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Howard County MD Business Law Blog

Workers prioritize jobs over filing sexual harassment suits

Despite discrimination laws prohibiting workplace sexual harassment, it remains a widespread problem in Maryland and across the country. The employment and education vice president at the National Women's Law Center testified in January to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that a majority of such cases are never reported because the victims are more worried about possible retaliation or losing their jobs if they file complaints.

One out of every four female workers is a sexual harassment victim, and the problem is pervasive in a range of jobs, o ften within male-dominated industries. One workplace discrimination attorney says that many employees are afraid of reprisal if they complain, such as whether they could find another job, particularly if their jobs are in certain industries.

Dealing with workplace harassment and discrimination

Maryland employers that are designing policies around harassment and discrimination may wish to inform employees about the best way to report such behavior. For example, employees should know that it is crucial to document any harassment or discrimination in as much detail as possible. This may include gathering material such as emails and voicemail. Individuals should be encouraged to turn over all the evidence they have despite discomfort about bringing witnesses into the case.

Although gathering evidence to back the claims is important, individuals should not delay reporting the harassment. Doing so might appear to minimize the incidents. Furthermore, witnesses may leave the company and records may disappear as email is deleted off the server.

Identifying online investment scams

People in Maryland who are interested in starting their own Internet business may be lured in by advertisements for online business opportunities. Although these advertisements may sound promising at first glance, potential investors should beware that many of them could be scams. Understanding some of the tactics that scammers use could help a person to avoid wasting their money.

Though it may be different than owning a physical store location, an Internet business requires hard work and extensive planning just like any other type of business venture. An email offer, infomercial, flyer or seminar that promises investors they can start a highly profitable online business with very little effort is probably too good to be true. Any pitch that guarantees high profits is also likely to be a scam, as a real business venture always involves some risk.

Taking a company public with an IPO

Many Maryland entrepreneurs hope to grow their businesses to the point where going public becomes a realistic option. Becoming a publicly traded company has many advantages, but putting together an initial public offering can be both prohibitively expensive and very time consuming. Figures provided by the U.S. Small Business Administration reveal that relatively few companies are able to launch a successful IPO. Entrepreneurs should also understand that public companies are not able to operate with the same degree of flexibility as private enterprises.

An IPO requires careful business planning and in most cases the services of an investment bank. Finding a suitable banking partner is crucial, and entrepreneurs should seek out an investment firm that has previously worked on IPOs for similar sized businesses. Investors must also be given a good reason to buy shares, and annual growth rates of less than 20 percent are unlikely to draw much interest. More information about the process can be obtained from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Understanding the different types of seperation

Maryland residents who might be having marital problems may be interested in how separation. Unlike divorce, a couple that is legally separated is still married, but a number of issues that are common in divorce proceedings might also be discussed in separation orders. Such things as property division, child custody and maintenance, and support obligations might all be included in separation proceedings.

There are also a number of different types of arrangements beyond legal separation and divorce. For example, some couples might opt for permanent separation. Under this arrangement, debts or assets accumulated by the married individuals may be considered separate property when a divorce occurs. Other couples might also choose to live separately. These arrangements may be common in jurisdictions that require a separation period before a couple might file for a no-fault divorce.

How serious illness can influence divorce rates

Maryland residents will likely be aware that a serious illness can place a great deal of strain on a marriage. However, they may be surprised to learn that the chances of a divorce only appear to increase if it is the wife who becomes sick. Researchers noticed this after looking at how cancer, lung disease, heart ailments and strokes affected 2,701 marriages, but they were unable to determine if it was the husband or wife who decided to seek a divorce.

The findings of the study looking into the relationship between serious illnesses and divorce were released in March 2015 and published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior. While the rate of divorce increased by 6 percent when wives became sick, there was no corresponding higher divorce rate among couples when the husband developed a serious illness. Researchers at Purdue and Iowa State University speculate that ailing wives may seek divorce because they are unhappy with the quality of the care provided by their husbands.

Legal pitfalls new business owners should avoid

Entrepreneurs and small business owners in Maryland may be knowledgeable in their fields, but they may know less about the legal side of setting up a business. Pitfalls like failing to research ideas for business names and products may be easy to avoid, but new owners may not be aware of them. For example, being aware of other companies' trademarks might help avoid a lawsuit or costly name change.

It can also be important that business owners create a separate legal and financial entity. This protects the owner's personal assets in case of a business bankruptcy or legal troubles. In addition to creating a corporation or LLC, business owners should set up a separate business bank account and avoid mixing business and personal banking. This is important whether a new small business has 10 employees or is simply one individual offering consulting or other services from their home. More than 40 percent of small businesses faced an actual or threatened lawsuit in 2011, so even business owners who think the likelihood of such a situation is small may benefit from taking such precautions.

Lawsuits to address employment discrimination

Maryland business owners may find that firing an employee is necessary at times, but it is important to understand that the context of a situation could leave room for legal action in certain cases. Similarly, it is important to consider any changes in position or treatment when dealing with an employee who has made a complaint about adverse actions or conditions. As an owner of a business considers these issues, it is important to ensure that company policies are communicated to and enforced by supervisors, managers and other leaders.

A retaliatory firing could in some cases lead to a wrongful discharge lawsuit. Although it may be necessary to fire an employee for failing to do their job or for other policy violations, it is not legal to fire an individual who is engaged in protected conduct in a retaliatory manner. Examples might include firing someone for registering a complaint about a hostile working environment, using FMLA leave or reporting the corrupt actions of a co-worker or supervisor. Retaliation can also occur without firing an employee. A change in job position or a demotion for a worker following their complaint or other specific action could be viewed as retaliatory.

Incorporating a business in Maryland

If someone is considering starting a business, they may choose to form a corporation. This is actually a fairly simple process, most of which hinges on filling out and submitting articles of incorporation with the state and paying a processing fee, which ranges from $100 to $800.

The first step in incorporating a business is to choose a name. It must not violate any trademarks, and it must not be the same as any other corporation in the state. Additionally, the business's name must indicate that it is a corporation, which is generally done by ending the name with Corporation, Limited or Incorporated. A name does not need to be registered with the state because that will be done so automatically when articles of incorporation are filed.

Independent business versus franchise decisions

Maryland residents who wish to start a business may want to look at two models: independent and franchise. Either type of ownership model of business can succeed. There are factors associated with the decision to buy either one, and those should be carefully weighed prior to any action.

A franchise owner is under the control of a parent company, which controls what services and products the new business can offer with little opportunity for independent decisions by franchise owners. The upside is that those products and services have already been tested in the marketplace. An independent business owner has autonomy and can strike out in new directions with services based on preferences or market changes. However, this typically means less security.