The High-touch Legal Services® Blog…for Startups!

© 2009-2017 Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law

Personal Cell Phone Use for Work Must be Reimbursed

Photo of the building housing the court that decided a case about reimbursing personal cell phone use by employees

California Court of Appeal for the Second District (Los Angeles)

This post discusses a 2014 case (Cochran v. Schwan’s Home Service, Inc.) which held that California employers must reimburse employees who use a personal cell phone for work.

Plaintiff Colin Cochran, as class representative, brought a class action lawsuit against Schwan’s Home Service (“Home Service”) on behalf of 1,500 service managers employed by Home Service. The suit sought, among other things, reimbursement of the managers’ work-related personal cell phone expenses. (more…)

Ridiculous Yelp Lawsuit Alleges Reviewers are Employees

Yelp logo - post about ridiculous Yelp lawsuit alleging reviewers and employeesDo you wonder why lawyers often have a bad reputation? If so, consider the ridiculous Yelp lawsuit alleging that Yelp’s reviewers are employees of the company.

Yelp is an online review site and local business search service. Consumers are encouraged to write reviews of, and rate their satisfaction with, various products and services.

Historically, controversies have concerned whether Yelp punishes businesses for not advertising on the site (which Yelp denies). More recently, business owners have complained about Yelp’s automated tools for removing false or inappropriate (e.g., paid) reviews based on unpublished criteria.

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What Happens if the Board Doesn’t Approve My Stock Options?

OnStartups logo

This post is adapted from a question I answered on OnStartups. Q. I’ve been working for a large private company, and my offer letter said I would receive X number of options as long as the board approved it. It’s been a year and I’ve been stonewalled on the option plan. I’ve sent multiple emails to HR and the controller and the CFO. HR has gotten back to me, but their hands are tied. Can I send a letter and a check to the CFO with $100 to force the issue of exercising some amount of shares and determining the strike price that way?

A. Unfortunately, “subject to board approval” is a common contingency for stock option grants. At this point, I’m not sure there is much you can do about it.

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Unpaid Interns: What You Need to Know

Photo of "Employees Only", symbolizing this post about unpaid interns

Many companies – especially startups – like the idea of using unpaid interns as free labor. This post discusses whether and how a California company can use unpaid interns.

Paid or Unpaid Interns vs. Employees

If individuals are interns under California law (as discussed below), then they need not be paid. Furthermore, they are not subject to other employment protections, because they are not employees.

If, on the other hand, individuals are determined to be employees, then they must be paid at least minimum wage.

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Accelerated Vesting may Mean Little if Your Employer is Acquired

Quora logo

This post is adapted from a question that I answered on Quora. Q. How can an acquirer make an employee with single-trigger vesting commit to a “lock-up” period to receive all his shares? Say you’re an engineer at a just-acquired startup with 0.5% of the old company, and your shares fully vested upon acquisition. The acquirer’s terms were that current employees get 50% of their payout up front, and 50% if they stay on board for 5 years. How is that possible, legally?

A. It is difficult to provide a definitive answer without looking at the relevant documents. However, I suspect that this situation is possible because 50/50 pertains to shares in the acquiring company rather than the acquired company.

In my experience, acquired companies will put some effort into converting employee equity interests directly into comparable interests in the acquiring company, but there is no guarantee this will happen.

So you may (I can’t be sure, not having reviewed the documents) have a choice: Keep your 0.5% fully-vested interest in the acquired company (which is likely to have little, if any, market value in the foreseeable future), or accept the 50/50 conversion to an equity interest in the acquiring company.

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law? +1 510 547-0545? dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.

Which Financial Information Must a Private Company Provide to Employees with Vested Stock Options?

Quora logo

This post is based on a Quora question that I answered (Q and A are somewhat edited). Q. Which financial information must a private company provide to employees with vested stock options?

A. In California, Corporations Code Sections 1500 and 1501 specifies records that must be kept by each corporation. Shareholders’ rights to inspect records are set forth in Sections 1600 and 1601.

I know of no comparable statutory provisions with respect to holders of vested options, however. Unless the stock option plan grants you such rights, the easiest way for you to gain such rights would be to exercise your option with respect to one share and, then, exercise your rights as a shareholder.

Related post: Which Financial Information Must a Corporation Provide to its Shareholders?

Dana H. Shultz, Attorney at Law? +1 510 547-0545? dana [at] danashultz [dot] com
This blog does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact a lawyer directly.

What Should We Put in an Employment Offer Letter?

"Sign Here" sticker

From time to time, clients ask me to review their employment offer letters.? Here is a summary of what I believe every offer letter should convey to the prospective employee from the business and legal perspectives.

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Small-company CEOs Can Be Accused of Sexual Harassment, Too

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Rita Risser

I am especially pleased to welcome Rita Risser as a guest writer – not just because her post about sexual harassment is this blog’s first guest post, but because I have had the pleasure of knowing, and staying in touch with, Rita ever since we met at Boalt Hall.

As CEO of a small company, you may imagine that the recent resignation of HP’s CEO has no relevance to you and your organization. Think again.

Whenever employees or contractors are let go, they are more likely to bring claims for harassment, whistle-blowing and more. The worse the economy, the less likely they are to find other jobs and the more incentive they have to pursue alternative sources of income through lawsuits.

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Another Reason Why Employees Should Not Disclose Their Passwords

Computer screen showing user name and password for login

Their are obvious security-related reasons why businesses do not want employees to give their computer passwords the third parties. With the recent decision in Multiven v. Cisco Systems, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California has given us a legal reason, as well.

Peter Alfred-Adekeye (“Adekeye”), a former Cisco engineer, left Cisco to form plaintiff Multiven. After his departure, Adekeye used a Cisco employee’s password, with the employee’s permission, to download certain proprietary Cisco software.

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Court Says Tech Startups Special re Works Made for Hire

In a recently-decided case (JustMed v. Byce), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit decided that a software developer was an employee, rather than an independent contractor, even though the parties had completed almost no employment-related paperwork.

Byce took over development of JustMed’s software from an employee who had moved out of state. Byce’s compensation – the same as his predecessor’s – was 15,000 shares of JustMed stock (valued at $0.50 per share) per month.

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