Legal Articles

Moving out? Record your home on your smartphone

If you’re getting divorced and you’ll be moving out while your spouse stays in the house, it’s a good idea to use your smartphone to make a video record of the home at the time you left it.

For one thing, you might not be able to take everything that’s important to you with you at the time you move, especially if you’re going to a smaller place. And once you move out, you’ll have little control over the home’s maintenance and upkeep.

As a result, whether accidentally or on purpose, your spouse might throw out, destroy or sell belongings of yours that have significant monetary or sentimental value. Your spouse might also let the house fall into disrepair, or there might be some damage to the home, which could lower its value. [Read more…]

You’re splitting up – who keeps the engagement ring?

So it wasn’t “until death do us part” after all, but there’s still that dazzling engagement ring. He wants it back; she wants to keep it. Who wins?

As with many things in the law, it depends on the facts, and it also depends on the state.

In some states, such as California, accepting an engagement ring is usually viewed as a promise to marry someone. Once a woman has said “I do,” the promise has been fulfilled and it’s hers to keep, even if the couple later get divorced.

[Read more…]

Live-in partner is awarded partial custody of child

A mother’s live-in romantic partner who developed a strong relationship with her child can get partial custody of the child after their breakup, a Pennsylvania court recently decided.

The mother gave birth to the child in 2007 and quickly separated from the child’s father. She then began a relationship with a woman known as C.B.

C.B. became very involved in the child’s life, participating in his medical appointments, helping select his schools, and communicating with his teachers and doc- tors. The child also had a close relationship with C.B.’s extended family, referring to her father as “Pappy” and her siblings as “aunt” and “uncle.” C.B.’s family members babysat the child, and C.B.’s mother was the child’s emergency contact. [Read more…]

‘Buy-sell’ agreements should be reviewed by a family lawyer

It’s very common for small businesses to have “buy-sell” agreements. These say that if one owner leaves, dies, or gets divorced, the other owners can buy out that owner’s interest. The purpose is to make sure that if something happens to one owner, the other owners can continue to operate the  business without having an ex- spouse, child, or stranger as an unwanted partner.

If you have such an agreement or are thinking of signing one, it’s a very good idea to have it reviewed by a family law attorney. This is true if any of the owners might someday get divorced, even if you personally are unlikely to get divorced or aren’t even married.

Here’s why: Buy-sell agreements typically set a price at which the other owners can buy the owner’s shares, or a method for determining the price, such as book value, a multiple of current annual profits, an independent appraiser’s estimate, or a board valuation made in good faith.

[Read more…]

Modern love clouds end of alimony

Many divorce agreements say that a spouse can stop paying alimony if the other spouse remarries or begins living with a romantic partner. That sounds simple – but in today’s world, romantic relationships can be anything but simple. Sometimes, as on Facebook, the best way to describe a new relationship is “it’s complicated” and whether a spouse can stop paying alimony can be complicated, too.

Here are some examples:

* Steven and Lorraine Robitzski divorced in 2004, and Steven was ordered to pay Lorraine $2,500 a month in alimony, unless she cohabited with someone. Lorraine found a new boyfriend, and Steven went to court claiming that they were living together.

According to Steven, Lorraine and her new beau spent about 100 nights a year together, they held themselves out as a couple at family and social activities and on Facebook, and the couple’s children referred to the boyfriend as “Pap Thom.”

[Read more…]

A NH Real Estate Transfer Tax Primer

The following article by Attorney David Beliveau was published by the New Hampshire Bar Association.

Tax Law: Amended Last Year: A NH Real Estate Transfer Tax Primer

By:

The New Hampshire real estate transfer tax (NH RSA 78-B) – a tax on the transfer of New Hampshire real estate – is $0.75 per $100 of the full price of or consideration for the real estate for the purchaser and the seller (meaning half of the total tax is paid by the purchaser and half by the seller).

The tax, collected by the NH Department of Revenue Administration (DRA), requires filing DRA forms PA-34, Inventory of Property Transfer; CD-57-P, Declaration of Consideration Real Estate Purchaser (Grantee); and CD-57-S, Declaration of Consideration Real Estate Seller (Grantor). The law changed last year in the case of real estate transfers to revocable trusts and LLCs. [Read more…]

Package delivery is a headache for landlords, condos

The explosion of online shopping has created a big headache for landlords and condo associations – what should be done about the deluge of packages being delivered to residents?

Staff at large apartment buildings often strain under the effort to accept, sort and deliver hundreds of packages. Smaller landlords and condo associations are striving to figure out the best policy: Should packages be left outside, where they are vulnerable to weather and theft? Is there a better, workable way to get them to tenants and unit owners?

Camden Property Trust, a huge landlord with 59,000 apartment units in 10 states, recently announced that it was banning package deliveries altogether. Camden tenants must now pick up packages at a post office, or else have them shipped to their workplace or to the home of a friend or relative. [Read more…]

If you own real estate, you need a will

Anyone who owns real estate needs to have a will that indicates what should happen to the property if he or she suddenly passes away.

You might assume you know who would inherit the house, but without a written will, the inheritance would be decided by state-law rules that might not be exactly what you’d expect.

Even if the house ultimately goes to the person you want, the lack of a will might mean that ownership of the house remains in legal limbo for an extended period of time. This can create unnecessary complications when it comes to paying property taxes and arranging for continued utilities and insurance coverage. If you have a mortgage, it can create even bigger headaches. [Read more…]

Buyer sues although property was purchased ‘as is’

A buyer who discovered that her new house was contaminated with mold can sue the seller, even though the house was purchased “as is” and the seller specifically said there might be mold in it, according to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

Catherine Fricano bought the house from a bank that had acquired it in a foreclosure. The house had sustained serious water damage, and before selling it, the bank twice paid for mold remediation and repair work.

The bank’s contract with Fricano said that the house was being sold “as is,” that it might have had mold in it in the past, that it might currently have mold in it, and that the bank made no guarantees whatsoever about the condition of the building. The bank also said that since it had acquired the home through foreclosure, it had “little or no direct knowledge about the condition of the property.” [Read more…]

Tax break for selling land next to your house

You probably know that if you make a profit when you sell your house, you can usually avoid paying capital gains tax. In most cases, you can avoid the tax on profits of up to $250,000 (or $500,000 for a married couple).

But did you know that if you sell your house in one transaction and a vacant parcel of land next to your house in a separate transaction, you can also get a tax break?

In many cases, you can combine the two sales and treat them as a single sale subject to the $250,000 or $500,000 exclusion.

That’s true if you sell the adjacent parcel within two years before or after you sell your house, and if the parcel was originally part of your residence and wasn’t used for a separate business or rental purpose.

Beware of this ‘trap’ in commercial insurance

Many commercial insurance policies contain what’s called a “protective safeguards endorsement.” This gives the property owner a break on its insurance premiums if the owner protects the property through a fire alarm, automatic sprinkler system, fire safety service contract, or other method of preventing harm.

Sounds like a good idea, right? It can be … but the trick is that these endorsements typically say that the owner must maintain the system in good working order at all times, or notify the insurance company right away if there’s a problem the owner can’t control. Otherwise, the insurance company won’t pay for any losses.

That means the owner must be extremely careful about maintaining its systems. Also, the owner must be extremely careful about not letting a tenant do anything to compromise the systems. If a tenant is allowed to make minor alterations without the owner’s approval, for instance, how will the owner know if the tenant does something that unintentionally affects a sprinkler system?

These endorsements can be a money-saver, but property owners need to think long and hard about the potential negative consequences.

More parents buy condos for their children in college

A growing trend is for parents to buy a condo for their college-age children to live in, instead of a dormitory. This gives the child more luxurious accommodations (and encourages an environment conducive to studying instead of all-night partying), while creating the possibility that the parents can sell the property at a profit in four years.

There are other financial benefits, too. For instance, suppose that instead of paying the college for room and board, you give the money to your child. You can give your child up to $14,000 a year without paying gift tax, and a married couple can give up to $28,000. Your child can then use the money to pay you rent for the condo. Voilà! You’ve created a rental business that provides tax breaks.

As long as you’re charging your child full market rent, you can deduct your mortgage interest payments as a business expense. You can also deduct other operating expenses, such as insurance, utilities, condo fees, cleaning costs, maintenance and repairs. You may also be able to take a deduction for depreciation. [Read more…]

How to understand your APR

Many mortgage shoppers are confused about the difference between a loan’s interest rate and its APR, or annual percentage rate. Understanding APR can be extremely valuable, because it can allow you to compare different loans more effectively and figure out which one is truly best for you.

But you’ll also want to understand the limits of APR, and why a loan with a better APR might not necessarily be a better loan given your specific circumstances.

Interest rates are simple – they’re the cost of borrowing money. All other things being equal, a loan with a 4% interest rate is better than a loan with a 5% interest rate.

But the problem with mortgages is that all other things are seldom equal, because different lenders charge different amounts for closing costs and other expenses. That’s where APR comes in. APR is designed to compare the true cost of a loan when these other expenses are taken into account. [Read more…]

Can bartering be an effective business strategy?

Have you ever thought about bartering as a way to get the goods and services you need for your business? A growing number of businesses are finding ways to use the bartering system as a means to avoid using up their company’s cash.

A simple bartering arrangement involves two parties trading items of similar value. For example, let’s say your business owns a building located next to a telephone company. An internet service provider might be interested in storing its services in an unused portion of your basement. Instead of paying rent, they offer to provide you with a high-speed internet connection and website. [Read more…]

Making the most of your tax refund

If you are expecting a tax refund, you might consider investing your refund or using it to increase your financial security. While everyone’s needs are different, here are some optional uses of your refund that may work for you. [Read more…]

Time to plan for inflation-adjusted 2017 tax numbers

Each year, certain tax figures are adjusted for inflation. While most figures are unchanged versus 2016, there is more than a 7% increase to the maximum earnings subject to social security tax. Take note of these numbers to use in your 2017 planning. [Read more…]

Mark your calendar: Tax deadlines

February 28

  • Payers must file information returns (except certain Forms 1099-MISC with non-employee compensation payments in box 7, which are due before February 1) with the IRS. (Except for certain Forms 1099-MISC outlined earlier, the deadline is March 31 if filing electronically.)
  • Forms 1095-B and 1095-C due to the IRS, if filing on paper.

March 1

  • Farmers and fishermen who did not make 2016 estimated tax payments must file 2016 tax returns and pay taxes in full.

March 2

  • Large employers must furnish Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C to employees.

March 15

  • 2016 calendar-year S corporation Form 1120S income tax returns are due.
  • 2016 calendar-year partnerships Form 1065 income tax returns are due.

March 31

  • Forms 1095-B and 1095-C due to the IRS, if filing electronically. (Employers who have 250 or more employees are required to file electronically.)

Should you buy an annuity doubler for long-term care?

“Annuity doublers” are being touted as a new alternative to long-term care insurance. But are they a good idea?

Long-term care plans have become much more expensive lately, pricing many older people out of the market. As an alternative, some companies are offering annuities that have a “nursing home doubler.” With this option, the amount of monthly annuity income you would normally receive is doubled during any period you’re in a nursing home, which will help pay for care.

The term “doubler” can be misleading. Some policies only pay 50% extra – although others pay triple. In most cases the extra income lasts for up to five years, or until the annuity’s cash value is exhausted. [Read more…]

How to protect against elder financial abuse

Seniors who are dependent on others due to illness, disability or cognitive impairments may be susceptible to financial abuse and fraud. The culprits may be outside predators, hired caregivers, or in some cases even relatives.

If you or a family member is increasingly dependent, there are some simple but important steps you can take to reduce the chance of abuse.

The most important step is to have a trusted family member or friend be involved in the finances – visiting often, reviewing statements, and generally exercising oversight. The best defense against financial exploitation is having someone else around who can notice large checks, unusual ATM withdrawals, missing valuables, and so on. [Read more…]

Many older estate plans have an unnecessary trust

An estate planning technique that was very popular some years ago is still present in many people’s wills, especially if they haven’t reviewed their estate plan in a while. But this technique – called a “bypass trust” – might now actually increase taxes rather than decrease them for many people, as a result of changes in the law in the last few years. If you haven’t reviewed your estate plan recently, now is a good time.

Not long ago, the federal estate tax affected even relatively small estates, and it was a big problem. One solution was to provide that, when the first spouse died, many assets would go into a trust. The trust would take care of the surviving spouse, and when he or she died, the assets would go to the children. The assets in the trust would escape, or “bypass,” the estate tax.

Now, however, the federal estate tax only affects estates worth well over $5 million (and, if handled properly, couples worth more than $10 million). So in the vast majority of cases, these bypass trusts are no longer necessary. [Read more…]

Residents of care facilities can still vote – here’s how

Voting is the foundation of any democratic system, but it isn’t easy if you’re in a long-term care facility. Residents of nursing, assisted living and other facilities face a number of challenges in voting, from registering to actually casting a ballot.

When you move into a nursing home or assisted living residence, your address changes, which means you’ll probably need to re-register to vote based on your new address. You can register in person, by mail, or, in many cases, online.

You can often register in person at your local elections office or your local motor vehicle department office. For more information on where to register, go to: http://tinyurl.com/lw-where-to-register. [Read more…]

Avoid this new Medicare ‘trap’

When Judy Hanttula came home from the hospital after surgery last November, her doctor’s office called with bad news: Records showed that even though Judy had signed up for Original Medicare, she was nevertheless enrolled in a Medicare Advantage plan.

Original Medicare wouldn’t pay for the surgery because she now had an Advantage plan, and the Advantage plan wouldn’t pay for it because her doctor and hospital weren’t in its network. So Judy was on the hook for more than $16,500.

After more than five hours of making phone calls, Judy discovered what had happened. Because she had individual coverage through Blue Cross Blue Shield before she became eligible for Medicare, the company had automatically signed her up for its own Medicare Advantage plan. Blue Cross had apparently notified Judy of this in a letter. But because Judy had already signed up for Original Medicare, and because she was being deluged with letters from health plans at the time, she ignored it, not realizing it was important. [Read more…]

Some federal income tax refunds may be temporarily delayed

In general, you can expect your federal refund to be issued approximately 21 days after your electronically filed tax return has been accepted. However, identity theft is still a major problem, and the IRS continues to implement new strategies to protect taxpayer data. For example, if you claim the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit on your 2016 individual federal income tax return, your refund will be held until February 15.

Standard mileage rates go down for 2017

Have you noticed the price of gas? So has the IRS – and the reimbursement rate for business mileage has gone down as a result. The new rate for 2017 is 53.5¢ per mile, down from the 2016 rate of 54¢ per mile.

The rate for medical and moving mileage also decreased. Effective January 1, the standard rate is 17¢ per mile, down from last year’s 19¢. The charitable mileage rate remains 14¢.

2017 financial shape up: Small steps toward big goals

Shaping up your finances in 2017 may seem like a big goal, perhaps even too daunting. But if you take one small step at a time, these small steps will add up. Here are suggestions.

* Shift out of automatic. Have you established automatic bill pay at your bank or service provider, or automatic charges to your credit card?

Small step: Look for payments for goods or services you no longer use, such as recurring monthly subscriptions, and cancel them. [Read more…]

IRS extended the due date for Forms 1095

When you’re an applicable large employer (generally, when you employ 50 or more full-time workers and equivalents), you’re required to provide information about health coverage to the IRS and to your employees. The IRS extended the date on which two of these forms are due to your employees. Instead of being due January 31, Form 1095-B, Health Coverage, and Form 1095-C, Employer Provided Health Insurance Offer and Coverage,  are now due March 2, 2017. There is no change to the February 28, 2017, due date for filing paper forms with the IRS, nor the March 31, 2017, due date for filing electronically.

Note the new due dates for Forms W-2 and 1099

Did you spot the new due dates on the tax calendar? As you begin your January payroll preparation, take into account earlier due dates for two common information reporting forms.

Forms W-2 for 2016 are due January 31 for all copies. In the past, you had to provide Forms W-2 to your employees by January 31. Now the January 31 deadline also applies to copies submitted to the Social Security Administration.

The due date for filing all copies of 2016 Forms 1099-MISC with non-employee compensation in Box 7 is January 31, 2017. For these forms, the January 31 due date also applies to both paper and electronic filing.

Mark your calendar: First quarter 2017 tax deadlines

Tax return filing season has arrived, which means it’s time to mark your calendar for these 2017 tax deadlines.

  • January 17 – Due date for the fourth and final installment of 2016 estimated tax for individuals (unless you file your 2016 return and pay any balance due by January 31).
  • January 31 – Employers must furnish 2016 W-2 statements to employees, and send copies to the Social Security Administration (both paper and electronic).
  • January 31 – Payers must file all copies of 2016 Forms 1099-MISC with non-employee compensation in Box 7. For these forms, the January 31 due date applies to both paper and electronic filing.
  • January 31 – Employers must generally file 2016 federal unemployment tax returns and pay any tax due.
  • February 28 – Payers must file information returns (except certain Forms 1099-MISC) with the IRS. (Except for certain Forms 1099-MISC, March 31 is the deadline if filing electronically.)
  • March 1 – Farmers and fishermen who did not make 2016 estimated tax payments must file 2016 tax returns and pay taxes in full.
  • March 2 – Large employers must furnish Form 1095-B and Form 1095-C to employees.

Survivorship life insurance can be good vehicle for estate planning

Survivorship life insurance (also known as “second-to-die”) can be an important vehicle to consider for estate planning in the right cases.

This type of insurance policy covers two lives and pays out the proceeds when the second insured dies.

One benefit is that the premium tends to be lower than it would be for two separate policies because the life expectancy is based on the two insureds’ combined ages and the insurer has lower administrative costs. [Read more…]

Should you amend or rewrite your revocable trust?

It’s important to review a revocable trust regularly to see if any amendments are needed, such as when something changes in your life or if the law changes.

There are two ways to go about it. You can either amend the existing trust to change a certain part of it or rewrite the whole trust, which is known as a restatement.

While you might expect that an amendment is easier and more cost-effective, that’s not always the case. [Read more…]

Remarriage is a reminder to revisit your estate plan

Approximately 40 percent of marriages these days are remarriages for at least one partner. When you remarry, there are all sorts of issues to consider related to your estate plan.

For older people, the main focus may be ensuring that their adult children or grandchildren have an inheritance. Without proper planning, a new spouse could receive assets that were originally intended for children and grandchildren.

Here are some important elements to review in order to protect everyone’s interests when you remarry: [Read more…]

Valuation discounts for transfers in family businesses in jeopardy

The ability to take valuation discounts on the transfer of an interest in a family business for estate, gift and generation-skipping transfer tax purposes would be drastically limited under long-awaited proposed regulations from the Treasury Department.

The most impactful element of the proposal bars any significant discount for lack of control or lack of marketability associated with the transfer of an interest in a family-controlled entity.

If the regulations are finalized as written, the tax cost for transferring interests in such businesses will be substantially higher. [Read more…]

Are you up-to-date on the tax rules affecting your 2016 return?

Here’s a quick review of some of the rules you can expect to encounter when you get ready to prepare your 2016 federal income tax return.

Income tax rates. For 2016, ordinary federal income tax rates range from 10% to 35% unless your taxable income exceeds $415,050 when you’re single or $466,950 if you’re married filing jointly. The rate on income above those amounts is 39.6%. [Read more…]

No change to nanny tax threshold

The social security coverage threshold for domestic employees, including nannies, will remain at $2,000 for 2017, the same as the 2016 threshold. If your household workers earn less than $2,000, you do not have to pay social security or Medicare taxes on wages paid to those employees. When you pay your household employees more than the threshold, you’re required to pay social security tax of 6.2% and Medicare tax of 1.45%. The $2,000 threshold applies separately to each employee.

Check your basis in your S corporation before the end of the year

Losses can be hard to take – so if you think your S corporation will show a loss for 2016, now’s the time to plan to make sure you’ll get the full tax benefit.

The problem. The amount of the business loss you can deduct on your individual income tax return is limited to your basis in your S corporation stock and certain corporate debt. This is true even if the loss reported to you on Schedule K-1 is greater than your basis. [Read more…]

Be prepared for a higher social security wage base in 2017

For 2017, the wage base for withholding social security tax from wages has increased to $127,200, up from $118,500 in 2016. The “wage base” is the amount of wages on which employers and employees must pay the 6.2% social security tax. The increased wage base means an additional $8,700 of your income is taxed.

The wage base does not affect the 1.45% Medicare payroll tax. Medicare tax is assessed on all wages and net income from self-employment, including amounts above the base. The 0.9% Additional Medicare Tax is not affected either. That tax applies to your compensation in excess of $250,000 when you’re married filing jointly ($200,000 when you’re single). [Read more…]

Tax reminders

  • December 15 – Due date for calendar-year corporations to pay the last installment of 2016 estimated income tax.
  • December 31 – Deadline to complete 2016 tax-free gifts of up to $14,000 per recipient.
  • December 31 – Deadline for paying expenses you want to be able to deduct on your 2016 income tax return.

Must you disclose notes from an HR investigation?

An employee complains about discrimination or harassment, and you conduct an investigation. The employee is still unhappy and sues. Can you be forced to turn over all your notes from the investigation as part of the court case?

The answer is not always clear – and it’s an important issue you should be aware of.

As a general rule, any relevant documents that are created in the normal course of business are fair game to be turned over in a lawsuit. That includes documents that are created as part of a routine investigation by human resources personnel. [Read more…]

Government steps up audits of health care privacy

The federal government has begun a much more intensive program of auditing health care providers for violations of HIPAA, the federal law that protects patients’ privacy.

For the first time, the government will be auditing not only health care providers but also related businesses to whom patients’ information might be disclosed – including third-party administrators, accountants, attorneys, consultants, clearinghouses, transcriptionists and pharmacy benefits managers.

For this reason, it’s important for all providers to understand the relevant obligations and take steps to minimize risks – and make sure their vendors do so as well. [Read more…]

Employee gets away with keeping confidential info

Anthony Leness was an executive at a company called EventMonitor. His contract stated that he couldn’t disclose confidential information and that he would return all such information if he left the company.

After six years, Leness was terminated. Shortly afterward, the company discovered that he had subscribed to an online data storage service and had uploaded a large number of the company’s files to the service, including confidential data.

The company changed the status of his termination to “for cause,” and cut off his severance payments. [Read more…]

‘Tip pools’ are limited by federal law

Businesses can require their tipped employees to participate in “tip pools,” in which they contribute all their tips to a pot and then share them according to some formula.

As a general rule, a tip pool can only include employees who regularly receive tips. So for instance, a restaurant can require all its waiters to share tips among themselves, but it can’t require them to share their tips with prep cooks and dishwashers.

You should also know that a business can pay its tipped employees less than the federal minimum wage, as long as the employee makes at least the federal minimum once tips are taken into account. [Read more…]

New threats to online retailers

As more and more companies sell things online, especially to far-flung customers, it can be difficult to keep track of the ever-changing legal rules that apply. Here’s a look at just some of the issues on the horizon that online retailers should be aware of:

Is your website accessible to the disabled? You might be surprised at the idea that the federal Americans With Disabilities Act applies to online stores, but the U.S. Department of Justice has taken the position that it does, and is planning to issue rules soon for how retailers should comply.

It’s likely the government will soon require retail websites to do some or all of the following: [Read more…]

‘Gender identity’ discrimination claims on the rise

Transsexuals and other employees who identify with a different gender than the one they were born with are beginning to bring job discrimination lawsuits.

While the federal civil rights law that prohibits sex discrimination doesn’t specifically mention “gender identity,” the U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission believes that gender identity is covered by the law, and has begun bringing claims against businesses. One company in Minnesota has already paid a settlement in a case brought by the EEOC over its refusal to allow a transgendered worker to use a preferred restroom, and a federal appeals court has ruled that a transgendered individual could sue for wrongful termination. [Read more…]

Another ‘close call’ on who gets overtime

One factor in deciding whether employees are eligible for overtime is whether they exercise judgment and discretion in the course of doing their work. Employees who are empowered to make independent decisions typically don’t qualify for time-and-a-half.

When there’s a dispute about overtime eligibility, this sometimes leads to an ironic situation in which bosses claim in court that their workers are highly skilled decisionmakers, while the workers themselves argue that they’re just mindless drones. [Read more…]

Federal contractors must provide paid sick leave

Starting next January, companies that have federal contracts must allow employees to earn up to seven paid sick days per year, under new regulations issued by the Labor Department.

Employees can earn one sick day for each 30 hours spent on work related to the federal contract, up to seven days per year. These days carry over from one year to the next, although an employee who quits or is fired without using them doesn’t have to be compensated for them. [Read more…]

Worker could be fired even if boss discriminated

An employee could be legally fired for misconduct even if his supervisor “got the ball rolling” toward his termination as a result of racist attitudes, according to a federal court in Philadelphia.

The case involved a black school janitor and a female black principal who strongly disapproved of the janitor’s dating white women. The principal made inappropriate comments to the janitor, made false accusations against him, and told co-workers that he had “a target on his back.” [Read more…]

Cutting workers’ hours to avoid Obamacare may be illegal

The Affordable Care Act says that any company with more than 50 full-time employees must offer health care benefits or pay a penalty. A full-time employee is defined as someone who works at least 30 hours a week.

Some businesses have tried to get around this requirement by cutting workers’ hours to just below 30 hours a week. The idea is to avoid paying for their employees’ medical care while also avoiding the penalty. [Read more…]

Company sued for not protecting worker from ex-boyfriend

In a recent case in Missouri, a woman left work and got in her minivan in the parking lot to go home, only to find that her estranged boyfriend was hiding in the back with a gun. They had an argument and he shot her, causing a serious injury. She sued her employer, arguing that better security measures could have prevented the incident.

It turned out that a different employee had been kidnapped from the same parking lot a decade earlier, and in response, the company installed security cameras around the property. However, the company later disregarded advice to reposition the cameras to provide better coverage. [Read more…]

What rights do employees have to talk about politics at work?

This year’s presidential election has produced one of the most colorful and contentious political seasons in recent memory. It’s not surprising that employees want to talk about the candidates and the issues. For this reason, it’s important to know what everyone’s rights are – both those of employees who want to express their opinions, and those of employers who want to minimize disruptions and avoid having their staff members offend co-workers or customers.

While many people talk about “free speech,” it’s important to know that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution doesn’t protect every type of speech. All it really says is that the government can’t punish you for your speech. It doesn’t say that a private employer can’t punish people for their political opinions. [Read more…]

Survivor’s benefit counts as a marital asset

When Courtney Carr got divorced, he had a right to a large military pension. He and his wife Beth agreed that he would elect a survivor’s benefit. This would give him a smaller pension payout, but if he died first, Beth would begin collecting $2,750/month as his survivor. An expert calculated that the present value of the survivor’s benefit was about $226,000.

The divorce judge decided that the couple’s assets should be split with 60% going to Beth and 40% going to Courtney (to reflect the fact that Courtney had more income potential). However, in splitting the assets 60% – 40%, the judge didn’t count the $226,000 value of the survivor’s benefit as an asset. [Read more…]