

Like many other states, Florida has its own set of whistleblower laws. They are intended to protect individuals from being retaliated against if they "blow the whistle" on - or reveal - the wrong-doings of the company that they work for. Here are some things to be aware of when it comes to Florida's whistleblower laws.

Florida's state legislature website says that under these laws, it is illegal to retaliate against an employee who has reported the unethical or illegal acts of an employer, upper management, or other branches within a company or business. Both public and private employees have protection under these laws. If fired under means that are determined to be retaliatory, they may pursue damages and sue for lost wages, back pay, benefits, and of course the damages claimed.

How do you qualify for FMLA benefits?

When you or a family member has a serious medical condition, you may wonder about your ability to take care of your responsibilities at home without jeopardizing your job security. The Family Medical Leave Act allows you to balance personal and/or medical needs with your work. If you qualify, you may take up to 12 weeks a year of unpaid leave with an understanding that when you come back, your employer will return you to either the same job or an equivalent position. 

According to FindLaw, you may qualify for FMLA benefits if you have a serious health condition, although you may need to provide medical certification. If a family member, such as a daughter, son, parent or spouse, has a serious health condition and requires your care, FMLA benefits may also be available. If you welcome a new child into your family, whether through birth, adoption or foster care placement, you may be able to use your FMLA benefits both before and after the child's arrival. 

Merger of student loan managers sparks criticism

There are a handful of companies that the government hires to work with borrowers of student loans across the United States, including in Florida. These companies provide loan forgiveness programs and affordable payment options for people struggling to meet their financial obligations. However, they have received criticism for allegedly exacerbating the problem of student loan debt in America by providing information that is erroneous or insufficient to borrowers. A merger between two of these large firms now has congressional lawmakers concerned. 

Great Lakes and Nelnet are two of the four management firms tasked with managing student loan debt for the federal government. Between the two of them, they oversee about 40% of the student loan debt owed in this country. Last year, regulators approved a merger between the two companies, reducing the number of firms managing student loan debt to three. Democratic lawmakers in Congress have concerns that the decrease in competition among these student loan management firms could impact borrowers negatively. 

What is religious discrimination?

Faith and religion are important aspects of many cultures, including those found in American communities. As such, the law protects people of faith from being harassed and discriminated against during their employment or while applying for jobs. You and other Florida business owners should understand religious discrimination and reasonable accommodation laws to protect your company from adverse legal action by employees and applicants.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, religious discrimination violates employment laws. This protection extends to practices regarding hiring, creating religious exclusions as a condition of employment or making an adverse employment decision, including firing an employee, based on the employee’s religious beliefs or practices. Discrimination and harassment are defined as behavior and comments that create an offensive or hostile work environment. Isolated incidents that are not severe or simple teasing might not qualify as discrimination.

College basketball star embroiled in legal battle with agency

For many people in Florida, college sports offer a high level of excitement and entertainment, especially when it comes to football and basketball. For many college student athletes, their performance in the NCAA can be an essential stepping stone to playing their sport at the professional level. With the 2019 National Basketball Association draft just around the corner, many people are excited to see which college stars will end up being selected to play in the NBA. 

One of those stars played his freshman year at Duke in North Carolina last year. Early on, he was heralded to be one of the best players around. In the middle of April, after the NCAA tournament had completed, the player announced he had signed a deal with a sports marketing agency based in Florida. The agency was to represent the player for a term of five years. However, less than six weeks later, it was announced that he had signed with another sports marketing agency.

How can a nondisclosure agreement help your business?

There may be trade secrets and other elements to your company that you do not want getting out to your competition and the public. When you employ people, there is a risk that your employees can talk about these things, inadvertently or not, or that they can later leave your employment and work for a competitor. Understandably, you and other Florida business owners may want to know how to reduce the chances of confidential information being leaked.

Suppose you just started a cookie company with a top-secret recipe for sugar cookies that helped launch your business into popularity. You would not want your employees to share the recipe with a competing bakery or even their family members and friends. Additionally, you would not want a former employee taking information about your clients and starting a competing cookie bakery. You may address this risk by including a nondisclosure agreement in your employment contract. According to FindLaw, an effective NDA should include the following points:

  • Specific confidential information – your secret recipe and clients’ contact information
  • The time period the agreement remains effective – usually up to five years
  • Those agreeing not to disclose the confidential information and from whom the information must be kept – competitors, associates and customers
  • Those exempt from confidentiality – those who already know the recipe

The pros and cons of business arbitration

Arbitration can be a useful tool for business owners hoping to avoid litigation to resolve a dispute. At the Law Offices of Levi Williams, P.A., our goal is to assist Florida businesses in running smoothly and avoiding costly litigation. While we know that arbitration can serve a valuable purpose, we also know that, like other tools of law, there are negative as well as positive aspects to this dispute resolution method. You may be interested in learning about the different arbitration pros and cons.

As FindLaw explains, many business owners include arbitration clauses in their customer contracts because arbitrating a dispute may be faster and more cost-effective than court litigation. You and customers may also appreciate the impartial nature of choosing arbitrators to resolve a dispute, as well as confidentiality. Arbitration is also generally a simpler process than a courtroom trial and the results are usually final, which can protect businesses.

How can I prevent workplace violence at my company?

If you employ people, there is a risk of workplace violence. There is a potential for attacks and assaults at any establishment, whether large or small. You and other Florida business owners may be interested in learning about workplace violence and the ways in which to protect your employees, as well as your legal interests.

According to the National Safety Council, 18,400 people were injured and 458 were killed across the United States in 2017 in violent incidents in the workplace. Healthcare, the service industry and education are environments especially prone to workplace violence. Violence at work generally falls into the categories of criminal intent, client/customer, worker-on-worker and personal relationship. How can you prevent violence at your workplace and protect your staff? The following tips may help:

  • Recognize the signs an employee may become violent, including changes in behavior or reacting badly to recent discipline.
  • Adopt a zero-tolerance policy toward violence in the workplace.
  • Provide training and informational material about workplace violence, protective strategies and coping.
  • Consider conducting mock training sessions with law enforcement to address different workplace violence scenarios.

How to protect your small business from lawsuits

As a small business owner, you have most likely worked hard to create a working environment that is friendly to all employees. After all, having happy and loyal employees is key to business production and efficiency. The last thing you want is to be put in a situation where you are fighting a lawsuit for an otherwise preventable issue. Lawsuits can harm your business’s reputation and compromise a smooth working flow. You can minimize your risk of getting sued by following a few simple rules.

First, make sure you provide proper training for your employees, including a written form that outlines all rules and responsibilities of the job. Be sure sexual harassment training is provided for all employees. Watch what you do and say as an employer. You should avoid situations where a conflict of interest may occur, as this can lead to a lawsuit. Avoid speaking or making statements in public regarding your business.

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