The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (“OSHA”) recently approved changes to how whistleblowers may file complaints against firms who violate any of twenty-two statutes related to safety and pollution. Previously, whistleblowers could only file complaints by writing to OSHA, calling a hotline, or calling an OSHA regional office. Now, whistleblowers can file complaints online, by using a simple form, which includes descriptions of allegedly retaliatory acts by the business. This seemingly minor change to modernize OSHA’s processes may have dramatic effects on businesses that must comply with OSHA regulations. By simplifying the filing process, many predict that the volume of whistleblower claims will grow dramatically.
How may this affect your business? Now that your employees can file claims online, they may be more likely to notify OSHA of potential violations than they were before. Therefore, you should consider revising your own internal processes regarding OSHA complaints to include these changes and the possibility of additional complaints filed against your business. Your supervisors should know how to respond if employees raise a complaint, and how they should respond to employees who actually file complaints. Even if the employee does not contact OSHA, you should proactively investigate any safety complaints. By actively investigating complaints, you decrease the likelihood of the employee seeking outside counsel because you do not seem interested in rectifying a safety concern. Make sure that your employees are current on all OSHA training requirements and safety regulations, and that the standards required by OSHA are followed. Taking these steps will help you identify and address potential OSHA violations, rectify safety concerns, and respond to employee complaints promptly.
The Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) recently brought enforcement actions against dealerships regarding their online advertising practices. The most discussed enforcement action targeted dealers who made claims related to negative equity online. Afterwards there was some confusion as to the extent of the FTC’s application of consumer protection laws to online advertisements. Last week the FTC issued guidance that clarified its position on what kinds of online advertisements would be considered deceptive and unfair. While you can obtain a copy of the publication by clicking here, I have provided a brief overview of key parts of the guidelines below:
- The same consumer protection laws that apply to commercial activities in other media apply online, including activities in the mobile marketplace. The FTC Act’s prohibition on “unfair or deceptive acts or practices” encompasses online advertising, marketing, and sales.
- Your advertisements should contain disclosures located close to “trigger terms” like sale price, payments, etc. It is not enough to include a hyperlink to a separate webpage with the disclosure. You also should evaluate the effectiveness of these disclosures by staying abreast of where consumers look and do not look on your webpage.
- If limitations of a particular online media make disclosure unfeasible, you should consider not using that media to advertise offers containing “trigger terms.” For example, the social media website Twitter limits communications to 140 characters. Any advertisements on Twitter that contain “trigger terms” must include disclosures that fit within the character limit.
- Your disclosures must be legible regardless of the device consumers use to view the advertisement. You will need to make sure that consumers can view your advertisements and disclosures on a variety of devices, such as desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets, and smartphones.
Image Courtesy of The Rude Baguette
Today I perused the table of contents for Automotive News, as I try to do every Monday, to see if any articles caught my attention. For those who may not be that involved with the automotive industry, Automotive News is the trade publication of record, more or less. While typically focusing on news related to manufacturing, Automotive News has lately broached topics more pertinent to what’s on the mind of many owners of dealerships these days; online advertising and sales. Today was no exception, and the article, titled The Wild West of Online discussed how new efforts to advertise online were running afoul of state and local laws in many jurisdictions. The dealer quoted in the article, Mike Duman of the Duman Auto Group, hails from my home state of Virginia. The Commonwealth (as many Virginians like to refer to the state) has particularly stringent laws regarding automobile sales and advertising. For example, sales associates in Virginia are licensed by the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Virginia also does not allow ‘bird dog fees’ which, in industry parlance, are fees paid by a dealer to an unaffiliated or unlicensed third-party as commission for a referral. In contrast, my adopted state of New York forgoes such requirements, neither requiring sales associates to obtain licenses nor forbid bird dog fees. As one may expect, variances between state to state regarding what is and is not permissible gives dealers and vendors problems.
To me, this issue really isn’t that complicated. Unless otherwise stated by applicable law or administrative rules, you should evaluate the legality of online advertisements in the same manner and using the same tools you would for advertisements placed in “traditional” media such as television, radio and direct mailing. If you’re talking about a particular deal in a Facebook post, you should be prepared to offer disclosures required in your state. If it looks like an ad, and it sounds like an ad, your state’s regulatory agencies are probably going to treat it like an ad. Don’t rely on the vendor to tell you what is and isn’t kosher. Merely doing something online does not shield you from requirements to comply with the law. To the contrary, as more state and federal agencies catch on that the real action is happening online, they will examine your online activities with close scrutiny. Don’t be caught unaware of what kinds of advertisements vendors are placing on your behalf and whether or not these advertisements comply with the law.
Worth noting, but largely absent from the Automotive News article cited above, is what happens with disputes arising from cross-border sales and what actions trigger your dealership finding itself within the jurisdiction of another state’s courts. The circumstances triggering conflict of law and jurisdictional questions are not as far-fetched as you may think. Suppose you have a dealership in Virginia and advertise a vehicle on eBay, a national listing website. A customer in Illinois sees the vehicle and contacts your dealership. You exchange emails and telephone calls, and the customer eventually agrees to purchase the vehicle. What happens when the customer takes the vehicle back to his home in Illinois and a problem arises? Do you answer to Illinois courts now regarding jurisdiction, or would the plaintiff have to bring suit in Virginia? The answer is, as most are, complicated and depends largely on the facts of the transaction. Needless to say the law is in a state of flux as more and more people shop in different states than their home states. But, that’s a discussion for another post.
Source: Automotive News
Image Source: SheKnows
The Six Online Steps On The Road To The Sale – Drivingsales.com
This article, written by Keith Shetterly and posted to Drivingsales is probably one of the best written that analogizes in-store sales processes with online sales processes. It made me think about online processes in a new way.