Posts by: LevinGinsburg

Attention Condominium & Common Interest Community Associations: Have You Prepared Your Complaint Resolution Policy Yet?

The Illinois Condominium and Common Interest Community Ombudsperson Act, 765 ILCS 615/1, et seq. (the “Act”) requires all condominium and common interest community associations to have in effect by January 1, 2019 a written policy for resolving unit owners’ complaints. The Act originally established the office of the Office of the Condominium and Common Interest Community Ombudsperson (the “Ombudsperson”), whose job is to educate, train and assist unit owners, condominium and common interest community associations and their respective boards about the laws governing them, and, beginning on July 1, 2020, to assist with the resolution of certain disputes between unit owners and associations.

Before any unit owners may make complaints to the Ombudsperson, however, their associations must first prepare their own complaint resolution procedures. If you, like me, are on the Board of your condominium association, you and your board members are responsible for preparing this written policy (or directing your association’s legal counsel to prepare it) by no later than January 1, 2019.

But don’t wait until the last minute to draft the policy. Once the policy has been drafted, you must then circulate a copy of the proposed policy to the owners for review, and thereafter allow comment on the draft policy by the other owners at a properly-noticed Board meeting. At the meeting, the Board can approve the policy, and then it becomes part of the condominium declarations or other governing documents.

The policy must include: (1) a sample form on which a unit owner may make a complaint to the association; (2) a description of the process by which complaints shall be delivered to the association; (3) the association’s timeline and manner of making final determinations in response to a unit owner’s complaint; (4) a requirement that the final determination made by the association in response to a unit owner’s complaint be: (i) made in writing; (ii) made within 180 days after the association received the unit owner’s original complaint and (iii) marked clearly and conspicuously as “final”.

Keep in mind that the Act applies only to complaints by unit owners to the association—not to complaints by the association against a unit owner, or complaints by unit owners against other unit owners. Thus, typical complaints will likely include whether a Board provided adequate notice of meetings, whether the Board improperly conducted business outside of an open meeting, or whether the Board failed to adhere to governing law or the association’s governance documents.

If you or your association has questions or requires additional information on this issue, or if you or your business has any other questions regarding litigation or dispute resolution, please contact:
Katherine Grosh at kgrosh@lgattorneys.com or (312) 368-0100.

The Bottom Line on the Impact of Minimum Wage Hikes on the Restaurant Industry

Minimum wages are rising across the country, with well over a dozen states, plus many cities increasing minimum wages over the past few years.  As those changes are implemented, restaurant owners are finding that they must make significant adjustments to how they run their businesses in order to stay in business.

 The Bay Area of California was one of the first regions to begin increasing minimum wages, and as of January 1, 2018, the minimum wage increased by 37 cents to $13.23 in Oakland, and in San Francisco it rose from $13.00 to $15.00 effective July 1, 2018.

One impact on the restaurant industry is the change from full service restaurants – with hosts and full waiter service – to counter service.  Some restaurants have actually seen such changes result in significant sales increases – by as much as 20% – after the change from full service to counter service.  And at the same time, being able to reduce menu prices due to the ability to cut staff due to the change to a counter service format.  The downside here is that there are fewer jobs available to restaurant workers with owners focused on a lean labor paradigm.  At some restaurants, cooks serve dual roles – both preparing food and delivering it to customers.  Customers are also finding themselves taking on new ‘responsibilities’ such as being able to text additional orders rather than going back in line it they want more food than they originally ordered at the counter.

Thus, the increase in minimum wage has resulted in more satisfied employees (albeit fewer) earning a better living, increased restaurant industry innovation, and restaurants becoming more accessible to the population as whole as a result of lower menu prices.

Seattle became the first major city in the country to pass a $15.00 minimum wage law in 2014.  Large restaurant groups and franchises were particularly concerned about the increase because employers with more than 501 workers were required to increase wages on a set schedule reaching $15.00 per hour this year.  As a result, large Seattle restaurant groups and chains were forced to look for ways to adjust and innovate.  Many felt that increasing menu prices was not an option because of concerns that such increases would result in lower revenue.  So these restaurants did away with discretionary tipping and, instead, implemented set service charges of fifteen or twenty percent.

To offset rising labor costs, some restaurants add a surcharge of three to five percent to customers’ checks.  In March of last year, the Wall Street Journal even ran an article entitled “New on Your Dinner Tab: A Labor Surcharge.”  Restaurant owners found that raising menu prices lead customers to choose less expensive items than they normally would, and that the surcharge helped mitigate the increased costs of doing business.

In addition to raising prices, in order to deal with increased wages in the restaurant industry, some businesses often cope with minimum wage increases by firing staff.  Earlier this year, Red Robin Gourmet Burgers announced it would eliminate busboy positions at 570 restaurant locations. Many single location restaurants have also had to eliminate busboys and other staff positions.  Others have not been able to adapt and have had to close their doors. Some have turned to technology to compensate for the loss of labor and to reduce expenses. Large chains such as Chili’s, Applebee’s, and Olive Garden have replaced some servers with table-side tablets for placing orders and paying bills. 

Technology has also helped other businesses expand.  For example, popular online service, GrubHub, has reduced the number of customers dining out, as consumers can enjoy a restaurant style meal without getting up off their couch.  

The takeaway for restaurants facing increasing minimum wages and labor costs?  Scrutinize your budget and personnel and determine how to satisfy ever-changing employee and customer demands, and be willing to change.

For further information regarding this topic, please contact:

Jonathan M. Weis at jweis@lgattorneys.com or 312-368-0100.

 

 

 

Taxpayer Attempts To Claim A Unilateral Settlement With IRS

In his letter enclosing his $1,396 check, taxpayer asserted unilaterally that “we are now concluded on this tax return issue” and that he would not “have any more issues with IRS” regarding 2006. But there can be no settlement unless there is mutual assent to its terms, which taxpayer has not shown. To demonstrate assent by the IRS, taxpayer must do more than show that the IRS cashed his check. No compromise was implied by “the government’s acceptance and cashing” of taxpayer’s check.

Once assessed, a disputed tax liability may be compromised by the IRS under Code section 7122. Taxpayer was free to propose an offer-in-compromise during the proceeding by submitting Form 656, Offer in Compromise, together with supporting financial information. But he declined to request a collection alternative of any sort, insisting instead that he had no liability for 2006 whatsoever.

Taxpayer’s argument is meritless. A disputed tax liability may be settled by agreement between taxpayer and the IRS. A settlement of a case pending in Court is a contract that “may be reached through offer and acceptance made by letter, or even in the absence of” a written instrument. Taxpayer did not settle his 2006 tax liability with IRS counsel. Rather, his case was tried in Court and he lost.

Even if the IRS employee were thought to have made a settlement offer, no settlement of any kind is binding on the IRS unless it is duly authorized and properly memorialized, as “This Court has repeatedly declined to enforce a settlement agreement when the person entering into the agreement on behalf of the Commissioner lacked the authority to bind the” IRS. Taxpayer has supplied no reason to believe that his IRS correspondent had the requisite settlement authority.

Taxpayer relied solely on its unilateral statement that the issues were all resolved. It did not follow any of the procedures available to it. In short, taxpayer had proffered no plausible evidence of a settlement. Thus, the court held for the IRS.

Morris R. Saunders, msaunders@lgattorneys.com.

Legal Tech Corner: Developing Laws to Fit the Internet of Things

In typical California fashion, the state is leading the charge toward developing law that would regulate the Internet of Things (“IoT”). IoT devices typically include any device that connects to the internet, such as phones, tablets, home security systems, Amazon “Alexa” and other similar convenience items, thermostats, baby monitors, and even connected home security systems.California SB-327 has passed the California House and Senate and looks like it may soon be signed into law by the Governor. Although not effective until January 1, 2020, the law requires that manufacturers of IoT devices implement certain reasonable security measures into the devices themselves. It also requires manufacturers to force users to customize the password for their device, among other things.

While the law has been recently criticized for being too broad (i.e. not defining “reasonable” security measures), lawyers and tech specialists recognize that a law that is too specific in dictating tech measures may not be a “fit” for all devices. Not to mention that such measures may be outdated solutions by the time the device enters the market. Thus, it seems a balance between vagueness and specificity in the law must be struck. We expect to see some tweaks to this law prior to the final version going into effect in 2020.

Though no other state has yet passed any similar laws to the California bill, Congress has proposed an IoT bill called the SMART IoT Act (H.R. 6032) which would force the Department of Commerce to conduct a study of the IoT industry, providing the precursor to perhaps a federal IoT law.

If you have additional questions about navigating the laws relating to IoT devices, or any other cyber security legal issue, please do not hesitate to contact us at 312-368-0100 or nremien@lgattorneys.com

Predictive Scheduling Legislation: What You Need to Know to Avoid Costly Surprises

In approximately a dozen states and a number of smaller municipalities across the U.S., initiatives have been introduced that would allow state and local governments to dictate how restaurants (and retailers) schedule their employees. Some view this approach as interfering with employers’ rights to control the workplace, while others view it as a necessary tool to protect the rights of food industry and other retail workers.  The impetus for the new rules – often referred to as predictive scheduling laws – emanates from the fact that workers often have very little ability to make adjustments to their work schedules in order to meet their responsibilities outside of work.  Unpredictable and unstable work schedules have been fairly well documented in the food service and preparation industries, as well as in retail and custodial occupations.

Predictive scheduling laws and proposals generally include certain common provisions: (i) advance posting of schedules, (ii) employer penalties for unexpected schedule changes, (iii) record-keeping requirements, and (iv) prohibitions on requiring employees to find replacements for scheduled shifts if they are unable to work. In Congress, the pending Schedules That Work Act would require that schedules be provided in writing two weeks in advance with penalties for changes made with less than 24 hours’ notice.  As those changes are implemented, restaurant owners are finding that they must make significant adjustments to how they run their businesses in order to stay in business.

“On-call” or “predictive scheduling” activists argue that retail employers too often use scheduling practices that directly interfere with employees’ personal lives and ability to plan around their work hours, while others believe government intervention in the scheduling of employees through a one-size-fits-all approach intrudes on the employer-employee relationship and creates unnecessary mandates on how a business should operate.  Many in the food service industry are concerned that predictive scheduling legislation will impede employers’ need to adapt to changing conditions in a store, particularly small, independently owned businesses that have limited staff and resources and may not be able to afford the penalties related to violations.  Some employees have also voiced concern that they could lose some of the flexibility that attracted them to the food service industry in the first place.

There are a variety of common components of predictive scheduling legislation.

  • Employee Scheduling Requests.  Giving employees the right to make scheduling requests without employer retaliation.  Employers would be required to consider scheduling requests from all employees and provide a response. In some instances (for healthcare issues for example), the employer would be required to grant the request unless there is a bona fide business reason not to do so—e.g., an inability to reorganize work among existing staff or the insufficiency of work during the periods the employee proposes to work. The right to request provision can be found in laws recently enacted in Vermont, New Hampshire, Seattle, Washington, and San Francisco and Emeryville, California.  (Similar laws have been in place for more than a decade in the United Kingdom.)
  • Shift Scheduling Changes.  Requiring employers to be pay employees for a minimum of four hours of work or the minimum number of hours in the scheduled shifts, whichever is fewer, when an employee is sent home from work early without being permitted to work his or her scheduled shift.  In addition, if an employee is required to call in less than 24 hours before the start of a potential shift to learn whether he or she is scheduled to work, an employer could be required to pay the employee a premium, equivalent to one hour of pay. This provision is found in eight states and the District of Columbia.
  • Split shift pay. If an employee is required to work a shift with nonconsecutive hours with a break of more than one hour between work periods, an employer could be required to pay the employee a premium for that shift, equivalent to one hour of pay. Provisions like this exist in District of Columbia and California.
  • Advance notice of schedules. When an employee is hired, an employer could be required to disclose the minimum number of hours an employee will be scheduled to work. If that minimum number changes, the employer could be required to give the employee two weeks’ notice of the new minimum hours before the change goes into effect. In addition, employers can be required to give employees their work schedules two weeks in advance and, if an employer makes changes to this work schedule with notice of only 24 hours or less, the employer could be required to pay the employee a premium, equivalent to one hour of pay. San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and Emeryville, California have enacted laws to require employers to provide two weeks’ advance notice of schedules to employees in certain large retail and/or food service establishments.

In order to handle predictive scheduling mandates, business owners should explore software options and even retaining outside vendors that provide scheduling and labor management solutions.  A lack of training or understanding of predictive scheduling can be detrimental to a business’ bottom line, and scheduling practices can have a dramatic impact on labor costs.  As with most new legal developments in the food service industry (or any industry for that matter), training and education is key.

 For more information on this and other issues, contact our office at 312-368-0100 or Jon Weis at jweis@lgattorneys.com

 

Recent Changes in Illinois Law Will Place Additional Burdens on Employers

In 2018, Governor Bruce Rauner signed into law a number of changes that are already in effect or will go into effect starting January 1, 2019. As with each New Year, it is important to reflect on those changes and how they impact your business.

Amendments to the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act

As of January 1, 2019, all employers will be required to reimburse its employees “for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee within the employee’s scope of employment and directly related to services performed for the employer.” 820 ILCS 115/9.5. The act defines “necessary expenditures” as “all reasonable expenditures or losses required of the employee in the discharge of employment duties and that inure to the primary benefit of the employer.”

To be reimbursed the employee shall submit a request for reimbursement, along with all appropriate supporting documentation within 30 days. This deadline can be extended pursuant to a written expense reimbursement policy. If the employee does not have supporting documentation, a signed statement regarding the expense will be sufficient.

Employees, however, will not be entitled to such reimbursements if: (1) the employer has an established written expense reimbursement policy and (2) the employee failed to comply. In addition, an expense need not be reimbursed unless it was authorized by the employer or was authorized pursuant to a written expense reimbursement policy. The employer may also put limits or caps on its reimbursement policy provided it is not de minimis or eliminates any reimbursements.

What Should Employers Be Doing? Work with your Illinois Employment Labor attorneys to do an annual review and check of your policies regarding expense reimbursements. It will be critical for all employers to have a policy so that there is adequate cost containment. Many employers will need to evaluate reimbursing its employees for cell phones, gas, and other expenditures they are required to incur for purposes of performing their job.

Nursing Mothers Must be Paid

As of August 21, 2018, nursing mothers in Illinois within one year after the child’s birth must be given “reasonable break time” to express milk and an employer “may not reduce an employee’s compensation for time used for the purpose of expressing milk or nursing a baby.” 820 ILCS 260/10.

What Should Employers Be Doing? Review your handbooks and policies to ensure new mothers understand that they are entitled to express milk as needed and that they are not being docked any pay for doing so.

Amendments to the Illinois Human Rights Act

On August 24, 2018, the Illinois Human Rights Act (“IHRA”) was amended in three meaningful ways. Some of the changes went into effective immediately, while others go into effect on January 1, 2019.

1. The amendments extended the deadline to file a charge of civil rights violations from 180 days to 300 days from the date of the alleged violation of the IHRA. The EEOC and IHRA deadline requirements are now the same in Illinois.

2. As of January 1, 2019, the Illinois Human Rights Commission composition will change from 13 part-time members to 7 full time members. This is expected to expedite matters before the Commission and reduce the number of cases pending before the Commission.

3. The Illinois Department of Human Rights (“IDHR”) is required within 10 days of a new charge, to notify the complainant that they have the right to opt-out of the investigation process and immediately receive the right to file a suit in circuit court. Once granted by the IDHR, the complaint must file suit within 90 days in circuit court.

What Should Employers Be Doing? Employers should expect a steady increase in claims filed before the IDHR. Previously, if an employee filed at the EEOC after 180 days it was not concurrently filed at the IDHR. So long as it is timely filed before the EEOC it will also be timely filed before the IDHR. Additionally, charges that are dismissed quickly at the EEOC may still be pursued at the IDHR that would have otherwise never been refiled.

The opt-out procedures will lead to aggressive plaintiff attorneys avoiding the investigation process entirely and filing suit as quickly as possible, increasing costs and the burden to defend these claims. Employers should continue to work closely with counsel to evaluate all terminations and be prepared to defend any claims that may get filed quickly in state court.

Levin Ginsburg has been working with employers for approximately 40 years to help them protect their businesses. If you have any employment or other business related issues, please contact us at 312-368-0100 or email Walker Lawrence at wlawrence@lgattorneys.com

Will 2 Years of Continued Employment Be Enough in Illinois to Enforce a Non-Compete?

The Answer: It’s Complicated.

In 2013, an Illinois Appellate Court in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., decided that absent additional consideration, continued employment for less than 2 years after the restrictive covenant was signed, would not be sufficient to enforce a restrictive covenant. The Fifield decision was unusual because courts often do not consider the adequacy of the consideration ̶ only that there was consideration to support a contract. Often, the promise of continued employment was acceptable. This decision sent shock waves throughout Illinois and required employers to reevaluate the value they were giving employees when entering into restrictive covenants.

Since that decision, Illinois state courts have routinely followed Fifield and applied its bright line test in cases where there is no additional consideration given to the employee except continued employment.

For example:

• October 31, 2017 – Employee signed a restrictive covenant after working for his employer for nearly 12 years and also served on the company’s board of directors. He announced his resignation and left 6 months later. He was finally removed from the Board a year after signing the restrictive covenant. Upon leaving he started a new business that directly competed with his employer. The Court found that the restrictive covenant was not enforceable because he did not work for at least two years after signing the restrictive covenant.
• June 25, 2015 – Employee worked for employer for more than three years and left. After working for the new employer for one day, the employee asked to come back. As a condition of his return, the employer requested he sign a restrictive covenant. The employee quit 18-months later. The Court held that because he did not work at least two years after executing the restrictive there was not sufficient consideration to support the restrictive covenants.

Complicating matters, however, Federal Courts in Illinois have consistently rejected Fifield’s bright line test and adhered to a more comprehensive fact specific analysis. The Federal Court’s decisions believe that the Illinois Supreme Court would not adopt Fifield’s rigid and bright line test and continue to a support a “totality of the circumstances” review. As a result, it has led to decisions that are at odds with the State courts:

For example:

• October 20, 2017 – Employees left after 13-months of employment, took confidential information, and started working for a competitor. Employees argued that Fifield governed and therefore the restrictive covenants were not enforceable. The Court disagreed and rejected Fifield’s bright line test.

• July 24, 2017 – Employee left after working for employer for nearly ten years. He signed a restrictive covenant 16 months prior to leaving. The Court rejected Fifield’s bright line rule. The Court noted that “[f]ive federal courts in the Northern District of Illinois and one federal court in the Central District of Illinois have predicted that the Illinois Supreme Court will reject the Illinois appellate court’s bright-line rule in favor of a more fact-specific approach.”

What does this mean for employers?

Because all Illinois employers should expect that they will have to enforce these agreements in a state court, the Fifield holding must continue to be respected. Employers should review their restrictive covenants to ensure the agreements are carefully drafted to improve enforceability.

Levin Ginsburg has been working with employers for approximately 40 years to help them protect their businesses. If you have any employment or other business related issues, please contact us at 312-368-0100 or email Walker Lawrence at wlawrence@lgattorneys.com

Have You Looked At Your Buy-Sell Agreement Lately? Business Succession Planning

John, Alexandria, Mary, Martin, and Yvette, formed the Jammy Sleepwear Company over thirty-five (35) years ago.  They were equal partners and formed a corporation.  On the advice of their attorneys, the entered into a shareholders’ agreement that contained buy-sell provisions.  This type of agreement is sometimes referred to as a “buy-sell agreement”.

Their buy-sell agreement contained various provisions, including under what circumstances a departing shareholder’s shares would be purchased, what the purchase price of those shares would be, and the terms of payment.  Since the business was in its infancy, they agreed it would be valued at its “book value”, meaning that the value of the assets on its financial statements, less all obligations, would be the business’s value.  There was no adjustment for good will or other intangible assets.  Also, the increase in value of any assets would not be taken into consideration.  The purchase price to a departing shareholder was to be paid in twelve (12) months, in equal monthly payments.  The business was required to purchase a departing shareholders shares.

Since they formed the business in 1980, they acquired other businesses and purchased real estate through a separate LLC.  They did not think to have a buy-sell for the LLC.

John has announced he would like to retire, but he has objected to the purchase price as being “unfairly” low.  He has advised the other owners that he will keep his interest in the real estate, since it will provide him with a “good stipend” during his retirement.  Shortly thereafter, Mary announced her retirement.

The remaining owners are concerned that the business will not be able to support payments to John and to Mary.  Also, the remaining owners would prefer that John and Mary also sell their interests in the LLC.

Unfortunately, the shareholders (and LLC members) did not regularly review their buy-sell agreement.  As the value of the business grew, the amount of the payments increased and would put a strain on the cash flow of the business.  If more than one owner were to retire, it would cause a bigger strain.  Either the business would have to borrow money, the owners would have to make capital infusions, new investors would be needed, or the business would need to be sold.

Some buy-sell agreements address these types of situations, by limiting the amounts that must be paid out to departing owners on an annual basis.  For example, the payments cannot exceed a specific dollar amount or a percentage of gross profits.  Also, when the owners buy real estate to be used by the business, they might consider including the real estate as a part of the buy-sell process.

Buy-sell agreements should be reviewed periodically to ensure they continue to meet the needs of the business and its owners.  Levin Ginsburg has been advising business owners regarding legal aspects of their businesses, including buy-sell agreements for almost forty  years.

Please contact us with any questions you have regarding your business (including any buy-sell issues) at 312-368-0100 or Morris Saunders at msaunders@lgattorneys.com.

The Plaintiff’s End Game – Collecting the Judgment

It was a hard fought battle. You successfully sued a party in a commercial dispute who wronged you and a judge or jury awarded you seven-figure sum. Because the Defendant didn’t immediately take out its checkbook, however, you now face the task of collecting the judgment. Oftentimes, litigation doesn’t end when the judge bangs the gavel and you walk out of the courtroom with a judgment – a piece of paper saying that you’re entitled to money. You can’t bring the judgment to a car dealership and buy a car with it and the judgment itself won’t pay your mortgage. So what do you do to turn the judgment into actual dollars?

The Illinois Legislature and Illinois Supreme Court have carefully crafted laws and rules that allow you, as the successful plaintiff, to discover the judgment debtor’s assets in an attempt to collect your judgment. The process usually begins by serving the defendant with Citation to Discover Assets. The Citation to Discover Assets is first served on the defendant, usually either a person or a business, and, much like a summons or a subpoena, commands the defendant to appear at a specified time and place, usually a courtroom, to answer, under oath, questions about its assets. Typically, a Document Rider is attached to the Citation to Discover Assets requiring the judgment debtor to produce documents, such as bank records, titles to property, and the like, that will enable your attorney to locate assets. Importantly, service of the Citation to Discover Assets also acts as a form of lien or injunction on the defendant’s assets, generally preventing the defendant from disposing of assets while the post-judgment proceedings are pending.

As the victor, you are not only permitted to serve a Citation to Discover Assets on the defendant, you are also entitled to serve one on anyone who holds the defendants assets or who owes the defendant money, such as a customer, employer, bank, relative, investment company or anyone holding assets belonging to the defendant. These Third Party Citations require the third-party to provide sworn written answers to your questions within a certain period of time and, if it fails to do so, the judgment can also be entered against that third-party.

After you’ve been able to discover the existence of assets, you then ask the court to enter an order requiring the party holding the assets to turn them over to you. It takes a court order to get a bank to turnover a defendant’s cash. If you’re asking the court to order the turnover of tangible things, as opposed to cash, typically the order will require the assets to be turned over to the sheriff so the sheriff can sell them and turn them into cash.

There are many effective ways to satisfy a judgment, many are complex and require the assistance of an attorney familiar with the procedures. While most litigators know how to obtain a judgment, far fewer know how to effectively collect the judgment, leaving you holding little more than a very expensive piece of paper.

 

For more information on post-judgment proceedings, please contact:

Howard Teplinsky at hteplinsky@lgattorneys.com or 312-368-0100

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