Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Nextlaw Global Referral Network was created by Dentons, the largest law firm in the world. The network, which is free to join, employs a detailed screening system to guarantee the quality of its member firms and has developed proprietary technology to allow members to identify lawyers at other member firms with the appropriate experience where clients need legal counsel. I am proud that my firm has been accepted. The Nextlaw Global Referral Network will enable my firm to connect our clients to high quality lawyers around the world. Nextlaw Global Referral Network is the largest legal referral network in the world, with 283 member firms, 18,600 lawyers covering 160 countries.

The Law Office of Adam P. Whitney specializes in business and employment law and also handles disputes among shareholders, partners and LLC members. We represent private businesses, majority and minority owners of businesses, professional and executives, and others.

About Nextlaw Global Referral Network

Nextlaw Global Referral Network is the client focused legal referral network created by Dentons, the world’s largest law firm. Nextlaw Global Referral Network is the largest legal network in the world. It’s free to join, open to all high-quality law firms regardless of size and does not grant geographic exclusivity to its members. This enables the network to connect clients of member firms to the best lawyers with the appropriate experience in the locations where clients need legal counsel. The network utilizes a proprietary technology platform to help member firms research, contact and rate the performance of network members in order to guarantee that clients receive the highest quality legal advice and business solutions. http://www.nextlawnetwork.com

About Dentons

Dentons is the world’s first polycentric global law firm. A top 20 firm on the Acritas 2015 Global Elite Brand Index, the Firm is committed to challenging the status quo in delivering consistent and uncompromising quality and value in new and inventive ways. Driven to provide clients a competitive edge, and connected to the communities where its clients want to do business, Dentons knows that understanding local cultures is crucial to successfully completing a deal, resolving a dispute or solving a business challenge. Now the world’s largest law firm, Dentons’ global team builds agile, tailored solutions to meet the local, national and global needs of private and public clients of any size in more than 125 locations serving 50-plus countries. www.dentons.com.

I am re-posting this entry from two years ago, because it is the time of year when employers hold holiday parties or open houses. It’s easy to get caught up in the spirit(s) of the season and to overdo it on the alcohol. Are you putting your firm at risk if an employee or guest drinks too much and causes an auto accident and injures himself or a third person? It depends (that catch-all lawyer answer).

There are a variety of options for employee parties, from providing the liquor yourself at the company premises, having a professional caterer on the premises, renting a function hall, or going to a bar or restaurant. Some of these are safer options than others.

The safest option is a bar or restaurant where the employees and guests are buying their own drinks (the employer could hand out bonus cash that day). Even if the company is picking up the tab, the risk is still low. The crucial issue is control of the liquor. If the restaurant wait staff is in control of serving, your risk of liability for an accident is low. Employers do not have a general duty to act as big brother or sister to employees, especially after work hours. That doesn’t mean that a manager should be forcing shots on employees, as even this safe option has logical limits.

Also generally safe would be to hire a professional caterer either at a function hall or your place of business. But there are a few more guidelines to follow. First, make sure that the caterer is reputable and that the staff has experience serving alcohol. Make sure that the caterer obtains the permits. Make sure that the caterer is properly insured, and get an indemnity agreement from the caterer. Also, find out the plan of service. For example, you would not want employees and guests to have free access to liquor; they must order drinks from trained staff which has the authority to refuse drinks to someone underage or visibly intoxicated. You also should not ignore if drinking is getting excessive, such as drinking games organized by an employee. Check with your own insurance agent to see what coverage you have if you do get sued (speaking with your insurance professional is always a good idea).

The biggest risk is when the employer provides the alcohol and serves the alcohol. This fully opens the door to liability if you over serve someone who causes an accident. Although this may be a money-saving option, I would advise against it. It’s very easy for employees to get carried away at these events, and you don’t want to be in a position of either being the wet blanket or worry about liability.

Of course, you should remind employees ahead of time to be responsible and to designate a driver. Better yet, if the company could possibly provide drivers or promise to reimburse cab fare, that’s all the better all the better. In addition to preventing liability, you should of course care about the well-being of employees and innocent third parties. You don’t want to be sued, and you don’t want your company name in the paper because your employee killed someone after a wild party. Also think about the devastating effect on morale if something happened.

A topic for another day is the risk of sexual harassment at firm parties (or even “date rape”, as was alleged in one case). I hope I have not taken all of the fun out of the holiday season. As always, the above is general information, not legal advice.

By Adam P. Whitney 617.338.7000

 

Reflecting on Owning A Business

Posted: December 17, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

 

 

Fair warning, this is a self-indulgent off topic post. The end of the year is approaching, and I’m reflecting on my first nine months of starting my own law firm, which focuses on employment law and business litigation for private businesses.  Here’s what I have learned from nine months in business:

 

 

  1. You can’t do it without good clients. Make them happy and they’ll make you happy. I intentionally made this the first item.  I want to take this opportunity to thank my clients, most of whom read this blog. I literally could not have done it without you.

  2. You need trustworthy help. I’m talking about employees, colleagues, accountants, vendors, contractors, bankers, insurance agents, etc. Find good people to help you and return the favor by treating them fairly/paying them on time/referring them business/etc.

  3. Word of mouth is still the best marketing, at least for lawyers. I’ve done almost no marketing other than networking with colleagues (and, I suppose, writing this blog). 98% of my business comes from repeat business and referrals and other word of mouth.  I’ve been steadily busy since starting, and I hired two employees and expanded my office space and equipment.

  4. You must embrace the latest technology. Although there can be some time getting up to speed on new programs and ways of doing things, it’ll be well worth it in the long run. You may feel comfortable doing things the “old way,” but you will increasingly be at a disadvantage. Worse yet, people will laugh at you and make jokes about typewriters (we do this behind your back).

  5. Running a business is hard work. Of course I knew that before, because most of my clients are businesses.  But you don’t really appreciate all the important things that business owners must routinely do that take you away from your core functions – get insurance, do payroll, pay taxes, accounting, pay bills, pay fees and dues, manage employees, deal with vendors – there are dozens of things. Unfortunately, this blog has suffered at times due to all of these demands.

  6. Being a business owner is meaningful and rewarding. Private businesses keep the economy rolling and provide crucial services to the public. They don’t get bailouts or have teams of lobbyists in Congress. They operate both out of necessity to earn a living for the owners – capitalism at its purest – and because they love what they do. I’m proud to play a very small part in all that as a business owner, and by serving private businesses. It is also very rewarding to be “my own boss” and to do things the way I think that they should be done. I like to joke that “my boss is the best,” but I do hope that he gives me a few days off over the holidays.

By Adam P. Whitney, Law Office of Adam P. Whitney, 617.338.7000

 

This may seem obvious, but why do companies still do it? I’ll start with a few vents of my own of things that annoy me.

Jingles. I despise corny company jingles that are played repeatedly on the radio, tv and even Pandora. Although not technically a business, the worst offender is 1-877-kars-4kids. It may be a great cause, but why would I donate to you when your jingle grates me every ten minutes or so on the radio? Can’t you just talk to me without singing to me? It’s not just me, the jingle has been called the “most annoying sound in the world: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nEL8dGQj3I4. Google “I hate kars 4 kids” and you’ll see that many people are driven to drinking by the jingle.

Loyalty Cards. I Googled “I hate rewards cards” and had over 6 million hits, so I’m not alone. I credit Shaws for dropping these awful things. I will now shop there again. I won’t shop at CVS. Recently, Walgreens has gotten into the act, which is too bad because I like the new ‘greens in Downtown Boston. Doesn’t everyone hate to carry these cards (not to mention the invasion of privacy)? We are moving to simpler transactions, such as Level Up. Why do these stores compel us to dig through our wallets. And if you don’t carry them, you are being overcharged.

Maybe big businesses like CVS and Walgreens can get away with annoying their customers. Your private business probably cannot. As for service professionals, like lawyers, don’t nickel and dime your clients. Lawyers, for example, charge plenty per hour. Consider routine copies, faxes, phone calls and postage part of your overhead and not a profit center. And don’t talk down to your clients.

Do the opposite of annoying clients. Virtually all businesses would do well to be friendly and warm. This struck me this morning when I had my shoes shined at Colonial Shoe Repair near my office. The owner, Gret, introduced himself, asked my name and shook my hand. The shoe shine was great and at a fair price, but it was the personal attention that really sets Greg apart. I looked up the company, and not surprising Greg has a number of raving fans: http://www.yelp.com/biz/colonial-shoe-repair-boston

Is your business unwittingly biting the hands that feed it? Take a step back and try to put yourself in your client’s position. Ask your clients for feedback. Do random surveys. Ask what you are doing right or doing wrong. If you are just standing still and not listening and improving your product or services, your competitors will be passing you by.

By Adam P. Whitney

 

I written before about how an employer can be damned when supervisors have sex with employees: https://damnedif.com/category/sexual-harassment/.

 

But being obsessed and pursuing a relationship can be just as damning. Take the recently-reported case at the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (“MCAD”) MCAD v. Illumina Media. The employer is on the hook (subject to potential appeals) for a sizable award because, the MCAD found, one of the company’s owners made repeated sexual advances to a female employee, even though she repeatedly rejected them. This was the case even though, the MCAD found, the female employee actively participated in a sexually charged workplace atmosphere, where sexual innuendo and horseplay were commonplace and people looked at pornographic images on the internet.

 

The case reads like a made-for-TV movie of the week. The female employee started at Illumina as a 24 year old. According the case report, the company owner was at first friendly, but soon started to make comments about his sexual prowess with much younger women, and then suggested that he and the victim were “on a date.” The employee thought that these comments were strange and inappropriate, and would often reply that “it’s not happening” or “it will never happen.” Undaunted, the owner continued his pursuit, according to the report, and escalated the behaviors by explicitly asking for sex on a number of occasions, which the employee refused. The actions went downhill from there, according to the report. You can find a link to the decision here: http://www.mass.gov/mcad/documents/MCAD%20&%20Brooke%20Anido%20vs%20Illumina%20Media%20LLC%20dba%20Illumina%20Records%20&%20Ronald%20Bellanti.pdf

 

It does not appear that Illumina strongly or effectively contested that the owner aggressively pursued a sexual relationship with the employee. The MCAD Hearing Officer found Illumina and the owner liable for quid quo pro sexual harassment (generally thought of as conditioning a job or employee benefits on succumbing to sexual advances) as well as for constructive discharge. The MCAD reasoned that by treating the employee differently after she rejected the owner’s sexual harassment, Illumina could be held liable for quid quo pro sexual harassment. The decision was upheld after an appeal to the Full Commission of the MCAD.

 

Illumina and the owner were ordered to pay $75,000 in emotional distress damages and nearly $10,000 in lost wages. These two figures are subject to 12% interest from the date of filing the Complaint, which was a staggering six years prior to the decision of the Full Commission. Thus, interest will run at about 71%, adding $60,000 to this figure. The defendants are also liable for the employee’s legal fees and costs of over $62,000. Assuming that Illumina spent a similar amount on legal fees, the total out of pocket for the company appears to be at least $270,000, barring any further appeal.

 

While the facts here appear to be fairly egregious, the case should serve as a warning to all employers. Owners and managers, as human beings, will inevitably be attracted to subordinate employees. If you are a company of any significant size, there is no doubt that there are such attractions occurring right now at your business. You need to train all of your managers on how to deal with these issues (a subject for another post), or you could be on the hook for $270,000 or much, much more. Mangers and owners can easily fall into the trap of thinking that a loose environment means that anything goes in the workplace. But this case proves that such thinking can lead to big trouble.

 

By Adam P. Whitney

 

Guest Post by Eve Pearce

 

The customer is always right. This sentence has become a motto for businesses small and large all over the world. However, it seems that not all companies believe in this simple statement any more. In fact, the large companies seem to be falling into the ego trap. They are too big to fail. They have enough customers, and therefore can afford to be unpleasant to the small minority who dare query an issue or problem with the service they receive. It is commonplace now for people to complain about time spent on the phone waiting for an answer from a generic, anonymous call center, only to be fobbed off and sent on their way. That is not customer service. That is customer disservice. The examples are many and varied, but we all have memories of poor treatment received from large companies.

 

Remember Your Internal Customers

It isn’t all about the commercial customer, however. When you run a business, your customers are represented by many different people. Don’t forget your internal customers. These are your employees, your colleagues, the people who work on casual contracts to complete smaller jobs less frequently. The internal customer is just as important as the one who pays for your service or products. Think about it. Without people to do the work for you, things would not get done. You would flounder around, struggling to do several hundred jobs at once, and you would fail miserably in your business venture. You need people that will work for you, with professionalism and willingness to help out when they are needed. It takes more than just financial incentive to keep these people happy. But it also doesn’t take much more effort to show some appreciation. You could try offering corporate gifts to your customers, and you can find a wonderful selection at websites including http://www.solo.co.uk/. Here you can purchase items that are personalized for the people you wish to reward, and you can find some excellent value offers to keep your costs low.

 

Give Them Something Pretty

People love to receive gifts. It doesn’t matter what they are. As a customer of other companies large and small, think about the last time you received a free item. How did it make you feel? What was it? You probably received a meager pen emblazoned with the company details of the business you were buying from. It didn’t matter. They gave you something for free, and that was fantastic! Yes, you are aware that these pens are not limited items, and that they are probably sent out in their thousands to all the other small-fry customers like yourself. But that’s not important. The company made an effort to show that they care. They gave you a small token of their appreciation for you, the individual, and they also cleverly ensured that you would not forget about them any time soon. Your pen will be very useful on a daily basis, and you will see their logo every time you pick it up.

 

Small Beginnings Lead to Big Business

Of course, it takes a little more than material items to keep people happy. But offering free gifts to your customers and employees certainly goes a long way towards keeping their attention focused on your business as opposed to someone else. We are a magpie nation. We like pretty items, we enjoy tactile products, and things that we can collect and admire. It is human nature to appreciate things that we create, and you can bring this simple psychology into your business plan. Perhaps you could keep a selection of gifts specifically for your customers. You could mix it up a little, and send out pens, pencils, notepads, mugs, or even larger items depending on the importance of the individual customer to yourself and your business. Let’s face it, we are here for the money. The more they pay, the more you appreciate them. So reflect that in the gift that you offer. But don’t forget your smaller, less well known customers. They could become very important to you one day, and you do not want to lose them to your competitors. Be nice, be generous, and remember, treat people in the same way that you wish to be treated. Kindness, understanding, and appreciation will go a long way when building good business relationships.

Guest Post by Eve Pearce

It is no secret that the modern day office is a fast-paced and often stressful place to be. The world never sleeps, we often work in 24-hour operations, and vacations seem few and far between. Men and women work together, often in direct competition, trying to prove themselves and their worth so that they can feel secure in their jobs. Sometimes they fall into easy friendships, and sometimes even a little more than that. Office romances are commonly reported around the world, but can they sometimes be detrimental to your business? Perhaps it is worth considering putting a policy in place that protects your business, should any of your employees become romantically involved. If you don’t, there is a high possibility that your staff members might begin to report sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior  as tempers rise and colleagues become irate with the behavior of those around them.

Office Politics Leading to Addiction Problems

Aside from office romances, there are lots of other stress factors that can lead people into dangerous territory. The news media is beginning to report more cases of employees succumbing to alcohol and drug addiction, often as a coping mechanism when the stress of their job becomes too much. This problem is widespread around the US and beyond, but fortunately there are lots of places and organisations where people can receive treatment, counselling and support to move on from their addictions and return their chaotic lives to some semblance of normality. One such area that is offering addiction treatment is in Florida. There are lots of Florida treatment centers offering services for rehabilitation, ranging from alcohol abuse to drug addiction, and even to more diverse and obscure addictions related to stress. You can find the right center for you personally, and decide whether to take part in a residential program, or something more casual.

Stress in the Workplace

Stress in the workplace has been downplayed for many years, and most employees are loath to admit when they are struggling with their workload. Some fear for the security of their jobs, while others simply worry that they will be seen as weak minded and might be ridiculed by their peers. The stress creeps in slowly at first. You might find yourself working late into the evening, often without realizing  as you frantically try to finish the tasks assigned for that day. You might find yourself bombarded with issues and problems in a short space of time, and as quickly as you resolve one, another two or three take its place. Your colleagues might appear to be dealing with the same sort of problems, so you don’t want to burden them further by asking for help. Or you feel that you have to complete the tasks and resolve the issues by yourself, or risk being held to account by your managers and supervisors.

It is events like these that can often lead people down the route towards addiction. Traditionally addiction is associated with drugs and alcohol, but during recent years there has been more information emerging about different addictions. Office employees in particular seem more susceptible to various addictive behaviors and hobbies, including shopping, gambling, and even pornography. These are things that can be kept hidden for many years, and only emerge when the addiction becomes too much for the individual to deal with. An obsessive shopper or gambler is likely to run up massive personal debts, sometimes risking the security of their home and vehicle in the process. Someone addicted to pornography risks either becoming a social recluse, or possibly worse if their peers discover their hidden activities. Any of these addictions can lead to problems in the workplace, as well as being brought about by such problems.

Business Owners Take Responsibility

Ultimately it is important for the business owner and management team to remain aware of the dangers of addiction. They have to remember to show support for their employees, and be willing to offer assistance for any who appear to be struggling or who take a lot of time off sick. There is usually a genuine reason for the poor performance of an employee, or even for a perceived attitude problem, and so it is more constructive for the management team to work through such issues with the individual, and find a way to resolve them, rather than simply dismissing the employee and moving on to the next. A business will operate far more productively when it is maintained by a happy, integrated and supported team of employees.