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Houston Business & Commercial Law Blog

When breach of contract leads to financial loss

After signing a contract for services with any type of company, a person in Houston should be able to count on that business to fulfill the terms of the contract. Failure to do so results in a breach of contract, and the person who is wronged may be able to file litigation and win if he or she can prove that the contract and the damages are valid, and that there was a failure to perform the services as promised.

A couple in Houston have filed a lawsuit to cover the costs of damages to their home sustained by inclement weather, as well as expenses related to the case. They claim that those responsible for inspecting, adjusting and paying insurance claims did not fulfill their duty as defined by the contract, which led to further destruction of the residence.

Personal property, past-due rent and liens

A commercial real estate owner in Houston who leases the property to a local company may find that being a landlord is a profitable business in itself. However, the stream of income depends on the integrity of the renter. Therefore, when he or she fails to meet the obligations of the lease, the situation has the potential to create a financial hardship for the property owner, particularly when there is still a balance owed on a mortgage for the property. Landlords in Texas do have legal recourse, but if the situation is not handled correctly, it may create circumstances that allow the tenant to file a lawsuit and win.

The Houston Chronicle notes that a commercial landlord must provide formal notification to the tenant before beginning the eviction process in the court system. In some states, the landlord may remove personal property left in the building after the property is abandoned, but this must be returned to its owner whenever he or she comes to claim it. In Texas, though, the lessee’s personal property may be confiscated and kept until the debt is paid because the state allows liens to be included in the lease agreement.

Logo infringement and unfair competition

The benefits of the capitalist system in the United States extend to both small and large companies in Texas and elsewhere in the country. And, there are federal regulations in place that level the playing field and prevent unscrupulous business owners from stealing customers through trademark infringement. Cornell University Law School’s Legal Information Institute explains the law addressing this element of unfair competition.

The Federal Trade Commission regulates the arena of trademark infringement, which often affects customers as well as the company that suffers the loss. By copying another’s registered mark, a business owner may benefit from the popularity of that brand and steal trade from the owner while offering consumers a product that may be lesser quality. Trademark infringement falls under tort law, so companies that commit this crime may be sued in civil court.

Controlling your company’s social media reputation

Business owners in Houston are often aware of the potential impact that their online presence can have. Reaching customers through social media may be an effective way to promote sales and specials and reach a wider audience. However, the connections that are created have the ability to harm a business’s bottom line, too, even when posted information does not come from the company’s official website or social media account.

A recent post on Yelp.com pointed out that the personal or political views of a business owner may affect people’s willingness to visit a store or restaurant because many see their purchases as votes of support or approval. This message was accompanied by others on the popular restaurant review site declaring that regardless of the quality of the product offered by a Florida ice cream shop, they would not be visiting the local eatery again.

What are some examples of illegal sexual harassment?

If you run a business or are responsible for managing employees, you likely have a number of concerns and stressful matters to deal with. However, it is vital to understand what constitutes unlawful sexual harassment and identity the appropriate course of action if you notice this illegal activity or an employee claims that they experienced sexual harassment. In Houston, and across the entire state of Texas, allegations of sexual harassment can be very damaging for businesses both large and small.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, illegal sexual harassment takes many forms. For example, some types of sexually-charged physical or verbal conduct which lead to a working environment that is hostile, impact a worker's employment or impede an employee's ability to perform the functions of their job are illegal. Other examples of illegal harassment which are sexual in nature include unwanted sexual advances and the requesting of sexual favors. Furthermore, sexual harassment does not need to result in the termination of a victim's job or cause them to suffer economic harm in order for it to be against the law.

Enforcing employee dress codes

In many companies in Houston, employers may believe that it is important to “look professional” while conducting business. However, that phrase has different meanings to different people, so it has the potential to be a factor in employee dissatisfaction and even litigation if an issue arises. According to the Houston Chronicle, employers are able to set limits on the way that workers dress, but there are exceptions that federal employment law has acknowledged, and which must be honored.

Employees are protected from discrimination based on race, religion, ethnicity and disability, and before developing a policy that defines the dress code, employers should explore the ways that any given rule may affect people in these classes. Cultural apparel and religious head coverings or facial hair are examples that may become problematic if an employer does not have a legitimate reason to prohibit them. For example, loose clothing may be a safety issue around certain equipment, so an employer may be able to enforce these aspects of a dress code without making accommodations, as long as they are applied equally to all employees.

Are you responsible for your customers’ cyber security?

Maintaining customer records is often done online in today’s business world, and as a company owner in Houston, you may wonder what your responsibilities are regarding your possession of sensitive data. Protecting your clients from a data breach is good business, and the negative publicity from a compromised system may be a costly financial incident. However, the success of business litigation against your company may depend on what precautions you have taken.

According to Small Business Trends, your company’s liability may be determined by how easy it is for an unauthorized person to access the information in question. Even the best systems are vulnerable to hackers, but there are weaknesses you can avoid, such as software bugs caused by faulty code. Third-party integrations and poorly managed environments may also create threats, as well as access control issues.

Are your employment contracts enforceable?

Since employment contracts in Houston are legal documents, you want to make sure that the one you are drafting does not actually break the law. According to the Houston Chronicle, contract law defines whether the terms of the contract are enforceable. It includes both federal and state laws and how they apply to the agreements in your contract.

Just because there is some part of your contract that does not meet the law’s requirements, it does not necessarily affect the other provisions included. To make a ruling on a disputed contract, the court typically reviews the provision in question to make the determination of the legality of it. The interpretation is known as a legal precedent. Because the issue raised before the court is a question of law, the outcome of the case could change the way the law is interpreted in the future and affect the resulting decisions regarding other disputes. Consequently, there may be current court cases that will change whether provisions in your contract are legal.

Employee rights and internet use in the workplace

For most companies in Houston, some level of computer interaction is inevitable, and for many of these, large amounts of the business are conducted online. Employees often have personal online accounts such as email and social media, and they may be tempted to access these while on the clock and using the company’s business computers. According to the Houston Chronicle, whether or not they may be held accountable for these may be a legal issue that has the potential to end in employment litigation.

As a representative of the company, an employee may put the business at risk if he or she conducts illegal activities from a work computer or email account. Too, internet access presents an outlet with which a worker may share trade secrets and other confidential information. Even basically harmless interactions such as online games may be compromising company productivity. These factors demonstrate an employer’s need to create limits and define appropriate online use in the workplace.

Preventing employee fraud

Improving the company’s bottom line is naturally one of the primary goals of any business owner in Houston. While this includes building profits, companies also need to protect them from theft. According to the Small Business Administration, employees may be contributing to losses, and there are ways employers may be able to prevent this prevalent source of fraud.

An employee may not be intentionally siphoning off company resources, but failing to be aware of the security risks may be just as devastating. Workers should be taught how to identify these and protect confidential materials regarding clients, personnel and company finances. Setting up policies and procedures to this effect and developing ongoing training for new and established employees are two essential measures to preventing losses due to fraud.

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