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Court rules against In-N-Out’s political pin ban #flair

(BUSINESS) Can a company forbid employees from wearing a political button or “flair”? One court calls this into question.

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While consistency, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, may be the last resort for those lacking in imagination, being consistent in the little things as a business owner, such as the enforcement of employee dress codes, can keep you out of court.

That’s the message that was delivered to In-N-Out Burger earlier this summer, when the federal 5th Circuit Court of Appeals found that while In-N-Out Burger had a well-defined employee dress code, they lacked consistency in enforcement. Operating more than 300 locations throughout the United States, In-N-Out Burger’s dress code specifically states that “[w]earing any type of pin or stickers is not permitted.”

While the prohibition against wearing pins or buttons at any time of the year seems clearly stated, In-N-Out management intentionally contravened their rule by requiring their employees to wear pins during the holiday season to wish customers Merry Christmas, and do so again in April, in order to advertise and solicit donations for the In-N-Out Foundation, a corporately related nonprofit organization that combats child neglect and abuse.

In April 2015, employees of an In-N-Out location based in Austin, Texas attempted to wear buttons that advertised their solidarity with the “Fight for $15” campaign, advocating for a higher minimum wage for those in the food service industry. As the Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM) noted, the buttons themselves were unobtrusive, approximately a quarter in size, with an image of a raised fist, with a “$15” over the fist.

Once managers on-site saw the buttons, they instructed their employees to remove them, citing the company rule that forbade them. The employees did so, but soon thereafter filed a charge with the National Labor Relations Board (NRLB), alleging that the company’s position prevented the employees from advocating for their conditions of employment. The NRLB investigated, and soon thereafter issued a complaint against In-N-Out, stating that the company’s total prohibition and enforcement were violations of the National Labor Relations Act.

In order to address these areas, In-N-Out was ordered by the NLRB to cease enforcement of a total prohibition against outside buttons that had no exceptions for those which pertained to conditions of work, including such protected activities as discussions of such terms or conditions of employment to include salary or hours, as well as any union or protected activities, by removing it from the employee handbook. Additionally, they were required to ensure that employees were notified by the change in the rule by posting notices at all locations about their rights.

In-N-Out appealed the action to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and maintained the position that they were simply preventing employees from wearing buttons because they wanted to maintain a consistent public image and to ensure employee and customer safety.

These arguments, however, were not compelling for the justices. The 5th Circuit found that by having their employees wear buttons of the company’s messaging, that employees of In-N-Out were not required to be free from pins or buttons or the messaging that they may have. The claim of safety presented by In-N-Out failed when it was revealed that no one from the company had ever examined the pins to see if there was a safety risk from them to the employees or customers alike.

So what’s to be done if you want to maintain a consistent employee image safe from rogue pieces of flair? First and foremost, understand that any prohibition should apply to all employees, cover all messages, and be enforced equally at all times. Because In-N-Out demanded that their employees wear buttons with corporate-approved messaging at designated points throughout the year, they failed to meet this threshold.

By having any exceptions at all, even well-meaning and universal ones, they opened the door to allowances for other messages to be worn.

The NLRB provides employees a generous swath to discuss their conditions of employment or other protected union activity in the workplace through the National Relations Labor Act, and relevant provisions should be reviewed and referenced in advance when creating and enforcing company policy to be referenced in employee handbooks or dress codes.

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

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How eBay can survive the Amazon era

(BUSINESS NEWS) eBay has long been an ecommerce powerhouse, but Amazon is now most folks’ first stop – how can eBay survive?

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While some of us are still lamenting the eBay-PayPal Break Up from three years ago, focus has shifted to the stock battle between the two brands of late, while most are wondering – how long does eBay even have as Amazon sucks all of the oxygen out of the room?

The ecommerce giant faces some heavy competition from Amazon and other online retailers and needs to reinvent its image if it’s going to thrive. Barely a year ago, nearly 15 percent more sellers were listing products on both ecommerce sites, but the trend towards Amazon has accelerated rapidly. The competition is even more messy given that eBay is very likely about to sue Amazon for poaching sellers.

How eBay moves forward will have a lot to do with how it rebrands itself. They have a huge marketplace, and unlike Amazon, they don’t continually put sellers in a position of peril. eBay represents an opportunity for big brands to sell not only on their own websites, but through a trusted, well-established seller who has been around for a long time (as summarized by ChannelAdvisor).

The brand has a number of woes to overcome to work with retailers, especially as Amazon boasts an impressive search engine optimization and is many people’s first stop shop. And Amazon’s reputation is, well forgive the joke, in Prime health – whereas some sellers still pass up Amazon to sell the slightly-attractive-but-isn’t-our-aesthetic dishes received as an inheritance or gift (despite the fact nearly 81 percent of items sold on eBay are brand new).

And the start of fixing that image is better marketing, and emphasizing what their strengths are, most notably:

  • eBay has a stronger global presence, and is in over 25 countries.
  • The relationship with sellers is much more positive – eBay is essentially a platform and a partner, an online storefront.
  • It’s much cheaper for sellers to sell than on Amazon (although it offers much less in terms of services).
  • You have more control over your brand than with Amazon, as again, it’s not competing with you.
  • The conversation around eBay is ongoing, and how the company appeals to large retailers and develops this brand is something sellers will be monitoring, because colorful tv ad campaigns won’t be enough to keep them afloat.

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Price-predictable subscription to legal help for startups

(BUSINESS) Startups in growth mode need extra help, and legal services is not where successful companies cut corners. Check out this subscription option for your growing company.

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If you’re running your own business or are planning to start one, legal help is probably low on your list.

Most of us have access to free resources from your local Chamber of Commerce or state website, or may have a “friend” who can help you with the forms and other things.

For a lot of things, a DIY attitude won’t cost you much. You could float your own drywall for example. But when it comes to the law, you must trust an expert. Trying to cut corners on legal expenses can cost you a lot in terms of liability or lead to a few headaches, disputes, and litigations. And even if it didn’t cost money, it will cost you time.

Fortunately, you may not have to pay a lawyer directly, as there are several online solutions, including LegalZoom or LegalShield that can help you with forms, provide advice or help you get your business started. Legal advice could cost you hundreds per hour, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Although online legal services are available, one thing that may be challenging for startups is that it can be difficult to budget for: cost transparency isn’t always available and it may be contingent on demand, time and resources.

Atrium is legal firm specifically designed for startups. This firm was founded by Twitch founder Justin Kan, and Silicon Valley lawyer, Augie Rakow in response to what his needs were as a startup: fast, reliable, and transparent services.

To date, Atrium boasts 890 completed startup deals; $5B raised by companies, and 10 companies started by it’s members. Atrium breaks down its services into four areas:

Atrium Counsel – which provides standard day to day legal processes, including board meetings, NDS, contract/personnel review, etc. – this is available as a subscription service or if you have unique needs, there are special projects available.
Atrium Financing – to help work with venture capital transactions and help explain the deal and it’s process, including upfront price estimates for advice with pitches.
Atrium Contracts – to help with contract review and form generations.
Atrium Blockchain – to help provide legal advice on the many regulatory issues involving blockchain issues.

Atrium’s major competitive advantage is the end of the billable hour paradigm and the focus on subscription models. This is great for a startup in growth mode because you can get a lot of value for a fixed price.

That said, Vitality CEO, Jamie Davidson said, “Just had a call with these folks. You pay a minimum of $1K a month (based on your company size) to be able to ask them questions. You then pay above-market prices for actual legal needs, like privacy policy/TOS generation ($5K), GDPR ($10+K), etc. Our current lawyer does not charge me to ask him questions, but he does charge for actual legal work.”

Others have noted Atrium’s technological advantage and expertise, so mileage could vary.

If you find that community resources aren’t available or not meeting your needs, Atrium could be the service that helps take you to the next level. If you’re considering shopping for legal services, check out Atrium’s site, get to know their team, and see if it’s the right fit for you. The bottom line is that there are a lot of places to cut corners for your growing business, but legal services are not one of them.

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Business News

Courts to decide if ‘overqualified’ is being used as a code word for ‘too old’ to hire?

(BUSINESS) Many have long held that job seekers are told they are “overqualified” when some employers mean they’re just too old and they’ll carry higher cost and leave quickly. The court system is considering this contentious topic as we speak.

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According to AARP, “age discrimination in the workplace is alive and well.” But a case before the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago questions whether older job applicants can sue for certain biased recruiting practices.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the case “raises a critical question about whether job applicants can pursue” a lawsuit raising the argument whether the federal Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) protects external job applicants.

Therefore, the question is, does 'overqualified' truly mean an applicant doesn't have the right qualifications, or is it a code word for someone being too old to hire?Click To Tweet

The case is Kleber v. CareFusion Corp digs into this challenge. Dale Kleber applied for a position with CareFusion. The job description asked for “3 to 7 years (no more than 7 years) of relevant legal experience.” Kleber had decades of experience, after all he was 58. The company never even interviewed him.

They ultimately hired a 29-year-old to fill the position. CareFusion insists that Kleber’s age had nothing to do with him not being considered for the role. Kleber argues that “overqualified” is a code word for “too old.”

The case has been working its way through the courts. The first judge dismissed the claim, ruling that the statue doesn’t cover external applicants, but that decision was reversed on appeal by a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit which stated it “could not imagine” that Congress intended to only protect internal applicants from age discrimination.

CareFusion was given a rehearing in front of the full court in September. Depending on their ruling, the case could go before the U.S. Supreme Court.

What does this mean for you?

This case is just one of many that attorneys are filing with various courts. There is a case in Arizona in which two firefighters, the oldest in the district, were let go due to their age. Age discrimination could affect anyone, because everyone eventually becomes eligible. The courts are conflicted over the types of protection offered by the ADEA, but it’s also difficult to prove when age discrimination has occurred.

For small business owners, it’s imperative that you look at your hiring practices. Think about your recruiting practices. Do you simply look for talent at your local college? You miss valuable talent if you’re not looking at older applicants, and people are working well into their 70s these days, no longer retiring early. Think about the connections and experience an older team member could bring to the job.

If you (or your company) refuse to care about any of those things, fine. But consider this – based on the results of this and other lawsuits, you could be opening your business to being sued if you overlook age in the recruiting and hiring process.

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