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Bill nixing “gag clauses” on negative reviews on way to White House

(BUSINESS NEWS) Bad reviews about your business can hurt, but the days of “gag clauses” to punish negative customers is coming to an end.

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ambitious career hacks

Guitars are not violins

I once took my violin for a repair at a music shop, but suspected the repair was botched. My suspicions were confirmed when I took the instrument to a professional luthier the next town over.

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So I decided to write a review of the first shop on Yelp. I wasn’t being vindictive or whiny. I just wanted other violinists to know that the guitar repair guy in town wasn’t really qualified to fix violins. It was nothing personal. I didn’t think it was fair for other musicians to waste their money on a bad repair like I did.

That’s the beauty of reviews, especially for online businesses. There are plenty of companies out there, some you’ve never even heard of. Reviews from real life customers can really help businesses.

Bad reviews can hurt

Of course, bad reviews can be bad for business. Some companies have tried to stop customers from writing negative reviews by sneaking a “non-disparagement” clause into the terms of service you have to agree to before making a purchase, especially a large purchase.

These clauses, more casually known as “gag clauses,” punish customers with exorbitant fees if they write, or even threaten to write a negative review.

A $3,500 penalty for a negative review?

Recent examples include a Utah couple that made a small purchase (less than $20) from an online retailer called Kleargear.

The couple never received their order, so they wrote a bad review of Kleargear. They were slammed with a $3,500 penalty from the company.

Luckily the court ruled in favor of the customers, charging Kleargear over $300,000 for damaging the couple’s credit score.

The laws aren’t universal yet

The court also dismissed a suit in which a Texas pet sitter tried to sue customers $1 million for writing a bad review on Yelp. As the court has shown, these non-disparagement fees are almost impossible to enforce since they violate the consumer’s First Amendment rights.

Congress is working to bring the law into line. They recently passed a bill preventing companies from using gag clauses.

Get to know the Consumer Review Freedom Act

The Consumer Review Freedom Act will give the Federal Trade Commission and attorneys general the power to prevent companies from using gag clauses. The Act was passed by the Senate in late 2015, and its companion bill passed in September of this year.

“By ending gag clauses, this legislation supports consumer rights and the integrity of critical feedback about products and services sold online,” said the bill’s sponsor, Senator John Thune.

Now that the election is over and Congress is back in session, the bill will be passed to the White House, where Obama is expected to sign it into law.

#GagClausesGagged

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Business News

Working from home could be permanent for many after COVID

(BUSINESS NEWS) Lockdown has millions of workers doing their jobs from home, and many will never go back to the office again. So how do you settle in for the long run?

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Facebook announced in May that they estimate to have about half of their staff working from home indefinitely, even after the pandemic ends. Twitter also made headlines around the same time with similar statements.

When staff work remotely, companies save on major expenses like rent, heating, and electricity. Nationwide (yes, the insurance provider!) recently closed five regional offices, simply because they no longer needed them, thanks to remote working. Talk about cost cutting!

It does beg us to ask: Why do we spend so much money on gas and so many hours in traffic to do things at the office that we can easily accomplish at home?

If you’re reading this right now, you probably have all the tools you need in order to do (at least part of) your job from anywhere: An internet connection and one or two devices, like a cell phone and a computer. That’s all you need in order to collaborate with people all around the globe. It’s honestly kind of surprising that mainstream work culture hasn’t caught up to this technology sooner, considering it’s been widely available for roughly a generation. And the stay-at-home orders have all but dispelled the myth that working from home makes employees less productive.

If these big businesses are eager to make the transition, it will set the tone moving forward for other industries. Undoubtedly, tech companies stand to seriously benefit from a broad shift to remote work, considering they provide the tools that make it possible.

However, there are considerable barriers to overcome before telecommuting can fully go mainstream. For one, it’s still hard to set boundaries between work & play from home, especially when you lack a dedicated office space. If you spend any substantial amount of time at work mindlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching cat videos on Youtube, then that habit is likely to follow you into the remote workplace (and don’t think I’m just throwing shade here, I’m guilty as charged).

There are also financial limitations that can prevent one from efficiently working from home. For example, if I normally use an office computer for my job, but don’t own a computer personally, who would be responsible for ensuring that I get a computer to effectively do my job during this crisis?

Regardless, whenever things go ‘back to normal’, wouldn’t it be great if working from home became a widely accepted option? Job opportunities would be more accessible to skilled candidates from areas outside of cities and tech hubs, those with chronic illness and disabilities that limit them to their houses, and parents with young children who need supervision and care.

If done equitably, we may end up seeing the new shift to remote work have a powerful, progressive influence on the way that we all get things done.

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Business News

Plastic bags are making a comeback, thanks to COVID-19

(BUSINESS NEWS) Plastic bags are back, whether you like it or not – at least for now.

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Plastic bags

Single use plastic bags are rising like a phoenix from the ashes of illegality all over the country, from California to New York. Reusable bags are falling out of favor in an effort to curtail the spread of COVID-19. It’s a logical step: the less something is handled, generally, the safer it is going to be. And porous paper bags are thought to have a higher potential to spread the virus through contact.

It’s worth mentioning that single use plastic bags are considerably more
environmentally efficient to manufacture compared to paper, cloth, and reusable plastic bags. Per unit, they require very little material to make and are easily mass produced. It also goes without saying that they have a very short lifespan, after which they end up sitting in landfills, littering streets, or drifting through oceans.

In the grand scheme of things, it’s hard to deny that single use plastics have the potential to be as dangerous to humans as COVID-19. Coronavirus is a very immediate existential threat to us in the United States, but the scale of the global crises that stem from the irresponsible consumption of cheap disposable goods, also cannot be overstated. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch isn’t going anywhere. (And did you know that it’s just one of many huge garbage patches around the world?)

So… what exactly are we going to do about the comeback of plastic bags? Because to be honest, I used to work in grocery retail, and it is difficult and often unrewarding. So, I wouldn’t exactly love handling potentially contaminated tote bags all day in the midst of a pandemic if I were still a supermarket employee. You couldn’t pay me enough to feel comfortable with that – forget minimum wage!

I used to have a plastic bag stuffed full of other plastic bags sitting in my kitchen, like American nesting dolls, before disposable plastics fell from grace. (I’m sure some of y’all know exactly what I’m talking about.) This bag of bags was never a point of pride. It got really annoying because it just kept growing. There are only so many practical home uses for the standard throw-away plastic shopping bag. Very small trash can liners; holding snarls of unused cables, another thing I accumulate for no reason; extremely low-budget packing material; one could get crafty and somehow weave them into a horrible sweater, I guess.

I don’t miss my bag of bags. I don’t want to have to deal with another. Hey, Silicon Valley? Got any disruptive ideas for this one?

Even if we concede that disposable plastics are a necessary evil in the fight against COVID-19, the fact remains that they stick around long after you’re done with them. That’s true whether you throw them out or not.

I’m not trying to direct blame anywhere. Of course businesses should do their best to keep their customers and staff safe, and if that means using plastic bags, so be it. Without clear guidance from our federal government, every part of society has been fumbling and figuring out how to keep one another healthy with the tools they’ve got at hand. (…Well, almost every part.)

The changes to the state bag bans have been cautious and temporary so far, which is a small relief. But nobody really knows how much longer the pandemic will rage on and necessitate the relaxations.

I won’t pretend that I have a sure solution. All I can really ask is that we all be extra mindful of our usage of these disposable plastic products. Let’s think creatively about what we might otherwise throw away. We must not trade one apocalypse for another.

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Business News

Scammers are taking advantage of the unemployed

(BUSINESS NEWS) In a country that’s been stricken by higher-than-ever levels of unemployment, scammers have found a unique way to target this vulnerable demographic.

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With unemployment rates reaching unprecedented levels in recent months, it’s a fairly safe bet to say that there’s something that many of us currently have in common: we need a job. While these levels are slowly starting to decline, already down to 11.1 percent in June from an all-time high of 14.7 percent in April, the need for steady gainful employment is still great for many Americans. That’s what makes the newest scam making its rounds particularly vile.

There’s a common misconception that people who get scammed largely deserved their misfortune. Whether it’s presumed that they got greedy, they fell for something that was too good to be true, or they were looking for an easy way out, it’s both unfair and unkind to make these snap judgements of victims of scammers. When it comes to scammers, there’s only one party to blame for these wrongful actions — the scammers themselves.

And with literally millions of people looking for a job right now, these scammers have found a new round of susceptible people to target. It’s a fairly well documented fact that scammers have a knack for knowing who will be easy prey, and this latest scam is no different. According to a report from the Better Business Bureau (BBB), scammers have ramped up their efforts to separate desperate job seekers from what’s left of their meager funds.

This scam is nothing new, but it has surged in popularity with the sheer number of people looking for jobs in today’s economy. Dubbed the “employment scam,” it can take on many forms, but the end result remains the same. At the end of the day, if a person is bilked out of their money, then the scammer has won.

What does this scam look like, and how can you safeguard yourself from falling prey to it? Please note that anyone — from all walks of life, no matter your age, your sex, your race, or any other factor — can become a victim of a scam. The only way to protect yourself is to be aware of the scam and recognize the signs of it. If a potential employer asks any of the following of you, then there’s a good chance they’re a scammer:

  • You are required to pay the so-called employer for your own training up front.
  • You are expected to give up your banking/personal info for a credit check.
  • You are overpaid by a fraudulent check and told to wire back the difference.
  • You are told that you need to pay for expensive equipment to work from home.

Please note that these scammers can spoof legitimate companies. They may try to pass themselves off as real-deal businesses; they’ve even tried to emulate the BBB itself. And when you refuse to follow through with their demands, they will double down and might even become hostile and aggressive, resorting to threats and cajoling. It’s important to not cave in; once they start bullying you, they know the gig is up.

The BBB also notes that coronavirus has created a “perfect storm” for scammers, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself. They advise that you avoid social isolation, as that can make you more vulnerable to scammers. When in doubt, seek out a friend’s feedback. Sometimes a reality check can make all the difference in whether or not you become a mark. Do a little bit of digging online before you accept an “offer” or share personal information. And finally, be prudent. No matter how many warnings the BBB puts out each year about scams, the only person who can really protect you from getting scammed is just one person…yourself.

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