Legal Marketing: Finding Internal Champions and Other Blogging Strategies that Work

Blogging StrategiesDoes your law firm have one or more blogs? Chances are, one in four of you will nod yes. According to the most recent ABA Legal Technology Survey, about 26 percent of law firms currently have blogs, continuing a rising trend over the past few years. And of those lawyers who blog, an average of 40 percent have been able to attribute new clients as a result of that activity.

The ABA Journal wrote in April this year about an October 2015 LexisNexis survey concerning law firms and marketing. The survey indicated that “a majority of firms said they are planning to increase their investment in blogging and content marketing this year. According to LexisNexis, of the roughly 400 law firms that responded to the survey, 57 percent said they anticipated doing more blogging as a means of generating business.”

With all signs pointing to the fact that blogging is an effective element of a comprehensive business development strategy, what is holding your firm back?

Jacqueline Madarang, senior marketing technology manager at Bradley, provided many tips and recommendations for making the most of a law firm blog at the Legal Marketing Association Southeastern Chapter annual conference in September. She should know, since the firm has launched five blogs under her deliberate and effective guidance in the past two years.

“There are certain action items that must be done before we will even consider launching a new blog,” said Madarang. “We have a long checklist. It includes a lot of behind-the-scene commitments, such as that attorneys who request a blog have to seek their practice group leader’s approval and also meet with us. They must commit to writing at least two blog posts a month and they have to find at least two editors for the blog. They also are required to submit at least five blog posts before we will launch the blog, and we create a timeline on a calendar of blog development and content development that we follow.”

Find Your Internal Champion

“We have found that the attorney who requests to develop a blog becomes our internal champion in making the blog successful. After the practice group leader supports the effort, we have another champion. We work hard to earn their trust, we seek press and other coverage and awareness of the blog when it goes live, we show them results of their posts, we look to get their content repurposed through media interviews or published as bylined articles, and we always provide them with the support they need to keep it going,” said Madarang.

“We felt even greater success after large Fortune 100 companies (not clients, yet!) emailed our bloggers and complimented them when they were mentioned in our blogs; when Forbes reporters reached out directly to our attorneys because of a blog post; when reporters who followed cases our attorneys blog about asked about status of cases; and when we opened new matters from blog posts.”

“Our internal champions have become helpful advocates who have furthered our own PR within the firm about blogging and the successes we are having,” Madarang said.

Why Do a Blog?

Madarang poses this question to the attorneys to develop a strategy with defined goals and objectives. Some motivations include:

  • Build online visibility to help drive business development

  • Raise their profiles as thought leaders in the industry

  • Become a go-to resource in the area/industry

  • Boost their Google search engine ranking results

She said the firm’s marketing department has to complement and work cooperatively with the attorneys.

“They have to work together,” Madarang said. “The attorneys are the ones writing about the legal topic, but marketing provides the platform and provides all the marketing, social media and technical support.”

What Should I Write About?

“This is a frequent barrier for producing quality blog content,” noted Madarang. She offers these helpful tips for generating topics:

  • Write about topics you are passionate about. If you’re bored by it, your readers will be, too.

  • Talk to clients. What are they asking you about – what do they want to know?

  • Look at analytics. What are people searching for in the firm’s website, search engines and blogs?

  • Identify trending topics. Keep on top of current events and listen at conferences you attend.

  • Repurpose content. Repackage topics you are delivering in other formats, such as presentations.

Bradley Blogging Bootcamp 

One of the most important pre-launch activities that Madarang has instituted at Bradley is required attendance to the Bradley Blogging Writing Bootcamp.

“During this bootcamp, we coach the attorneys on how to write an effective blog. We teach them to write to a specific audience and be more conversational, to find their own style,” said Madarang. “We coach them on how to craft titles, how to hook in a reader with an opening paragraph, how to make their blog posts more digestible and readable without any legalese, how to include the appropriate keywords and how to focus on the key issues. This has been an extremely successful approach that the attorneys have learned from and appreciate. They are committed and want the blog to be a hit, and we provide them with the tools and consistent strategies they need to help them.”

Post-Launch Activity

Once the blog launches, Madarang pays close attention to the results and fine-tunes with the attorneys as needed.

“We have several ways we extend the life of a blog post, whenever possible,” she said.

 Her tactics include:

  • Measure success and show ROI. Look at the analytics and share with the bloggers to help them understand their performance. Create infographics to help them visualize how their results have translated into ROI.

  • Repurpose and reuse. Use blog posts for PR opportunities; publish on LinkedIn, JD Supra, National Law Review, Lexology and/or Mondaq; and share on social media.

  • Celebrate! Create fun awards for the attorneys with the most-read or most-shared posts or for those who wrote most often and opened new client matters as a result. Recognition is a motivator.

Developing and maintaining a law firm blog requires a deep commitment from the attorneys who are going to have to write regularly, as well as from the firm to support that effort from A to Z. Bradley’s blogs have become a well-read fixture under Madarang’s organized strategies, and these tips should provide aspiring law firm bloggers with a foundation for their own success.

ARTICLE BY Vivian Hood of Jaffe

© Copyright 2008-2016, Jaffe Associates

Business Development for Attorneys w/ Barry Gardiner [PODCAST]

New Jersey tax lawyer Barry Gardiner has built his business from the ground up and provides other lawyers with tips and tools to build relationships and engage in effective business development for attorneys in this podcast with legal marketing guru John McDougall.

John McDougall: Hi, I’m John McDougall and welcome to the Legal Marketing Review Show on National Law Review. Today my guest is Barry Gardiner, founding partner of the Barry Gardiner Law Firm in New Jersey and New York. Welcome, Barry.

Barry Gardiner: Hi, how are you?

Getting Started as an Attorney

John: Yes, very good. How did you get started as an attorney?

Barry: How did I get started as an attorney? That’s a long story John. My senior year in college, my college roommate said to me, on a Monday or Tuesday, “What are you going to do after you graduate?” I said, “I have no idea.” He said, “Well, I’m taking the” — they called them the law boards in those days — “on Saturday morning. Why don’t you go?” So I went, and I took the boards, and I did well and eventually decided to go to law school and went to Rutgers Law School. After I graduated, I took a job with, believe it or not, a negligence firm in New Jersey where I tried a lot of negligence cases for about a year-and-a-half, which I really didn’t like because it was only a question of who went through the stop sign or who didn’t go through the red light and who did and everybody lied, and that was no fun.

I decided since I was a business major in college with the Bucknell University in Pennsylvania to go into tax law, which I decided I had an aptitude for and then something which I enjoyed. I decided to take a New York bar because that’s where all of the good tax work seemed to be with sophisticated companies, Fortune 500 companies, et cetera. What I did was I took a job with an accounting firm in their tax department for a year and enrolled in NYU Law School for a Masters in Taxation, which is one of the better law schools from that program in the country. I did that at night for three years, and then I took a job with a law firm in Manhattan and became a partner there after two or three years. We had about a 20 man tax firm; it was a tax boutique and we represented a lot of wealthy, high-net-worth individuals. A senior partner in our firm had a client who was a chairman of the board of that 10 or 12 interlocking public companies.

I began to do that kind of work and did a lot of public company work for these companies and their subsidiaries, which included everything — international transactions, mergers and acquisitions from a tax standpoint, planning everything, and I was a partner there for about 13 years. Then in the mid ‘90s, we had some downturns because of the economy and a couple of partners left and the firm started to fall apart a little bit. I decided to take my clients, and I had some at that point, not a lot but some, and start an individual practice of my own in Northern New Jersey which is where I lived.

John: About what year was that roughly?

Barry: ’92, around ’92 I’d say.

Branching Out into a Solo Practice

John: How did you learn to get your clients through that though? That sounds it’s a very daunting task, and you’re going out on your own.

Barry: It was a daunting task, and I had a daughter at that time who was starting college, and it was a little bit scary. But because of the nature of the tax work that I did, I had a number of relationships that I had established with CPA firms, life insurance agents who were selling insurance in connection with estate planning, which is something I was also doing and I basically took those connections that I had and built on those. I had several very strong relationships where I began to get most of their work. That’s basically the way I started my firm. It’s very unusual if you look around — whether it’s in New Jersey, in New York or wherever — for somebody who does the kind of work that I do, which is pretty highly sophisticated tax planning [work for corporations] as well as individuals who are out on their own. Most of the work, at the level that I do, is pretty much done by larger firms; anywhere from 50 to 100, or 300 lawyers where they have tax departments. But what happened was I began to work with these networking connections that I had and was able to build on those. Then what happens after several years, maybe three or four years, a lot of that work becomes sub-generating — in other words, through referrals and other clients who are coming in through your existing clients. At the same time, what I was doing was building additional relationships with other CPA firms, financial planners, and life insurance agencies. I had a number and still have a number of very good connections with MassMutual agencies, Security Mutual agencies, et cetera. That’s basically the way it got built.

Important Aspects of Legal Business Development

John: What would you say is the most important aspect of business development?

Barry: I think for somebody who’s in a smaller firm, I found that a lot of larger firms don’t do personal service and attention to their clients, which clients seem to resent substantially. I’ve always sort of made it a number one point to [offer personal service]. For example, if I get a telephone call from a client, and I can’t take it, I’ll always return that call at the end of the day. Or if the call comes in at the end of the day, by noon the next day, unless am tied up in meetings or something, and if I am, I’ll then have my secretary get back to the client and let them know, or let them tell us what’s a good time to get back to them, which clients appreciate.

It’s like if you go to a doctor, and you leave a message for the doctor, you don’t want to wait 24 hours or have to call the doctor back, you want him to call you back, because that basically shows that he cares. I want my clients to know that I care about them, rather than their just being a number, which many of them feel left out with these larger firms. Because all these larger firms have big clients, and in many cases, [they’re] smaller guy. When I say, ‘small,’ I’m not talking about a guy who is worth a small amount of money, but somebody in the relative scale who’s not worth what these big Fortune 500 companies are worth, or even wealthy clients who are worth $25 million and up. Everybody wants to feel important, and I’ve always tried to do that, whether the client is worth $100,000 or $50 million, it doesn’t matter. I don’t know if that answers your question.

How to Begin Building Client Relationships

John: Well, yes. It answers part of it. That’s a great way to build relationships and build on relationships with clients. What about first getting the client? How do you get relationships to begin with? Or how do you build relationships through networking or other ways that then turn into clients that you can then service with more attention to detail than a larger firm? How do you plan to see to get those new relationships?

Barry: Well, again, through other professionals, CPAs, financial planners, [and] other attorneys who don’t do this kind of work. I may call one, for example, in a matrimonial matter, or a commercial real estate matter, or litigation [matter] to basically get out there and meet people. I’m not one to join organizations like the Chamber of Commerce, or other organizations.

You are all here for the same reason, you are all here to get business, and that never really appealed to me. But I think the best client is a client who appreciates your work [and] who is going to give your name and number to a friend or a family member when they have a need, and they’re looking for somebody doing basically what you’re doing. Most of the clients I have are clients that I’ve kept for 15, 20, 25 years. I’ve lost very few clients. I actually, at this point have about 400 original wills, which I have at a safe deposit box at a Local Banking Institution, where I’m holding those wills for clients who may have copies which I’ve given them for their own reference.

John: Yes, that’s a great testament to many years of building those relationships. It sounds like in your line of work, you have to start, if you want to build a firm through business development, as opposed to internet leads and other types of sales marketing tactics. In your case, it’s a lot of building network partners or referral partners, as you mentioned. Then, when you get clients, turning those clients into very happy customers where you’re servicing them with a great level of attention and hand holding. That level of service turns them into referral partners of their own but those are the retail, those are the actual clients as opposed to an insurance company or a financial planner.

Barry: Correct. I think if you look at a lot of lawyers, I’m taking the liberty to say this, are unhappy in what they’re doing. They find it very stressful, very time-consuming, and this is the reason that a lot of lawyers have matrimonial problems, drinking problems, et cetera. Because, when they go to work every day, they are arguing an adversarial all day long. They’re arguing with other lawyers.

John: For a living. Right.

Barry: It takes its toll on you. Doing what I’m doing, I have been blessed because I don’t have that. The work that I do is basically with clients who come in with huge problems, who need to sort through those and come out at the end of the day with a plan, or a solution to what they’re doing. It’s a service to the clients, rather than an adversarial thing with other lawyers where unbearably, everybody is fighting with one another trying to get the better hand. I think it probably shows on the kind of work that you’re doing that you go to work every day, and you’re pretty enthusiastic about it. For example, the 400 wills that I have in the vault, eventually those are going to turn into an estate. Unfortunately, people die and families need help. It’s very rare unless somebody has moved away for example, to Florida; that while you’re holding an original will, they’re not going to ask you to handle the estate.

There are clients who move, and I don’t even know they may have moved out of state. I’ve had some clients that moved to places like Costa Rica, and those clients you lose basically because you’re geographically separated. But for the most part, once you have a will, you’re representing the family, and the family stays with you if they have confidence in you. You’ll wind up helping them through all of the intricacies that go into administering an estate, and getting everybody what they deserve, and paying in the littlest in estate taxes as possible. It’s one good aspect of doing the kind of work that I do I think.

Lead Regeneration for Estate Planning

John: Interesting. If you want to do lead regeneration for estate planning, one of the ways to do it is to get the wills first?

Barry: Right, but I’ll always ask a client, “Do you want me to hold the will, so you don’t have to worry about it?” A lot of clients want to hold it because they just feel like they need to control it somehow and not lose sight of it. In which case, I’ll either put in a safe deposit box, or in a fireproof safe in their home. But I would say, most clients — maybe 70-30, want you to hold it for them. Once they do it, it’s done, and they forget about it until something terrible may happen in the family. What I try and do also is every couple of years when the tax law changes [contact the families]; [for example] Federal Estate Tax exemption has gone up from $600,000 to $5.4 million per person since I think was the end of Bill Clinton’s term or the beginning of George W. Bush’s term.

John: That’s quite a change.

Barry: That’s quite a change, and it does require a lot of different planning because there are ways to take advantage of those exemptions. That’s a whole story for another day. What I’ll do is send out letters to clients periodically every couple of years telling them the importance of coming in at least for a review update to make sure that they’ve taken full advantage of the tax laws.

John: That goes right back into keeping that relationship strong as opposed to just throw that will in a safe deposit box and forget it. You’re going to dust it off and make sure that your clients are aware of the potential changes and keep in touch.

Barry: I’m going to try and dust it off. A lot of clients get the letter, and they read it and then they put it in a desk drawer somewhere they don’t follow up through. There’s nothing I can do about that. I can only make the initial reproach to them.

Business Development System

John: Well, you’ve focused on relationships and then what about a system? Do you have a business development system or process, certain times a day or a week that you set aside to do new business to keep growing your firm?

Barry: No, I don’t do that. At this point it grows itself.  What I will do is I will basically make one stage several times a month with professionals who I want to stay in touch with and just to keep the contact. I want to be friends with all of my professional contacts; I just don’t want to be unprofessional. One of the things I always do, I always tell my clients not to call me Mr. Gardiner, to call me Barry. I have very few clients that call me Mr. Gardiner. I want it to be personal, and I usually call clients by first name, and I think it makes a big difference. There’s nothing that somebody likes more than to be called by their first name.

About 30 years ago, I took that Dale Carnegie course and one of the big things they said is that, “Everybody wants to feel important, and the way they feel most important is if you remember their name.”

John: Right, yes.

Barry: This is seen if you haven’t seen in two years where you met once or twice, and you remember their name, you are telling them that, “You are important to me.” I always try and do that.

John: Yes, now that’s great.

Barry: By the way . . ..

John: Yes, go ahead.

Barry: I forgot your first name, what’s your first name?

John: [laughs] Reginald.

Barry: John McDougall.

John: John McDougall. My father owned an advertising agency, and he always taught me, “It’s all about building relationships to grow your agency,” and it’s amazing. What you’re describing is very similar to his process. He would take people out sailing. My uncle who owned the agency with him would take people out golfing, and he wanted to get to know people. But you’re an attorney that’s just getting into the internet more; you’ve had a website for a long time, but you’re just starting to get a little deeper into it. Well, what a testament to building your business with very little help from the internet. You’ve had a website to give you some leads but hasn’t been the focus. But it’s hats off to you for using essentially regular lunch dates, talking on a first name basis with all of your customers and even just doing a few of those a month, you’re able to have enough business. Well, you’re in great shape. That’s pretty amazing. Those old school new business development tactics are just tried and true. Now you’re adding the internet to that [and that] is certainly a good thing. But what about other tips for maybe especially younger attorneys trying to do new business development?

Business Development for Younger Attorneys

Barry: Well, it’s very tough. When I was with my firm in New York, starting as an associate and then becoming a partner, I didn’t really have to develop new business because we had so much work, especially from the public companies that I mentioned before, that there was really no need. There was one rainmaker in the firm, and he developed most of the business with these public companies. The other guys in the firm, really we didn’t have to do it. When I went out on my own, after the firm, and by the way, that firm eventually did dissolve, it splintered, and the guys went in different directions. But when I went out on my own, I had to start from scratch. I did have some clients that I took with me, but fortunately I did have some of these professional relationships also.

I would say that it depends where the young attorney goes. If he does go to a bigger firm, it’s always good to develop personal relationships that can lead to business, because if and when he ever leaves, you don’t want to leave yourself out in the cold completely, you want to have some business to fall back on. If you do go out on your own to start with, you should have some business, maybe family business to get you going and then just start to develop as many professional relationships as you can with people who may be helpful to you in whatever field you’re in.

John: That’s amazing. It’s relationships [that are] number one. Again, I go back to my father teaching me to grow my own agency after working for him in the ‘90s and leaving McDougall Associate Advertising in 1995 and starting my own firm. I had to just hustle and go build it up. It’s all about relationships, as what he would always say, and basically, your foundational strategy is, “Build those relationships.” I love the first name tip, and I’ve read some Dale Carnegie work, [it’s] amazing stuff and that stuck with me as well. Remember people’s first name and there’s something in it about calling a person by their name that’s just a bonding experience.

Barry: You could go to the best law schools in the country, you could go to Harvard, you could go to Yale, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to be a successful lawyer. If you’re going to work with people, people have to feel comfortable with you. They don’t want some genius who doesn’t know how to relate to them, who they can’t talk to on a one-on-one basis in a very comfortable way. It’s making people feel comfortable in your own presence, and maybe you’ve got to feel comfortable in your own skin and take what you learn in your personal life and bring it into your practice and treat clients like people, not like numbers or dollar signs.

John: Those are great tips, Barry; great new business and business development ideas and tips. How can people get in touch with you?

Barry: I have a website, My telephone number is 201-678-1323.

John: That sounds great and great speaking to you today, Barry.

Barry: You too, John, and be well.

John: Yes, likewise. Check out, as well as National Law Review at natlawreview.comfor more information and interviews on legal marketing. I’m John McDougall and thanks for listening.

© Copyright 2016 McDougall Interactive

The FCC Responds to Comcast’s Negative Option

FCC ComcastOn Tuesday, October 11, the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC” or “Commission”) announced the release of an Order and Consent Decree with cable behemoth Comcast Corporation (“Comcast”) in which the company agreed to pay US$2.3M to settle an FCC investigation into whether Comcast employed negative option billing to wrongfully charge for services and equipment customers never authorized.  The settlement also requires Comcast—by some accounts the largest cable company in the country with 22.3M subscribers—to adopt a sweeping, highly detailed five-year compliance plan designed to force the company to obtain customers’ affirmative informed consent prior to adding charges to their bills.  According to the FCC’s press release, the settlement amount is the largest civil penalty the agency has ever assessed against a cable operator.

What is Negative Option Billing and How Does the FCC Regulate It?

“Negative option billing” is a practice similar to “cramming” in the telecommunications context, wherein a company places unauthorized charges on a consumer’s bill, requiring subscribers to pay for services or equipment they did not affirmatively request.  In addition to the obvious nuisance of unknowingly paying for unauthorized services and equipment, the FCC’s action is also aimed at protecting consumers from “spend[ing] significant time and effort in seeking redress for any unwanted service or equipment, which is often manifested in long telephone wait times, unreturned phone calls from customer service, unmet promises of refunds, and hours of effort wasted while pursuing corrections.”  For these and other consumer protection reasons, negative option billing is illegal; it violates both Section 623(f) of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended (the Act), and Section 76.981(a) of the Commission’s rules.  Specifically, 47 U.S.C. § 543(f) explicitly prohibits negative billing options, noting also that a failure to refuse an offer is not the equivalent of accepting the offer.

As the FCC clarified in a 2011 Declaratory Ruling, while a customer does not have to know and recite specific names of equipment or service in the course of ordering those products, the cable operator must have “adequately explained and identified” the products in order for a subscriber to “knowingly accept[] the offered services and equipment by affirmative statements or actions.”

Section 76.981(b) explains that the negative billing option does not prevent a cable operator from making certain changes without consumer consent, such as modifying the mix of channels offered in a certain tier, or increasing the rate of a particular tier (unless more substantive changes are made, such as adding a tier, which then increases the price of service).

The FCC appears to have found only one violation of the negative option billing prohibition previously, and in that context, the Commission used its discretion to refrain from imposing a penalty.  More than 20 years ago, in 1995, the Commission acted on a complaint and investigated Monmouth Cablevision for allegations that the company—which had previously rented remote controls to their subscribers—violated FCC rules when it removed the leasing fee on subscriber bills and instead included a $5 sale price for the remotes. In that case, the Commission explained that, while “in a literal sense, this is the same equipment that the customer previously rented, we cannot find that these customers affirmatively requested to purchase these remotes rather than renting them.”  The Commission went on to explain that “changing the way in which existing service and equipment is offered, e.g., from leasing to selling,” did, in fact, violate the Commission’s negative option billing prohibition.  However, due to the “de minimis difference between the $ 5.00 purchase price and the total rental price” and because of the “large number of regulatory requirements that became effective on September 1, 1993, and the associated compliance difficulties,” the then Cable Services Bureau chose not to impose a penalty.  Because state governments have concurrent jurisdiction over negative billing practices, cable companies have faced court action for these and similar allegations for decades.

The FCC Investigation

Based on “numerous” consumer complaints, the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau opened an investigation in December of 2014 into whether Comcast engaged in negative option billing.  In the course of its investigation, the FCC determined that customers were billed for “unordered services or products, such as premium channels, set-top boxes, or digital video recorders (DVRs).”  Beyond not authorizing these products, in some cases the FCC claims that subscribers specifically declined additional services or upgrades, only to be billed anyway.  In fact, the Order—which is part of the settlement but generally not subject to the non-government party’s review prior to release—details numerous complainants that claim to have been given the runaround by Comcast customer service representatives, with one customer (Subscriber A) claiming that, after three hours on the phone and multiple transfers, she was ultimately transferred to a fax machine.  Another complainant (Subscriber B) asserted that he determined Comcast had wrongfully billed him for approximately 18 months for an extra cable box he never ordered, and that he spent another year calling to request (unsuccessfully) that the company remove the charge.

The Settlement

The Order and Consent Decree are striking in terms of the level of transparency exhibited throughout.  Unlike most FCC settlements, in which facts and legal arguments are closely guarded and held confidential, this Order reads more like a Notice of Apparent Liability for Forfeiture, where the FCC explains the underlying facts and legal theories in substantially more detail.  Especially noteworthy here, is that unlike majority of the other settlements released by the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau since Travis LeBlanc took the helm, neither the Order nor the Consent Decree include a statement admitting liability.  Rather than an admission of liability by Comcast, the Consent Decree includes a lengthy discussion of the perspectives of both Comcast and the Commission.  Besides arguing that most of the services were authorized and that unauthorized services inadvertently added to consumer bills were removed, Comcast—represented by FCC regular and first Enforcement Bureau Chief David Solomon—argued that the Commission itself “has cautioned against an expansive application of the Negative Option Billing Laws, stating that a broad reading of the rule could lead to harmful consequences.”  Moreover, Comcast asserted that “the Negative Option Billing Laws are not per se prohibitions, but instead are targeted only at affirmatively deceptive conduct on the part of cable operators, and Commission enforcement requires a demonstrated pattern of violation,” rather than an erroneous charge “occasioned by employee error” that does not involve deceit or intent.  For its part, the Commission asserted that it believes “the Customer Complaints and other facts adduced during the Investigation are evidence of violations of Section 623(f) of the Act and Section 76.981 of the Commission’s Rules.”

Moreover, the settlement requires that Comcast be required to comply with the terms of the Order and Consent Decree for an uncharacteristically long term—i.e., five years instead of the three years the Bureau has normally insisted upon.

In addition to the US$2.3M civil penalty, Comcast must implement a highly detailed compliance plan.  Although in many instances, Comcast is given until July 2017 to create and implement requisite processes, the level of detail applied to the cable company’s alleged transgressions is similar to that found in certain cramming and slamming settlements.  In those instances, however, the Commission is usually acting against less sophisticated targets with decidedly fewer resources that cannot retain compliance personnel with the expertise to design, develop, and implement their own expansive compliance plans.  Among other things, and as explained in five pages of detail in the Consent Decree, the company is required to:

obtain customers’ affirmative informed consent prior to charging them for new services or equipment; send customers an order confirmation, separate from any other bill, that clearly and conspicuously describes newly added services and equipment and their associated charges; offer mechanisms to customers that, at no cost, enable them to block the addition of new services or equipment to their accounts; implement a detailed program for redressing disputed charges in a standardized and expedient fashion; limit adverse actions (such as referring an account to collections or suspending service) while a disputed charge is being investigated; designate a senior corporate manager as a compliance officer; and implement a training program to ensure customer service personnel resolve customer complaints about unauthorized charges.

Going forward, it appears that the Commission will have a substantial amount of insight into the way the company conducts its business vis-à-vis its customer service responsibilities, in the form of annual reports and extended document retention requirements.

Lessons from the Settlement

Over the past two and a half years, it has become more apparent that the FCC is willing to apply old rules in new ways, and to continue to be an aggressive enforcer of the rules in general, but particularly when it comes to protecting consumers.  Although the Commission has issued Enforcement Advisories in the past, alerting companies that it is on the lookout for noncompliance in certain areas, this US$2M+ action is proof that regulatees should not wait for FCC warnings before ensuring they are compliant with the rules.  Companies should take heed and adopt a proactive approach to understanding the rules applicable to them based on their business operations.

© Copyright 2016 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP

Dynamic Political and Public Policy Landscape in DC on Pharmaceutical Issues

Pharmaceutical IssuesThe post-election period — from the lame duck congressional session to the first 100 days and beyond of a new Administration and Congress — is expected to be a time of extraordinary, if not unprecedented, public policy debate on issues that impact pharmaceutical/life sciences companies and interest groups. These issues present both significant threats and possible opportunities to all stakeholders.

On the positive side, the 114th Congress has unfinished business in the form of the House’s 21st Century Cures Act and the Senate’s companion package of Medical Innovation bills, provisions of which are intended to streamline FDA review and approval processes as well as authorize key programs such as the Precision Medicine Initiative. And Prescription Drug User Fee (PDUFA) reauthorization is also right around the corner. These positive developments could come at a cost to the life sciences industry, however, with growing indications that a proverbial perfect storm is brewing in the U.S. on issues surrounding pharmaceutical pricing.  The presidential candidates, who find little else on which to agree, have criticized drug prices and espoused strong support for proposals — including ones that would allow HHS to directly negotiate with manufacturers and the importation of lower-priced drugs from Canada and elsewhere — that are anathema to industry. As shown in the pending Medicare Part B national demonstration project, presidential administrations, in addition to the bully pulpit, have used their perceived regulatory authority to elevate the executive branch role in the drug pricing debate in the absence of congressional action, and we would expect that to continue in the next Administration.

Furthermore, recent developments suggest that whoever the next president is might find willing partners in both parties on Capitol Hill on pharmaceutical pricing-related issues, regardless of the outcome of the general election in Congress. As evidenced in recent high profile oversight and investigations hearings, criticism of the pharmaceutical industry has become bipartisan fodder. Members on both sides of the aisle have to answer a growing chorus from their constituents who seek relief from high drug prices.  While Republicans historically provided some level of firewall for efforts to fend off price controls and other adverse policy prescriptions, the reservoir of political capital with the GOP is arguably less deep post enactment of the Affordable Care Act.  At the same time, there are fewer moderate Democrats who in the past helped defend the industry.

Growing public opinion and ongoing critical publicity around drug prices contribute to a political environment that is more likely to result in active consideration of a variety of unfavorable legislative proposals in the drug pricing space. To date, there has been a veritable menu of bipartisan options offered, which include, among many others, requiring greater transparency by manufacturers who raise prices above a certain percentage, allowing the government to directly negotiate prices with manufacturers, importation of lower priced drugs, reduction of the data exclusivity for biologics, policy changes to encourage even greater utilization of generics, reform of patient assistance programs, and curtailing of certain practices in patent settlement agreements and REMS programs.

Momentum for any or all of these proposals might further increase if Congress and the Administration pursue a deficit reducing budgetary deal or other policy priorities that must be paid for with policy changes affecting the Medicare program. The prospect for action on anti-industry proposals is further enhanced by the reality that congressional authorization of the industry supported PDUFA will be on tap in 2017.  Because PDUFA is considered “must-pass” legislation, it is recognized as a prime moving vehicle to which any number of healthcare-related proposals might be attached.  It remains uncertain whether pharmaceutical pricing and access will continue to be more of a rhetorical subject or if the rhetoric translates into significant changes in federal policy.  What is virtually certain is that this debate will rage on in the months ahead and that the outcome could have major ramifications for industry — whether or not new laws are ultimately enacted.

Against this backdrop, it is imperative that stakeholders follow the anticipated fast-moving developments, understand the substantive implications and political prospects for various proposals, and, where appropriate, engage in informed advocacy on Capitol Hill with the Administration and the public.

© 2016 Covington & Burling LLP

Hillary Clinton’s Intellectual Property Litigation Experience

Hillary Clinton Intellectual PropertyMany people are surprised to learn that Hillary Clinton was an intellectual property attorney when she practiced law from 1977-1992 for the Rose Law Firm.  While the New York Times has reported that former colleagues cannot remember any cases she tried and that court reporters in Little Rock say she appeared in court infrequently, there are at least three reported court decisions on which she is named as counsel.  A review of those decisions provides an interesting glimpse into Clinton’s background with intellectual property.

In a case involving allegations of false advertising, Clinton represented Maybelline Co. in a suit against Noxell Corp. regarding Noxell’s “Cover Girl Clean Lash” mascara product.[1]  According to the complaint, Maybelline’s principal place of business and only factory in the United States was located in North Little Rock, Arkansas.  Maybelline asked the court to restrain Noxell from advertising the Clean Lash mascara as being waterproof.  Maybelline submitted to the court a videotape of a Clean Lash commercial in which a voice-over claimed that “water won’t budge” Clean Lash and that it “laughs at tears,” and then submitted independent laboratory tests contradicting those claims.  Maybelline argued that the commercials were deceptive.  Unfortunately for Clinton, it was found that Maybelline brought suit in the wrong venue because Noxell was not doing business in the Eastern District of Arkansas.[2]  The case was transferred to a court in New York and settled.[3]

In a trademark infringement case, Clinton represented First Nationwide Bank against Nationwide Savings and Loan Association regarding the use of the mark “Nationwide Savings.”[4]  In particular, First Nationwide Bank sought an injunction against the Savings and Loan Association’s use of the phrase “Nationwide Savings” for financial services.  First Nationwide Bank argued that the use of the disputed phrase was likely to cause confusion among customers as to the provider of the financial services and was an attempt by the Savings and Loan Association to benefit from the valuable goodwill and reputation established by First Nationwide Bank.  Clinton helped to secure injunctive relief for the Bank to prevent the Savings and Loan Association from using the mark.

In another case involving allegations of trademark infringement, Clinton represented Holsum Baking Co. against W.E. Long Co.[5] regarding the use of the “Holsum” trademark in the marketing of bakery products.  Long registered the “Holsum” mark on bakery products in Arkansas and later entered into an agreement granting Holsum Baking the right to use the “Holsum” name for advertising purposes in certain areas for three years.  After that time, Holsum Baking began using the composite mark “Holsum Sunbeam” until more than 40 years later when it introduced a wheat bread product and marketed it as “Holsum Grains” with no mention of Sunbeam. Long then contacted the packaging suppliers of Holsum Baking and advised them not to sell packaging bearing the “Holsum” mark to Holsum Baking. Holsum Baking sought injunctive relief to reinstate its packaging source with the “Holsum” mark, arguing that the earlier agreement had been breached or abandoned by the parties and that Holsum Baking had acquired the rights to the “Holsum” mark due to use for more than 44 years.  Clinton helped to secure a preliminary injunction for Holsum Baking.

While the number of reported cases involving Clinton is too small to draw any definitive conclusions, the above three cases demonstrate Clinton’s advocacy for companies that had their IP rights threatened.  Some commentators have criticized Hillary Clinton’s current intellectual property platform as being vague, consisting of passing references to patent litigation reform and copyright policy. However, given her past experience, she may have more detailed thoughts on IP policy–an area that rarely is a focus in presidential campaigns.

[1]  Maybelline Co. v. Noxell Corp., 643 F. Supp. 294 (E.D. Ark. 1986).

[2]  Maybelline Co. v. Noxell Corp., 813 F.2d 901 (8th Cir. 1987).

[3]  Morrison, T.C., “The Regulation of Cosmetic Advertising under the Lanham Act,” 44 Food Drug Cosm. L.J. 49, 57 1989.

[4]  First Nationwide Bank v. Nationwide Sav. & Loan Ass’n, 682 F. Supp. 965 (E.D. Ark. 1988).

[5]  W.E. Long Co. v. Holsum Baking Co., 307 Ark. 345 (Ark. 1991).

Employer Strategies for Surviving Election Season

Employer strategiesOnce again, the “silly season” is upon us. Every four years, battle lines are drawn and many employees take sides, touting their preferred candidate’s merits over what they regard as the utterly despicable nature of the other candidate. Fortunately for employers (and everyone else who values their sanity) this should be over in about a month. I hesitate only because I lived in Florida during the 2000 election, and if you think things are contentious now – pray the current election cycle doesn’t go into overtime.

Free Speech?

It’s only natural for employees to discuss politics at work. But doing so can be disruptive, and if a political discussion gets out of hand, it can lead to confrontations, allegations of assault, harassment, discrimination or retaliation. Generally, private employers may limit and even prohibit political expression in the workplace, such as discussing candidates or issues, wearing or displaying political signs and paraphernalia. What about free speech, you ask? The First Amendment does not apply to private employers – only the government. Still, there are limits. For one thing, the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) allows political discussions directly connected to the terms and conditions of employment. Second, some states (such as Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington) have laws that prohibit discrimination against employees based on their political affiliation, or from unduly influencing an employee’s vote through intimidation.

Prudent employers should adopt and implement policies advising their employees of what will and will not be tolerated in the workplace during election season. If an employer wants to keep politics separate and apart from the workplace, this is perfectly appropriate – provided of course, that the employer complies with the exclusions outlined by the NLRA, which may be required under state or local law.

Election Day Leave

Another reminder during election season is that most states permit employees to take leave during the workday so they can cast their ballots. The specific laws can vary significantly by state. For instance, some states – but not all – allow voting leave only where the employee would not otherwise have sufficient time to vote before or after their scheduled shift. The majority of states require employees to provide advance notice of voting leave, and also give employers the discretion to determine the specific times during which the employee may be absent from work to vote. With few exceptions, voting leave laws typically allow an employee to be away from work for up to two or three hours during the workday to vote. Similarly, with few exceptions, most states require the employer to pay the employee for the time spent on voting leave. Further, a few states also allow employees to take time off not only to vote, but to serve as election officials.

Other Employer Considerations

Employers seeking to preserve a calm workplace in this silly season – particularly one as heated as this year’s – should try to stay above the fray and consider these strategies:

  • Adopting a neutral stance about the elections while focusing on the business at hand.
  • Review, and if necessary, revise existing policies regarding political expressions at work.
  • Remind employees of the policies on voting and political expression.
  • Check the requirements of state and local laws regarding elections, and particularly anti-discrimination and voting leave laws, to ensure compliance.
  • Educate your front-line supervisors and human resources personnel (especially those tasked with handling leave requests) about the company’s policies and the requirements of state and local laws.


Election 2016: Trump on Antitrust

Donald Trump AntitrustWhile antitrust policy and enforcement has not received much attention from Donald Trump on the campaign trail, Mr. Trump has made a few notable statements regarding antitrust law that provide hints as to potential antitrust enforcement priorities for a Trump administration. Mr. Trump’s history as both a plaintiff and defendant in antitrust litigation is also notable and unprecedented.

In his 2011 book Time to Get Tough: Making America #1 Again, Mr. Trump addressed the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) specifically in the context of antitrust law. Under the heading “Sue OPEC” Mr. Trump wrote:

We can start by suing OPEC for violating antitrust laws. Currently, bringing a lawsuit against OPEC is difficult. . . . The way to fix this is to make sure that Congress passes and the president signs the “No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act” (NOPEC) (S.394), which will amend the Sherman Antitrust Act and make it illegal for any foreign governments to act collectively to limit production or set prices. If we get it passed, the bill would clear the way for the United States to sue member nations of OPEC for price-fixing and anti-competitive behavior. . . . Imagine how much money the average American would save if we busted the OPEC cartel.

More recently, in a May 2016 interview with Sean Hannity, Mr. Trump made a notable reference to antitrust law in connection with a discussion of Jeff Bezos and Amazon:

[Jeff Bezos is] using the Washington Post for power so that the politicians in Washington don’t tax Amazon like they should be taxed. He’s getting absolutely away. He’s worried about me and he’s, I think he said that to somebody, it’s in some article, where he thinks I would go after him for antitrust, because he’s got a huge antitrust problem because he’s controlling so much, Amazon is controlling so much of what they’re doing. And what they’ve done is, he-he bought this paper for practically nothing, and he’s using that as a tool for political power against me and against other people and, I’ll tell you what, we can’t let him get away with it. . . . So what they’re doing is that he’s using that as a political instrument to try and stop antitrust, which he thinks I believe he’s antitrust, in other words what he’s got is a monopoly and he wants to make sure I don’t get in. So, it’s one of those things. But I’ll tell you what, I’ll tell you what, what he’s doing is wrong and the people are being, the whole system is rigged – you see a case like that, the whole system is rigged. . . he’s using the Washington Post, which is peanuts, he’s using that for political purposes to save Amazon in terms of taxes and in terms of antitrust.

In addition to his statements, there is also Mr. Trump’s personal history as an antitrust litigant to be considered. In January 2016, former FTC Chairman Bill Kovacic was quoted as observing that “Donald Trump is the only presidential candidate in my lifetime to be a plaintiff in an antitrust case.

Indeed, as detailed in the American Bar Association’s Antitrust Source earlier this year, Mr. Trump was involved in three significant antitrust proceedings in the late 1980s and early 1990s. First, in 1988, Mr. Trump paid a $750,000 civil penalty to settle charges brought by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that he had violated the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antitrust Improvements Act (HSR Act) by acquiring stock in two companies without making timely HSR filings. Around the same time, Mr. Trump, as one of the owners of the New Jersey Generals US Football League team, was involved in a private antitrust suit against the National Football League (NFL)—a case that resulted in a jury verdict that the NFL had willfully acquired or maintained monopoly power in a market consisting of major league professional football in the United States, in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act. Damages of $1, trebled to $3, were awarded. US Football League v. Nat’l Football League, 842 F.2d 1335 (2d Cir. 1988). Finally, Mr. Trump, in connection with his Atlantic City casinos, was sued by Boardwalk Properties, Inc. on numerous grounds including allegations that he had attempted to monopolize casino gambling and had conspired to suppress competition. After a lengthy legal battle, Mr. Trump prevailed.

While we can only speculate as to how a Trump administration would approach antitrust policy and enforcement, Mr. Trump’s commentary regarding Amazon suggests that he would not be shy about pressing for aggressive investigation and potential enforcement action against those he perceives to be running afoul of antitrust laws. While it appears likely that Amazon would find itself under the microscope of a Trump administration, it is unknown whether Mr. Trump would direct enforcement towards other particular domestic companies or industries. It is also uncertain if Mr. Trump would maintain the Obama administration’s increased rate of merger challenges.

With respect to international enforcement, Mr. Trump’s comments on OPEC, coupled with his campaign focus on trade issues, suggest that he would be in favor of aggressive antitrust enforcement actions focused on foreign companies—and, potentially, against foreign governments (though some of Mr. Trump’s strategies may first require legislative action by US Congress before they can be pursued). Mr. Trump’s litigious history on both sides of antitrust laws demonstrates his familiarity and experience with the legal system, and further suggests that a President Trump would not hesitate in pressing for antitrust action against foreign actors. Mr. Trump underscored this point in Time to Get Tough favorably quoting a former Reagan and Bush advisor who, commenting on antitrust enforcement against OPEC, stated “isn’t starting a lawsuit better than starting a war?”

It is possible that a President Trump would ultimately do little to shake up the antitrust enforcement status quo, given other pressing national and international issues that have been focal points of the Trump Campaign. On the other hand, it is equally possible that, given his comments and litigation history, Mr. Trump would adopt a very aggressive antitrust investigation and enforcement policy against perceived wrongdoers, resulting in antitrust issues becoming central to a Trump administration’s economic and trade policies.

State Department Issues Cable on Extension of Three Visa Programs

On Oct. 5, 2016, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) issued an unclassified cable on the Continuing Resolution signed into law on Sept. 29, 2016 that extends several important immigration programs, including the Conrad State 30 Program, the non-minister special immigrant religious worker program (SR visa), and the EB-5 Regional Center program. The House and Senate passed the Continuing Resolution on Sept. 28, 2016, and the president signed the bill into law on Sept. 29, 2016 (H.R.5325; P.L. 114-223).

Court Pillars, Department of State, Continuing Resolution

The DOS cable explains that the EB-5 Regional Center program (immigrant visa categories R51 and I51) now is set to expire on Dec. 9, 2016.  The DOS has clarified that all EB-5 immigrant visas based upon investments made in regional center projects must be issued by close of business Dec. 9, 2016; the expiration date also applies to dependent spouses and children.  The DOS has instructed all visa issuing posts to hold in abeyance any pending R51 and I51 immigrant visa applications beginning on Dec. 10, 2016, if there is no extension of the EB-5 Regional Center program on or before that date.  The cable also clarifies that immigrant visas for investors not investing through a regional center (T51 and C51), i.e., the “direct” or “non-regional center” program, can continue to be issued as that program remains valid beyond Dec. 9, 2016.

In addition, the DOS cable confirms that extension of the EB-5 Regional Center program through Dec. 9, 2016 will allow priority dates to immediately become “current” for October for all countries except mainland China.  The “current” priority date for China-mainland born I5 and R5 applicants is Feb. 22, 2014.  Accordingly, China mainland-born investors with an I-526 Petition filed after Feb. 22, 2014, do not have immigrant visas immediately available to them and they must wait until the priority dates in the Visa Bulletin advance further.

The cable further discussed the expiration of the Conrad State 30 Program, which also will expire on Dec. 9, 2016. The Conrad 30 program allows medical doctors on J-1 visas to apply for a waiver of the two-year home residence requirement under INA §212(e) upon completion of the J-1 exchange visitor program.  The cable clarifies that applicants who entered or were granted J-1 status on or before Dec. 8, 2016, may still apply for a Conrad State 30 waiver.

Finally, DOS stated in the cable that authorization for the SR visa, which is for professional and non-professional workers within religious vocation or occupation categories other than the vocation of a minister, will expire on Dec. 9, 2016.  This expiration relates to immigrant visa recipients and their accompanying spouses and children only, and does not affect any nonimmigrant categories such as R-1 visas.  Individuals seeking SR visa status are required to have applied for such status and be admitted into the United States prior to Dec. 9, 2016. DOS has instructed visa issuing posts that the validity of any SR visa issued, therefore, must be limited to Dec. 8, 2016, to coincide with the expiration of this classification.  Posts that have issued SR visas in recent months should consider informing the recipients that they must travel by Dec. 8, 2016. Moreover, Posts that issue SR visas in December should consider informing the individual of the expiration date and necessity of traveling before the expiration date. If the visa holder is not admitted into the United States before the program expires, replacement visas cannot be issued. Beginning Dec. 9, 2016, posts are advised by the DOS to hold in abeyance any pending SR application.

The cable also explains that the DOS Visa Office (VO) will continue to provide guidance as the appropriations process continues.  In December, following the federal elections, Congress is expected to reconvene for a “lame duck” session.  At that time, Congress will once again consider the extension of these vital visa programs.

©2016 Greenberg Traurig, LLP. All rights reserved.

Pet Policies at Work: Considerations for Employers

employer pet policiesAs millennials continue to negotiate workplace perks, such as flexible hours, gourmet cafeterias, gym memberships, and on-demand laundry services, employers may be confronted with employees who seek to bring pets to work for convenience, companionship, or to promote creativity and calmness. Beyond providing reasonable accommodations (absent showing an undue hardship) for disabled employees with services animals, here are some considerations for employers regarding voluntary pet policies.

Pros and Cons

Recent studies and articles advocate for pet-friendly workplaces, citing a number of benefits to companies and workers. Benefits include increased worker morale, co-worker bonding, attracting and retaining talent, and lower stress coupled with higher productivity.

On the other hand, permitting pets in the workplace presents a number of issues. For example, according to a leading asthma and allergy organization, as many as three in ten people suffer from pet allergies, meaning someone at work is likely allergic to Fido or Fifi. A significant number of people also have pet phobias, for example, resulting from a traumatic dog bite incident. Other concerns may include workplace disruption due to misbehaved animals, mess, and time-wasting.

Five Tips for Effective Pet Policies

If the Pros outweigh the Cons, the next question is: “[w]hat should I put in a pet policy?” Here are five things to consider when preparing a pet-policy:

  1. Ask Around: Offer employees an opportunity to provide feedback before implementing a pet-policy. Doing this allows the company time to confirm employee interest in the idea and address any concerns or issues before employees bring pets to work.

  2. Set a Schedule: Establish a schedule for pet-friendly work days, e.g., once a week or month, to provide structure and predictability so that the company and employees can plan, either to bring their pets (or allergy medicine) or to work remotely, for days when pets may be at the office or jobsite.

  3. Provide Pet Space: Designate certain areas as pet-friendly. This benefits everyone. For areas where pets are welcome, provide perks like snacks, cleaning supplies, and toys. Designate entrances and exits that pet owners can use to bring their animals in and out.  Space planning also helps employees who prefer to keep their distance, as boundaries provide notice of places to avoid.

  4. Offer Pet Benefits: Certain federal and/or state laws prohibit companies from permitting pets (not to be confused with ADA service animals) at work. Offering employees other benefits like pet insurance, pet bereavement, pet daycare, and financial help for pet adoption are other ways companies can support their pet-owning workers, even if pets can’t come to work.

  5. Waivers and Insurance: No list is complete without accounting for the chance something may go wrong. Consider requiring employees who bring pets to work to sign a waiver of liability for the company. Similarly, companies should check with their insurance to make sure that they are covered in the event an animal causes an injury in the workplace.

What about the ADA?

Voluntary pet policies should be considered separate from a company’s obligation to provide disabled workers with a reasonable accommodation, which may include use of a service animal at work. Three questions to consider when an employee asks to bring a service animal to work as an accommodation include: (1) does the employee have a disability; (2) is this a service animal, meaning is it trained to perform specific tasks to aid an employee in the performance of the job; and (3) is the service animal a reasonable accommodation.

If a service animal results in complaints from other employees (e.g., allergies, phobias, disruption), employers may consider other accommodations, or take other steps to address these complaints. The Job Accommodation Network, a service of the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Disability Employment Policy, has some helpful tips for accommodating service animals.

ARTICLE BY Garrett C. Parks of Polsinelli PC               

Cook County, Illinois, Enacts Paid Sick Leave Ordinance

paid earned Sick leaveThe Cook County “Earned Sick Leave” Ordinance mandates that employers in Cook County, Illinois, allow eligible employees to accrue up to 40 hours of paid sick leave in each 12-month period of their employment. The Ordinance, passed on October 5, 2016, becomes effective on July 1, 2017.

The Ordinance is similar to amendments to the Chicago Minimum Wage Ordinance providing for paid sick leave, also going into effect on July 1. Chicago is part of Cook County.

Paid Sick Leave Requirements

Who is covered?

Individuals are entitled to benefits under the Ordinance if they:

perform at least two hours of work for a covered employer while physically present within the geographic boundaries of the County in any particular two-week period; and work at least 80 hours for a covered employer in any 120-day period.

Compensated time spent traveling in Cook County, including for deliveries and sales calls and for travel related to other business activity taking place in the County, can count toward the two-hour requirement. However, uncompensated commuting time in the County will not be counted. Certain railroad employees are not covered by the Act.

Covered employers include individuals and companies with a place of business within the County that gainfully employ at least one covered employee. Government entities and Indian tribes are not covered employers under the Ordinance.

The Ordinance does not apply to collective bargaining agreements in force on July 1, 2017. After that date, the Ordinance may be waived in a bona fide CBA if the waiver is explicit and unambiguous. In addition, the Ordinance does not apply to any covered employee in the construction industry who is covered by a bona fide CBA.

What if my company already provides employees with paid time off (PTO)?

If an employer has a policy that grants employees PTO in an amount and a manner that meets the requirements of the new Ordinance, the employer is not required to provide additional paid leave. However, any existing PTO policy must meet each requirement of the Ordinance, including the reasons for which the time off may be used, to qualify for this exemption.

When do employees begin to accrue paid sick leave?

Employees begin to accrue paid sick leave on the first calendar day after the start of their employment or July 1, 2017, whichever is later.

How much sick leave is required and can employers limit the amount used?

Employees will accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 40 hours worked. For purposes of calculating accruals, the Ordinance assumes exempt employees work 40 hours per workweek, unless their normal workweek is less, in which case the accrual will be based upon the number of hours in their normal workweek.

Accrual and usage of paid sick leave is capped at 40 hours for each 12-month period. Employees may carry over half of their unused paid sick leave (up to 20 hours) to the next 12-month period. The Ordinance also provides for additional carryover and usage for employers covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act that can be used exclusively for FMLA-eligible purposes.

When can employees start using paid sick leave?

New employees can begin using accrued paid sick leave no later than the 180th day following the commencement of employment. The Ordinance is unclear as to how the 180-day waiting period will apply to current employees who were hired prior to July 1, 2017.

For what reasons can an employee use paid sick leave?

Employees may use paid sick leave for their own illness, injuries, or medical care (including preventive care) or for the illness, injuries, or medical care of certain covered family members. “Family member” is defined broadly to include a child, legal guardian, or ward, spouse under the laws of any state, domestic partner, parent, parent of a spouse or domestic partner, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, or any other individual related by blood or whose close association with the employee is the equivalent or a family relationship. “Family member” also includes step- and foster relationships.

Employees also can use paid sick leave if either the employee or a family member is a victim of domestic violence or a sex offense.

Finally, employees are entitled to use paid sick leave if their place of business or the child care facility or school of their child has been closed by an order of a public official due to a public health emergency.

Can employers set restrictions on the use of paid sick leave?

Employers are entitled to set reasonable minimum increments for the use of paid sick leave, not to exceed four hours a day.

What notice must be provided by employees who need to use paid sick leave?

Employers may require that employees provide up to seven days’ advance notice if the need for paid sick leave is foreseeable. Scheduled medical appointments and court dates for domestic violence will be considered reasonably foreseeable. If the need for leave is unforeseeable, employees must provide as much notice as is practical. The Ordinance expressly provides that employees may notify their employers of the need for leave by phone, email, or text message. Employers may adopt notification policies if they notify covered employees in writing of such policies and the policy is not unreasonably burdensome. If leave is covered by the FMLA, notice must be in accordance with the FMLA. Employees need not give notice if they are unconscious or medically incapacitated.

Employers also may require that employees using paid sick leave for more than three consecutive workdays provide certification that the leave was for a qualifying purpose. However, employers cannot require that certification specify the nature of the medical issue necessitating the need for leave, except as required by law. Employers cannot delay commencement of Earned Sick Leave or delay payment of wages because they have not received the required certification.

Do employers have to pay out unused, accrued paid leave upon termination?

Unlike PTO and vacation pay, unless a collective bargaining agreement provides otherwise, unused, accrued sick leave need not be paid out upon termination or separation of employment.

What are the posting and notice requirements?

Employers must post notice of employees’ rights in a conspicuous place at each facility where any covered employee works that is located within the geographic boundaries of the County.

In addition, at the commencement of employment, employers must provide each covered employee written notice advising of his or her rights to Earned Sick Leave under the Ordinance. The Cook County Commission on Human Rights will publish a form notice.

Implementation and Enforcement

The Ordinance provides a private right of action for employees who believe they are denied their right to request or use paid sick leave. Employers who violate the Ordinance may be subject to damages equal to three times the amount of any unpaid sick time denied or lost as a result of the violation, along with interest, costs, and reasonable attorneys’ fees.


Employers are prohibited from discriminating against or taking any adverse action against covered employees in retaliation for exercising, or attempting in good faith to exercise, any right under the Ordinance, including disclosing, reporting, or testifying about any violation of the Ordinance or regulations promulgated thereunder, or requesting or using paid sick leave. Additionally, an employee’s use of paid sick leave under the Ordinance cannot be counted for purposes of determining discipline, discharge, demotion, suspension, or any other adverse activity under an employer’s absence-control policy.

Employers with operations in Cook County, Illinois, should review the Ordinance and their policies and practices related to paid sick leave carefully.

Employers should review their policies and practices regularly with employment counsel to ensure they effectively address specific organizational needs and comply with all applicable laws.

Article by Kathryn Montgomery Moran & Jody Kahn Mason of Jackson Lewis P.C.

Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2016