Can Your Employer Require You to Stay On-Site for Lunch?

Taco Bell had itself a little problem. Apparently, employees were taking their discounted meals and complimentary drinks home to family and friends. So, the Bell instituted a rule requiring discounted meals be consumed on the premises. Because the meals were also consumed during employees' lunch breaks, this effectively meant that if employees were on their lunch break, and utilizing their discount for a meal, they were required to remain on-site during their lunch breaks.

But the State of California has its own rule, requiring that employers relinquish control of their employees during breaks. So, did Taco Bell's on-premises discount policy make their employees' meal breaks not breaks at all? Not according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Break Requirements

The Golden State is pretty strict when it comes to employee protections. Under state laws, if an employee works five hours in a day, they must have at least 30 minutes of time away from work to eat.

The California Supreme Court clarified those requirements in 2012, ruling that an employer satisfies the meal break obligation when it "relieves its employees of all duty, relinquishes control over their activities and permits them a reasonable opportunity to take an uninterrupted 30-minute break, and does not impede or discourage them from doing so." Employees who so wished could decline the break, but employers would need to compensate them for their time working if they did.

In this case, Bernardina Rodriguez filed a class action lawsuit against Taco Bell, claiming that, because the restaurant required discounted meals to be eaten on-site, she was under "sufficient employer control" that she should get paid for the time spent on the Bell's premises eating discounted meals. But the Ninth Circuit wasn't buying it.

Relinquishing Control

"On the basis of the undisputed facts in this case," the court reasoned, "we conclude that Taco Bell's meal policy ... relieves employees of all duty and relinquishes control over their activities":

Taco Bell does not require the employee to purchase a discounted meal. The purchase of the meal is entirely voluntary. Plaintiff has not alleged nor introduced any evidence to show that Taco Bell pressured its employees to purchase the discounted meals. Employees are free to leave the premises or spend their break time in any way that they choose that does not interfere with Taco Bell conducting its business. For that matter, employees are free to purchase meals at full price and eat them wherever the employees wish. The company does not otherwise interfere with the employees' use of the break time or require the employees to serve the interests of Taco Bell. Nor has Plaintiff alleged or introduced any evidence to show that her employer required or pressured her to conduct work activities while on premises during the meal period. Taco Bell's policy indeed appeared to prohibit this, as employees were required to take rest breaks and meal periods away from "[t]he food production area" and "[t]he cash register service area."

In rejecting Rodriguez's claims, the Ninth Circuit lays out a good list of parameters for small business to consider when creating their own meal break policies. If you need help crafting your own policy, an experienced employment attorney is only a call or click away.

by Christopher Coble, Esq.

Can Businesses Ban Racist Customers?

Last month, Khalil Cavil, a 20-year-old server for Saltgrass Steak House in Odessa, Texas, posted a photo of a receipt on Facebook that read "We don't Tip Terrorist" with no tip included and his name circled at the top. Cavil opined, "All day I've had to remind myself that Jesus died for these people too. I have decided to let this encourage me, and fuel me to change the world the only way I know how." And Saltgrass Steak House banned the customer involved.

Only it turns out that Cavil fabricated the racist message, and the customer has since been welcomed back. "Racism of any form is intolerable, and we will always act swiftly should it occur in any of our establishments," Saltgrass COO Terry Turney said in a statement. "Falsely accusing someone of racism is equaling disturbing." Still, the question remains: Can businesses legally ban racist customers?

Reserving the Right to Refuse Racists

If you don't already have one posted in your small business, you've probably seen the signs in someone else's shop: "We reserve the right to refuse service." But is that even legal? The answer depends on why you're refusing service. Generally, dress codes and shirt and shoe requirements are enforceable, even if there are no federal or state laws requiring patrons wear footwear. And, of course, non-paying, employee-harassing, or disturbance-causing customers can be banned for bad behavior.

But prohibiting paying customers from your business based on their beliefs can put you on trickier ground. Federal law makes it illegal to refuse service based on race, color, religion, sex, age, handicap, or national origin, and many states have extended those protections to homosexual and transgender customers. So public accommodations have a hard time banning customers for who they are -- can they ban them for what they think?

Banning Behavior, Not Beliefs

Banning customers, even racists, Nazis, or the KKK, for their beliefs can put you on shaky ground, legally speaking. The First Amendment provides protections for speech, association, and assembly in places that are open to the public.

So instead of banning large groups based on political beliefs, creating facially neutral policies regarding customer clothing, speech, or behavior can provide the basis for legally asking a disruptive customer to leave. Businesses can impose restrictions on customer conduct so long as those restrictions do not directly target protected classes, and dress code restrictions prohibiting customers from wearing swastikas or other clothing emblazoned with hate speech or obscenity could do the trick.

Still, writing and enforcing such policies can get tricky. Consult an experienced commercial attorney for assistance.

Christopher Coble, Esq.

10 Smart Back-to-School Tips for Divorced Parents

Back-to-school season is stressful for all parents but it’s a little more complicated when you’re divorced: Who’s doing the annual trek to Target to load up on school supplies — and more importantly, who’s paying? Are both of you listed on important school forms? 

 To make heading back to school a little less overwhelming for you and the kiddos, we asked HuffPost Divorce bloggers and readers on Facebook to share their tried-and-true advice. Here’s what they had to say:

1. Split the cost of back-to-school supplies. 

Between backpacks, calculators, school uniforms and that extra big box of Crayola crayons, your kids’ back-to-school supplies can end up costing a small fortune. To lessen the individual burden among parents, Lynsey Mattingly and her ex divvy up purchasing responsibilities.

“My ex and I always separate who’s buying what, with him buying the backpacks, lunch boxes and water bottles while I usually get the entire supply list the teachers send home,” she told us. “It comes out to about the same price and this way we are both playing to our strengths: he gets a few quality items that he’s better at picking out and I get the specific, detailed things.”

2. Create a shared Google calendar to keep everyone in the loop. 

Each school year, Elizabeth Denham dutifully updates the families’ shared Google calendar with the kids’ upcoming school events. This way, no one misses back-to-school night or a holiday performance. 

“For all of the really important events, I send invites through the calendar as soon as I enter the date so that I don’t have to remember to do it by phone,” she said. 

3. Drop the kids off together on the first day of school. 

The first day of school can be a scary, overwhelming experience for even the most confident kiddo. If at all possible, try to free up your schedules so both of you can drop the kids off and show your support, said Leah Porritt. 

“On the first morning of school this year, we met before and walked our son to school together,” she said. “He had both of us there to send him off to first grade and I think that meant a lot to him — even if the normal school year mornings are a mixture of mom, dad, stepparents or before-and-after care. For his sake, we put differences aside and make an effort to both be present together.”  

4. And if your ex can’t be there for day one, text a pic. 

If your ex is unable to make it that first day, be generous and send him or her a pic. (You have at least 20 on your camera roll — why not share the love?) 

“Texting a pic is an act of goodwill and will be greatly appreciated,” said blogger Valerie DeLoach. “And you never know — one kind act could change the whole dynamic of your current relationship.”  

5. Let your kids’ teachers know who’s who in your blended family. 

Your family tree likely got a lot more complicated post-divorce, especially if you or your ex remarried. Early on in the school year, fill your kids’ teachers in on who’s who in your family; that way, there’s no confusion when your child’s stepdad picks her up. 

“I do it because it can be confusing for teachers to hear my son talk about his parents, stepparents and numerous siblings on either side,”said Porritt. “He’s old enough now to explain who is who, but it makes it more comfortable for him if his teacher already understands his extended and blended family situation and doesn’t need to question him!”

Another bonus of touching base with your kids’ teacher? Backpacks that are a little less heavy, said reader Carmen Poff. 

“When my ex and I tell the teachers our kids have two homes, most will send home a second set of text books so they won’t have to haul them back and forth,” she said.

6. Attend parent-teacher conferences together. 

Heading to parent-teacher conferences as a team — like writer Carolyn Flower does every year with her kids’ dad — sends a strong message to your children and their teachers: Regardless of what happened in the past, today we’re partners who have the kids’ best interests at heart. 

“As a collaboratively divorced family, we’ve never missed a parent-teacher meeting,” Flower said. “We feel that demonstrating we are still a team shows the children and the school they are loved and supported in all they do. It plants healthy seeds for successful mindsets.” 

7. If your ex lives out of state, have him or her call into the meeting. 

Don’t let distance interfere with both parents taking a proactive, involved role, said Honorée Corder. 

“Because my ex lives in another state, when it’s time for parent-teacher conferences, we schedule a time that works for both of us so he can be conferenced in,” she said. 

8. Set times when you and your ex can debrief on your kids’ progress at school. 

To ensure that no book report or soccer meet falls through the cracks, Kasey Ferris and her ex have have scheduled communication days where they discuss and update each other on their son’s life. 

“Every Sunday and Wednesday there’s an email exchange where we discuss the week, any tests coming up and updates on projects that need to be completed,” she said. “Anything crucial or time-sensitive is handled via text, but everything else goes into a Sunday/Wednesday email. It’s created a lot of peace between us.” 

9. Don’t leave your ex’s side out of the family tree.

Regardless of how you feel about your ex, your kids still need him or her in their lives. When there’s a family tree assignment — or a photo project that calls on family photos — rise above any bitterness and include your ex’s side of the family (yes, that includes new spouses). 

“If there is a project at school that asks for family photos I always make sure that the kids try to include pictures of their mom, their mom’s partner and kids as well as my own partner and kids,” said reader Barry Fraser. 

10. Create a group chat where you discuss your kids’ wins and progress. 

Start a group chat that includes the parents and the kids and send texts whenever your kids ace an assignment or need a little encouragement to bring that C grade up. It’s a little communication trick that has worked wonders for blogger Emma Bathie and her family. 

“The idea is to direct the reminders and notes to the kids but they’re there for both parents to see and comment on if needed,” she said. “It can also be a nice way for the parents to make positive/encouraging comments about each other in front of the kids (‘Hey Matt, I really appreciate you picking up the kids for me last night when I was stuck in a meeting and then traffic. It was really helpful!’) You’re also showing the kids you can be the grown-ups they need you to be.” 

Together, you’ve got this school year! 

by: Huffington Post

Can Your Family Force You Into Rehab?

Many addicts are the last to recognize that they have a problem. Others feel that they can solve it themselves, without the need for admission into a full-fledged rehabilitation program. Still, some exasperated parents and siblings may not be willing to wait for a family member to sort out their addictions on their own, and will seek to forcibly institutionalize them.

But is that legal? Can you be compelled to go to rehab against your will?

Just Say No

The general answer is: No. Most state laws don't permit forcible rehab of adults (outside of criminal sentencing for drug- or alcohol-related crimes, of course). And almost no rehab facilities will admit a patient who doesn't want to be there -- both out of legal liability issues and because a recalcitrant patient is rarely successful at managing their issues. This is not true for children, however. A parent or legal guardian can put a person under the age of 18 into a rehab program without their permission.

So, for the most part, while your family may come up with a compelling argument for you to go to rehab (and perhaps withhold money, room, or board in exchange for such a deal), they can't legally compel you enter a rehab or treatment facility.

Hold Up

There are some exceptions to that rule, though. If someone believes a person is a danger to themselves or others, most states allow a temporary period of custody or a "hold" on them for assessment and possible treatment. Known in California as a "5150" (in reference to the section of the Welfare Institutions Code under which it is permitted), it allows officers to take a person into custody "for a period of up to 72 hours for assessment, evaluation, and crisis intervention," if that person "as a result of a mental health disorder, is a danger to others, or to himself or herself, or gravely disabled."

Such holds are often temporary, although some statutes allow doctors to recommend a longer custody period if the person requires intensive treatment prior to their release.

Family members may be at their wits' end when it comes to a loved one dealing with addiction. But for better or worse, forced rehab is normally not one of their options. If you're the family member or the loved one struggling with addiction in this scenario, consider contacting an experienced health care attorney to discuss your legal options

By Christopher Coble, Esq.

Do You Have to Carry ID With You at All Times?

Can you leave the house without your ID? It seems like a silly question to most, but with some shifts in state immigration laws, it has become a serious question.

In a perfect world, you wouldn't need to carry your ID on you at all times. But here's what you might expect in the real world:

When You Leave Your Home...

Despite the questionable legal status of Arizona's immigration laws, there is no place in the nation where simply being in public without ID is illegal.

However, there are several states in which it is an arrestable offense if you refuse to identify yourself to police. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that these kinds of laws can be legal, as long as the officers had reasonable suspicion to detain you in the first place.

In states with these laws, like Arizona and Nevada, you may be required to give police your full legal name. But you don't have to answer any other questions, and you shouldn't need any form of identification.

When You're in a Store...

Federal courts have held that certain stores may legally require you provide ID in order to make a return. You can also be legally required to show ID for the purchase of alcohol, tobacco, or even cold medicine.

When You're Driving...

Driving without a license is a crime in all states and in Washington, D.C. This means you need to have your valid driver's license on hand if an officer stops you while driving. Failing to show proof of a valid license is a lesser offense than not having a license at all, but it can still be a crime.

When You Vote...

There is a rising trend in many states to require photo IDs to be presented in order to vote. The federal government sued Texas over its voter ID law in August, claiming that the law discriminated against ethnic minorities.

If your state has one of these laws, it may be legal for ballot officials to require you to show a form of photo ID. Contact a local civil rights attorneyif you feel your state's laws are keeping you from voting.

If you're not involved in one of the activities above, you should be OK to not carry your ID.

By Brett Snider, Esq.

Apple Sued Over Siri's Commands -- Again


Apple gets sued all the time -- at least twice last month over Siri's voice commands.

In the latest lawsuit, a company is suing Apple over its patent for a "hands-free, voice-operated remote control transmitter" that is used to control appliances. In plain language, that would be Siri.

Apple fans are calling the plaintiff a "patent troll," although that name is reserved for those who buy patents just to sue over them. As for SpeakWare, it's a case of if it walks and talks like a duck it's a troll.

Patent Trolls

The company is fairly new, and appears to be in the litigation business. It registered as a corporation in California a year ago, and it has already sued Apple, Google, Samsung and Microsoft.

Its patent was issued in 2002, so yeah, SpeakWare didn't invent anything but the lawsuits. In the case against Apple, it claims infringement by iPhone 6, HomePod, and sixth generation iPad.

Those devices implement HomeKit programs that can talk to household appliances. So when you tell Siri to turn on the lights, it's apparently a patent violation, too.

Siri has been in trouble before -- and not for her sassy comebacks. Last month, a different patent troll sued Apple for violating a patent for "Speech Recognition and Transcript Among Users Having Heterogeneous Protocols."

Dense Language

9to5Mac called Advanced Voice Recognition Systems another patent troll suing over Apple's iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch, HomePod operating systems.

"The patent itself is written in the usual dense language you expect with such applications, but doesn't appear to have much bearing on Siri," Ben Lovejoy wrote.

It's more of the same, according to the critics. Patent trolls make broad claims, hoping a piece of the patent will stick.

When it comes to tech giants like Apple, that piece could turn out to be pretty big.

By William Vogeler, Esq.

Court Rules Breakfast Cereals Don't Need Cancer Warning

Luckily for Californians, breakfast has been saved.

After a California judge said coffee products must include a cancer warning because of a chemical in roasted coffee beans, the legislature jumped in to save the bean. Then another judge ruled against cereal-makers because of the same carcinogen.

But a state appeals court threw out the ruling in Post v. Superior Court of Los Angeles County. And no, the carcinogen is not caffeine or sugar.


Acrylamide is a chemical compound, and it has been seen as a possible cause of cancer for decades. Prop. 65, enacted as California's Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act, requires warnings on products with such carcinogens.

That's why the Los Angeles Superior Court judge ordered Starbucks to put the warning label on its coffee. Wide-eyed lawmakers moved swiftly to overrule that decision with new regulations.

Meanwhile, the judge in the Post case ruled against the cereal makers' motion for summary judgment. The Second District Court of Appeals said that was a mistake.

The appeals court was persuaded by statements from the Food and Drug Administration that no Prop. 65 warning for acrylamide should be placed on foods unless science dictates it.

Baking, Frying, and Roasting

Acrylamide is generated naturally in carbohydrate-rich goods that are baked, roasted, fried, or deep fried. That includes French fries, potato chips, crackers, brown bread -- and 59 cereals made by Post and General Mills.

The Environmental Protection Agency, the appeals court observed, said that since the chemical "appears to form from standard cooking methods like baking, frying, and roasting, it has been in the human diet for many thousands of years."

By William Vogeler, Esq.