LegalZoom Blog

Legal news and small business tips.

Can I get reimbursed for unused vacation time?

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Joe EscalanteIf you leave a job and have vacation time remaining, and the company decides a week after you leave that they will not be reimbursing vacation time at 100% effective that date, do they have to reimburse those who left prior to the new policy at 100%?

Donna Grubbs Altenbaugh

Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

The law on this varies by state Donna. E.g., in California your employer would have to pay for unused vacation pay, but in states like Pennsylvania, which I think is where you work, it depends mainly on whether your employer has a stated policy on unused vacation time and whether that policy was communicated to you. If you are in Pennsylvania, you have a right to rely on the policy in place when you were hired.

If your employer wants to change that policy mid-stream, then it is likely a court would rule that would be okay, but it would only apply to vacation pay earned AFTER the policy was changed.

In other words, the employer doesn’t have to pay for unused vacation pay in Pennsylvania, but if a policy existed when you started working that promised paid unused vacation pay upon termination, it is like a contract that cannot be changed willy-nilly without your permission and a new round of negotiating. Good luck.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.

Disclaimer: Communications between you and LegalZoom are protected by our Privacy Policy but not by the attorney-client privilege or as work product. LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies. Your access to the website is subject to our Terms of Use.

Written by Johanna

August 28th, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Is Your Small Business Ready for the Upcoming Credit Card Processing Changes?

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This fall, new credit card processing system rules are coming into effect that could have a large impact on small business owners who accept point-of-sale credit card payments from their customers.

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 49% of small business owners who accept such payments are aware of the upcoming changes in credit card fraud liability laws that major credit card companies are implementing on October 1, 2015. The same poll shows that only 29% of those who don’t currently have chip-enabled credit card processing systems plan on upgrading their payment processing technology in order to comply with the new rules.

If you’re a small business owner who accepts POS credit card payments right now, using a traditional credit card terminal, then these new rules could have a major effect on your business. While upgrading to the new EMV system isn’t mandatory, and the costs of upgrading equipment may be high, small business owners need to be aware that the costs of non-compliance could potentially be much higher.

How high? Under the new rules, businesses which are not using EMV-compliant payment processing systems may find themselves liable for any fraud or security breaches which may occur as a result.

What Is An EMV Card?

EMV, which stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa, is a global credit card payment standard that is currently being used by over 80 countries around the world, including Canada and countries in Europe, South America and Asia. The EMV chip card utilizes chip technology which, when used with an EMV terminal, makes it far more difficult for criminals to steal information leading to credit card fraud.

The traditional magnetic strip found on non-chip credit cards contains the user’s financial information necessary to complete financial transactions, all in a static data format. In the past few years you’ve probably heard of a number of security breaches that have taken place among large, well-known retailers; these security breaches enabled hackers to download the information contained in the magnetic strips of consumers’ credit cards and duplicate them in counterfeit cards which were then used in fraudulent transactions.

Unlike a magnetic strip card, however, EMV cards don’t contain static data. Instead, every time you use an EMV chip card to make a purchase at an EMV-compliant card reader, a unique transaction code is generated which can only be used once. In the event of a security breach, the data obtained from chip-enabled transactions therefore can’t be used to create duplicate credit cards to be used for fraudulent purposes.

Cost to Upgrade to EMV Credit Card Processing System

There is definitely a cost involved in upgrading credit card processing systems. However, the actual amount of the upgrade will vary considerably depending on a number of factors. For example, a business with a simple, single POS terminal will probably incur lower upgrade costs than a business using an integrated or more complicated system. In some cases, a certification may be required to prove the EMV system is correctly installed.

Additionally, there are also a number of different options among EMV-compliant systems themselves. You could, for example, choose to upgrade to devices that will accommodate chip-and-signature cards only—that is, cards that will still require the customer to provide a signature—or you may decide on a payment system that will enable customers with chip-and-PIN cards to enter a PIN to authorize the transaction.

If you’re considering an upgrade, speak with your credit card processing services provider to see what options will work best for you. Credit card processing companies are well aware of the upcoming shift in credit card fraud liability rules and should be able to help you to properly assess your particular upgrade requirements. When it comes to EMV migration, it’s important to do your research thoroughly and investigate all the options available to your business.

In assessing the cost of upgrading your payment processing equipment, you may also want to consider factors other than direct costs, such as the likelihood of fraud. For example, if you run a business that’s in the high fraud risk category—such as businesses that sell goods with a high resale value, like jewelry or other luxury goods—you are likely more vulnerable to fraud. Switching to an EMV-enabled system may ultimately lower your costs in the long run.

And if you were already thinking about upgrading to accommodate mobile payments? It might make sense to upgrade to accommodate both at the same time.

Employee Training

Another cost which needs to be taken into account is the cost of training your employees to use the new EMV systems, as there are some differences between using a traditional magnetic stripe card reader and the new EMV-enabled chip readers.

Unlike transactions using cards with a magnetic stripe, employees will need to enter the amount of the purchase first, before the card is inserted into the payment terminal. Additionally, the card must remain inside the terminal for the entire length of the transaction; if a consumer removes his or her card before the transaction has finished, the transaction won’t be completed and the payment process will have to start all over again.

And because consumers will initially not be used to keeping their cards inserted into the payment terminal for the length of the transaction, employees will also need to watch out for consumers who forget to remove their cards once the transaction has been completed.

While upgrading your credit card payment processing to meet EMV standards isn’t mandatory, it’s probably an investment your business will have to undertake sooner or later, and one that could ultimately be quite beneficial for your business’s bottom line.

Written by Belle Wong

August 26th, 2015 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Small Business

California Bar Exam One Day Shorter, No Less Difficult

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The CA State Bar Board of Trustees recently voted to cut the California State Bar Exam—considered the toughest bar exam in the country—from three days to two.

The change reduces The Bar Exam’s two days of essays and performance tests to one. Day One will consist of five one-hour essays and a 90-minute performance exam, reduced from three hours. The second day is reserved for the Multistate Bar Exam, a standardized, 200-question multiple-choice exam developed by the National Conference of Bar Examiners. The essays and the multiple-choice component would each receive half the weight in the final score.

The changes takes effect July 2017, which means that 2016 graduates will still have to suffer through three days of California Bar Exam. After that, law grads will benefit from one less travel day, one less day off work, and one less day of rigorous testing.

Bar Exam Cost Savings

The Committee of Bar Examiners for the State of California indicated in its meeting notes that rising costs in administering the CA Bar Exam played a major role in the change. Increases in facility rental, proctor pay, testing accommodations granted, and staff salaries, among other expenses, continue to rise.

The Committee memorandum said that reducing the Bar Exam from three days to two would save an estimated $894,000 each time. The costs associated with changing the test, which includes modifying contracts with facilities, editing the performance tests, and grading software updates would cost an estimated $150,000. Additional benefits include testing efficiency and reduced grading time.

California Bar Exam Still America’s Toughest

Although the Bar Exam California would take one day less, there is no presumption that the test will get any easier. The current three-day exam takes a whopping 18 hours to complete, whereas bar exams in most other states take 15 hours or less. The California Bar Exam also involves both federal and state law. Not all states do.

The California Bar Association emphasizes that, regardless, the test is not intended to determine a person’s competency to practice law. “The examination is not designed to predict success as a lawyer or even that a lawyer is ready for the practice of law,” the memo from the Committee of Bar Examiners for the State of California’s March 11, 2015, meeting states. “In fact, one of the best predictors of bar examination scores is the grades an applicant received during law school. So, in one sense, the examination is confirmation that the necessary skills and knowledge were learned during the three or four years of law study, through whatever means, which are needed to show minimum competence as a lawyer. The bar examination is an examination to test minimum competence in the law.”

Practical Work Ahead

In addition to the Bar Exam changes, the State Bar of CA is pushing a proposal that would require candidates to admission to practice law to complete 15 credit hours of practical training, which could include clinics, externships, clerkships, and work in a legal office. The proposal comes not long after the American Bar Association adopted a new rule that every law graduate complete at least six credit hours of hands-on coursework.

California law students: you may only have two days of the bar exam, but you may also have a lot more practical work in store.

Written by Heather Johnson

August 11th, 2015 at 3:08 pm

Posted in Legal News

Can We Challenge Our Bank for Overcharging on Overdraft Fees?

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Joe EscalanteJoe, we believe our bank is overcharging us on overdraft fees. When I look at our statement, if we have an overdraft, it looks like the check is sent through 3 times, charging us $36.00 each time and finally they pay the check and charge us $36.00 for the overdraft paid fee. Also, if a number amount of checks hit the bank the same day and there is to be an overdraft, they will pay the largest check and then maybe 5 or 6 will be overdrawn. We bank with US Bank and I have been online and they have already been in a class settlement suit. Is there a way we can challenge them for all the fees they are charging us. Thanks.

Janie Matlock Burkett

Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

There are laws, and there are agreed upon policies. You may have agreed to policies that are unfair and you disagree with but they be part of your contract with the bank. I haven’t read the terms and conditions you signed when establishing your account but the normal thing to do here is to review those with the bank manager and see if he or she has a good explanation for what’s been happening.

If you are dissatisfied with the answer, the easiest thing to do is to take the bank to small claims court and see if the judge agrees with you or the bank. This will cost you roughly $100 plus a day in court. If you win, the bank should cover your court costs and refund you the over draft fees. But you may lose.

If it was a great deal of money, you would hire a consumer affairs attorney and make some real trouble for them. In this case, that would be over kill. Good luck.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 am PT.

Disclaimer: Communications between you and LegalZoom are protected by our Privacy Policy but not by the attorney-client privilege or as work product. LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies. Your access to the website is subject to our Terms of Use.

What Can I Do if My Sister Does Not Disclose Our Deceased Mother’s Estate With Me?

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Joe EscalanteMy mom just passed and my sister won’t tell me anything about her estate. What can I do?

Brenda Alexander

Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

The estate must go through probate. This is a public process. You can view any documents filed in the probate department at the county courthouse where your mother died if your sister or someone else is administering the estate. If there is a trust, and you believe you are a beneficiary, you can petition the court to demand they show it to you. If there is no trust, and just a will, or no will, it is easier for you to find out everything because the process is very public. If your sister does nothing, you can begin the probate process yourself and ask the court to appoint you as the administrator, even if there is no will. I would suggest getting a consultation with a probate attorney in your area if things stay complicated.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.

Disclaimer: Communications between you and LegalZoom are protected by our Privacy Policy but not by the attorney-client privilege or as work product. LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies. Your access to the website is subject to our Terms of Use.

Written by Joe Escalante

May 27th, 2015 at 12:52 pm

Will My Music Be Protected with a Copyright?

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Joe EscalanteWill my music be protected with a copyright? I want to share my talent for music on the internet, but the problem is that nowadays it’s easy for strangers to steal unprotected artwork from others. So my question is, will my music be protected? If so, how much will it cost and for how long will it remain protected?

Jorge Mata

Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

Hello Jorge – to obtain the maximum protection for your work you will want to register a copyright. Copyright is created the moment you create a work but registration gives you access to the full range of remedies to deal with infringement. Copyright protection lasts for the author’s lifetime plus 70 years. More information can be found here: https://www.legalzoom.com/knowledge/copyright/topic/copyright-protection-scope.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.

Disclaimer: Communications between you and LegalZoom are protected by our Privacy Policy but not by the attorney-client privilege or as work product. LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies. Your access to the website is subject to our Terms of Use.

What Business Costs Can I Deduct on My Taxes?

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Joe EscalanteI just started a new catering business and wanted to know what types of tools or products I will be able to deduct on my taxes.

Ron Johnson

Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

Ron, the IRS definition of a business expense is anything that is “ordinary and necessary” for the type of business that you are running. For a catering business, that would likely include the costs of ingredients used to make the food, the costs of operating the vehicle(s) used to deliver the food, cooking equipment used to make the food, administrative costs such as office supplies, computer equipment used to run the business, cell phone (if it’s used for business), meals with potential customers or partners, and many others. I would ask myself every time I made a purchase, “Could I explain to an IRS agent how that expenditure applies to my business as a business expense?” How all of these types of expenses are deducted for tax purposes can be tricky (i.e. meals and entertainment are 50% deductible for tax purposes, for example), so I recommend you speak to a tax professional. Of course, we’d be happy to discuss these items with you in more detail! Good luck to you on your new venture.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.

Disclaimer: Communications between you and LegalZoom are protected by our Privacy Policy but not by the attorney-client privilege or as work product. LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies. Your access to the website is subject to our Terms of Use.

Written by Joe Escalante

May 27th, 2015 at 12:48 pm

Can a landlord harass me after they served me with a 30-day eviction notice?

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Joe EscalanteOn eviction…can the landlord harass you after being served a 30-day notice (without any reason on notice)?

Victoria Hamel

Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

Well, no one has a right to harass anyone. However, if you’re on a month to month lease, your landlord can give you 30-day notice without any reason. And you can give 30-day notice to leave for any reason. That’s the deal. If you don’t leave after the 30 days, the landlord can proceed with an unlawful detainer action in court. This is a quick proceeding which is not fun to explain to your next potential landlord.

If you lose your unlawful detainer proceeding, the marshal comes and kicks you out, wearing a gun, so at that point you leave.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.

Disclaimer: Communications between you and LegalZoom are protected by our Privacy Policy but not by the attorney-client privilege or as work product. LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies. Your access to the website is subject to our Terms of Use.

Written by Joe Escalante

March 25th, 2015 at 5:47 pm

Someone is using my name personal name for their business. What can I do?

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Joe EscalanteMr. Escalante, I am concerned about an issue I discovered on Facebook. There is someone on the East Coast who has begun using my name. I am Gabriel Wizard, which I’m sure you can understand is a unique name. Recently I became aware of a D.J. working out of New York who has started calling himself Gabriel Wizard. I have tried to contact him to ask him to stop using my name, but I have gotten no response. He has set up a web site; gabrielwizard.com, has a Twitter account, is on LinkedIn and Instagram. Using my name on all of them. What should I do?

Gabriel Wizard

Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

Great question Gabriel. The problem here is that as long as we’re not trying to assume your specific identity to cause harm, we can all call ourselves “Gabriel Wizard,” even if that’s not our real name, and shockingly, even if we are not actually wizards. From his site, it appears that D.J. Gabriel Wizard is using that name as a service mark to identify and distinguish his services as a D.J. As long as he’s not infringing on your commercial business of being a D.J. prior to his entrance into the field, he’s on pretty solid legal ground. In fact, he could register his service mark under a category of a recording or performing “musician” and he could actually prevent you from using your name in that field. I could start a company today called “Gabriel Wizard’s Custom Wizard Sleeves” and prevent you from entering that field. Society does not have an interest in allowing one person named Gabriel Wizard in one part of the country to prevent everyone else in the country from starting a business using that name. Society only has an interest in things like preventing confusion in particular marketplaces and protecting established businesses. If D.J. Gabriel Wizard tries to identify himself with you in any way, that is a different story, but in the present situation, I can’t see anything that he’s doing at the moment that could be legally stopped, unless you are a D.J. too, and have been using your name in interstate commerce as such, before him. What he should be concerned about, however, are the pirating of derivative works that he’s pimping on his site like the one using Pharell’s hit song “Happy” that is likely unauthorized. But that’s another issue. Good luck.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.

Disclaimer: Communications between you and LegalZoom are protected by our Privacy Policy but not by the attorney-client privilege or as work product. LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies. Your access to the website is subject to our Terms of Use.

Written by Joe Escalante

March 25th, 2015 at 5:40 pm

I intend to start an LLC. Will my home address be accessible to the public?

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Joe EscalanteHi, I’m in the state of New York. I intend to start an LLC. My concern is that my home address will be accessible to the public when someone looks up my business on the Department of State website. How can I go around this (since it’s mandatory that I include a physical address when registering my business)? I’m concerned about personal privacy. Thanks.

Khadine C.

Barely Legal Radio w/ Joe Escalante

This is why you get a registered agent for your LLC. New York doesn’t actually require an agent, but since you are concerned about privacy, a registered agent will go a long way to protect your personal privacy. Your physical address registered with the state will be the agent’s address, not your personal address. I can’t recommend this enough. Get a registered agent for your corp or llc.

Attorney Joe Escalante answers your legal questions for free on our Facebook page every Tuesday and Friday at 10 a.m. PT.

Disclaimer: Communications between you and LegalZoom are protected by our Privacy Policy but not by the attorney-client privilege or as work product. LegalZoom provides access to independent attorneys and self-help services at your specific direction. We are not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. We cannot provide any kind of advice, explanation, opinion, or recommendation about possible legal rights, remedies, defenses, options, selection of forms or strategies. Your access to the website is subject to our Terms of Use.

Written by Joe Escalante

March 25th, 2015 at 5:25 pm