Should Your Contracts Anticipate Another Pandemic?

Jeffrey R. Schmitt

By Jeffrey R. Schmitt



force majeureThe widespread impact of the COVID-19 pandemic caused many businesses to evaluate whether they are obligated to perform under certain contracts, or whether they can invoke unique contract provisions to excuse a possible or likely failure to perform. While no business wants to consider a downturn due to another worldwide health or other catastrophe, the last several years have made clear it could happen, and there are ways to minimize losses.

Specifically, a “force majeure” clause is a contract provision that excuses a party’s performance of its obligations under the contract when certain circumstances arise beyond the party’s control, and making performance inadvisable, commercially impracticable, illegal, or impossible. These clauses vary in language and length, but many clauses include events like fire, war, unrest, epidemic or pandemic, famine, or otherwise “acts of God.”

There are examples of businesses seeking to excuse or delay performance due to COVID-19.  One such case was Pacific Collective, LLC v. ExxonMobil, in California, in which a developer asked the court to prevent ExxonMobil from selling a property to other buyers, claiming that California’s lockdown during the pandemic was an act of God that prevented the developer from completing the multi-million-dollar property acquisition. Continue reading »

Your Business Needs an Estate Plan, Too

Michael J. McKitrick

By Michael J. McKitrick



are you readyYes, small businesses need estate plans. Business estate plans determine what happens if the owner can no longer operate the business due to death or disability. A plan must be in place to address either potentially devastating situation.

Businesses with multiple owners commonly use Buy/Sell Agreements for such a plan. These provisions can be inserted into the Operating Agreement if the business is a limited liability Company (LLC) or can be provided in a separate agreement if the business is a corporation or partnership. There are two general forms used:

  • Buy/Sell Provisions: Remaining owners (whether shareholders, members, or partners) buy the deceased owner’s interest from the estate. A life insurance policy can provide funds for the purchase.
  • Redemption Agreement: The company buys the deceased owner’s interests from the estate. The remaining owners own the company. Proceeds from the sale go to the estate. This arrangement can also be funded by a life insurance policy.

Because of the tax and legal considerations involved, it is critical that these plans be thought out and planned in advance with the advice and input of the business’ attorney, accountant, and insurance professional.

If no agreement exists, the remaining owners must deal with the deceased owner’s estate, possibly controlled by the spouse, children, or other persons not involved in the business. This can be very disruptive. The business may have to be sold or liquidated to the detriment to all concerned. The value of the business is not passed on to the estate. The remaining owners must deal with a hostile party and potential litigation which could destroy the business.

The loss of an owner can also cause a vacuum in the management of the company. Continue reading »

Securities Law in Crypto: It’s Everywhere! It’s Everywhere!

Joseph R. Soraghan

By Joseph R. Soraghan



cryptocurrencySuppose you have become a believer in crypto, crypto currencies, blockchain technology and crypto concepts such as non-fungible tokens (“NFTs”). You believe that crypto-based assets (existing now and probably soon to be invented) present opportunities for profitable new businesses. But what do these opportunities look like under the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) laws?

Opportunity #1: Sell some of your NFTs and manage them for the new owners.

You decide to sell some of your assets to friends and others who are not as knowledgeable in crypto and offer to manage those NFTs for your purchasers.

But your reading of crypto literature has turned up concerning mentions by the SEC that cryptocurrency and crypto-assets are “securities,” like stocks and bonds, and are – or will be – regulated by the securities laws. And some state securities commissions are also making similarly uncertain statements.

Your further research shows that the statutes and the courts define a “security” to be any interest, contract, or transaction involving:

  • An investment of money or valuable property,
  • In a common enterprise,
  • With the expectation that profits will be derived from the efforts of the promoter/seller of the interest or a third party(s).

I.e., the Howey test, named after the Supreme Court case of SEC v. Howey.

The dominant factor in this definition is that of profits expected to be generated by the efforts of persons other than the purchaser/holder of the interest. You realize that your offer to manage the NFTs calls for your efforts to generate profits and may call the Howey definition into play. (We will perhaps discuss the equally uncertain concept of “common enterprise” in a later discussion.)

Opportunity #2: Manage a pool of NFTs. Continue reading »

Getting Through Chapter 11 – Part Two: Plan of Reorganization

A. Thomas DeWoskin

By A. Thomas DeWoskin



turbulencePart 5.2 of a 5-part series: Options for Small Business Owners in Financial Distress

Your company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy has been filed and you’re now running your business under the provisions of the United States Bankruptcy Code.

It’s now time to work toward the ultimate goal of a Chapter 11: a Plan of Reorganization, confirmed by the court, allowing your company to restructure its debts, exit Chapter 11, and continue in business. It is important that you explain all of your concerns about all aspects of your business to your attorney and provide complete and accurate information, all before you even file the case. This will help both of you develop good ideas for successfully navigating your reorganization case and getting a plan confirmed. Advise your attorney if a new problem develops so you can consider all the potential solutions available to you.

Your next steps in planning for reorganization will include you and your attorney:

  • Participating in two mandatory meetings with a U.S. bankruptcy trustee within the first 30 days after filing and begin filing monthly operating reports.
    1. “Initial debtor interview:” Learn procedural issues such as the ins and outs of filing periodic operating reports such as monthly operating reports and where and how your company can bank.
    2. Section 341 “meeting of creditors:” Be questioned under oath by the U.S. trustee’s office about your need to file Chapter 11, your plan to exit bankruptcy, how you will implement your ideas, etc. This meeting is open to all interested parties.
  • Negotiating the terms of your proposed plan with the creditors’ committee if one has been formed by large unsecured creditors.
  • Negotiating lease terms. Any lease which commenced prior to the filing can be “rejected.” You can then renegotiate the terms or terminate the lease, in which case the lessor’s claim will be treated as a pre-petition claim.
  • Treating an equipment lease as an installment purchase agreement secured by the equipment, possibly converting a portion of the secured debt to unsecured and altering the terms of repaying the secured debt.

Continue reading »

Getting Through Chapter 11 – Part One: After Filing

A. Thomas DeWoskin

By A. Thomas DeWoskin



Part 5.1 of a 5-part series: Options for Small Business Owners in Financial Distress

turbulenceYour attorney has just filed your company’s Chapter 11 reorganization case and you have no clue what to do next. Seriously, the first thing you should do is nothing. Take a breath and keep running your business.

That’s not to say there’s nothing for you to do during the entire Chapter 11 process – there’s actually quite a lot for which you will be responsible. Any competent bankruptcy attorney already has discussed your statutory and practical responsibilities in a Chapter 11 case with you prior to filing.

Now is the time to implement those decisions made before the case was filed. If you forget a decision you made (or come across an issue you hadn’t discussed), call your attorney. The two of you should be in frequent contact during the case to be sure that you don’t take any actions which don’t make sense in the Chapter 11 context, or which might violate the Bankruptcy Code, Bankruptcy Rules, or Local Rules.

Your primary concern after the case is filed is, of course, money to operate with. That topic should be discussed thoroughly with your attorney prior to filing. Be sure your attorney discusses post-petition financing and use of ‘cash collateral’ with you. Be sure that you have post-petition financing lined up before you file, either from internal operations or from a lender. If your post-petition financing falls through, or you’re not as profitable as you expected to be after filing, you may not be able to afford to operate during the Chapter 11. If so, there is  no way for you to reorganize and your Chapter 11 case may be dismissed outright. Continue reading »

Asset Protection and Estate Planning Perspective on the Importance of Holding Investment Properties in an LLC

Rachel A. Quinley

By Rachel A. Quinley



llcMost small business owners today are aware of the importance of forming a legal entity before beginning their business operations. However, more individuals and families are turning to rental properties as an investment strategy, and they do not necessarily think of themselves as small business owners. But that is exactly what they are. It is critical to ensure that if you or your family own rental or other investment properties, you protect your personal assets from liability by setting up a legal entity to be the owner of the properties.

The best option for most of these types of small businesses is to form a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Limited Liability Companies require less formality than corporations and are generally less costly to form. They also offer the benefit of pass-through taxation. Though liability insurance offers protection, the one-time cost of setting up an LLC is typically less than the cost of an umbrella insurance policy over time. However, there are still coverage limits with an umbrella insurance policy: If the rental property is owned in your individual name and your liability exceeds the coverage limits, your personal assets could be at stake. LLCs shield their members from personal liability when formed and operated properly.

If you are going to own multiple properties, it may be wise to form a different LLC for each property to shield each property from the liabilities of the other properties. You will want to consult with an experienced attorney to make certain that you are following the correct procedures in establishing your LLC, such as registering the LLC with the Secretary of State, creating an operating agreement, and obtaining a tax ID number for the business.

As you can see, LLCs are extremely useful as a means of asset protection. They are also a great tool for estate planning purposes. Continue reading »

Religious Exemptions to COVID-19 Vaccination Mandates under Title VII and the EEOC’s Additional Guidance

Katherine M. Flett

By Katherine M. Flett



covid vaccineWith continued and widespread COVID-19 infection and the FDA’s full approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, many employers have instituted COVID-19 vaccination mandates. Title VII requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with sincerely-held religious beliefs that conflict with getting vaccinated. Given that religious beliefs are difficult to disprove, many employees have taken this as an opportunity to request religious exemptions to avoid COVID-19 vaccination mandates.

The Law – Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of religion and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to employees claiming their sincerely-held religious beliefs conflict with getting vaccinated. Title VII protects not only people who belong to traditional, organized religions, such as Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and Judaism, but also others who have “sincerely-held religious, ethical or moral beliefs.”

Given this sweeping definition of religion, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has cautioned that an employer should generally assume that an employee’s request for a religious accommodation is based on a sincerely-held religious belief. Nevertheless, an employer is permitted to question the sincerity of an employee’s purported religious belief where there is an objective basis for doing so. Further, an employer is not required to accommodate an employee’s religious beliefs and practices if doing so would impose an “undue hardship” on the employer’s legitimate business interests. For the EEOC’s list of factors to be considered when determining whether an accommodation imposes an undue hardship on an employer, visit: EEOC Undue Hardship.

The EEOC’s Guidance on Religious Exemption Requests

On October 25, 2021, the EEOC updated its technical assistance related to the COVID-19 pandemic, which included additional guidance on how employers should handle religious exemption requests (Section L). Read the full EEOC update here.

The key takeaways are:

  1. Employees who have a religious objection to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination must inform their employer and request a reasonable accommodation to be afforded protection under Title VII. Reasonable accommodations may include telework or reassignment.
  2. If an employer has an objective basis for questioning either the religious nature or the sincerity of a particular belief, the employer can make a limited factual inquiry seeking additional supporting information.
  3. An employer who objectively demonstrates that it would be an “undue hardship” to accommodate an employee’s request for religious exemption to the employer’s vaccination mandate is not required to provide the accommodation.
  4. An employer is not required to grant all employees’ requests for religious exemptions on the basis that it has granted some employees requests for religious exemptions. The determination is fact-intensive and specific to every request.
  5. While an employer should consider the employee’s preference, if there is more than one reasonable accommodation that would resolve the conflict between the vaccination requirement and the religious belief without undue hardship, the employer may choose which accommodation to offer.
  6. An employer has the right to discontinue a previously granted religious accommodation. If the employer learns that the belief is not religious in nature or sincerely-held, or if the accommodation becomes an undue hardship, the employer can discontinue the accommodation.

Continue reading »

Medical Marijuana Use by Employees in Missouri: Where Are We Now?

Ruth Binger

By Ruth Binger



medical marijuanaDue to the pandemic and labor shortage, Missouri courts have not had an opportunity to consider Amendment 2 and employment issues related to medical marijuana in the workplace. Amendment 2 allows state licensed physicians to recommend medical marijuana to patient employees diagnosed with chronic debilitating conditions. It also protects employees with a medical marijuana card issued by the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) from being terminated unless the employer proves that the employee is “under the influence of marijuana.”

There are no reliable tests available yet to scientifically confirm if someone is “under the influence” of marijuana. A person will test positive for marijuana for up to 25 days after use. However, there are impairment tests on the market that can help determine whether workers in safety-sensitive positions are at risk by testing current fitness for duty.  Those tests include computer-based alertness tests similar to a video game and apps that test for cognitive and motor impairment. Some tests take 20 seconds and are advertised as testing for fatigue, dehydration, emotional distress, alcohol, cannabis, etc.

Without more guidance, employers will have to create Observed Behavior tests that are signed by company personnel to bolster an argument of “under the influence.” Further, because Amendment 2 is a constitutional amendment, it would necessarily trump existing Missouri law found in laws such as workers’ compensation and unemployment statutes.

Another possible employee defense is an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defense where the employee is taking physician-prescribed medical marijuana for a chronic debilitating condition that is protected by the disability laws. Missouri has no case law at this time. U.S. case law trends are that when courts are asked to apply federal law (the ADA) versus state law (i.e., Missouri Human Rights Act), federal courts are not finding a protected disability due to the employee using an illegal drug. Continue reading »

Changes Coming to Illinois Non-Compete and Non-Solicit Law

Katherine M. Flett

By Katherine M. Flett



Authored by Katherine M. Flett with assistance from Haley E. Gassel, contributor

noncompeteOn August 13, 2021, Governor JB Pritzker signed SB 672 into law, amending the Illinois Freedom to Work Act, the state’s restrictive covenant statute. Going into effect on January 1, 2022, the new bill will only apply to restrictive covenants entered into on or after January 1, 2022.

Compensation Thresholds

In SB 672, the Illinois legislature reserved non-compete and non-solicit agreements for higher paid employees. The law prohibits employers from imposing non-compete agreements on employees earning less than $75,000 annually or non-solicitation agreements on employees earning less than $45,000 annually. Earnings are defined broadly to include compensation, salary, bonus, commission, or any other form of taxable compensation on the employee’s W-2 plus any elective deferrals. These salary thresholds will increase over time, beginning in 2027.

Other Prohibitions

SB 672 includes a special provision for employees furloughed or laid off “as the result of business circumstances or governmental orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic” or under similar circumstances. A non-competition or non-solicitation agreement may not be entered into under these circumstances unless enforcement of the agreement provides for “compensation equivalent to the employee’s base salary at the time of termination for the period of enforcement minus compensation earned through subsequent employment during the period of enforcement.”

Non-competition and non-solicitation agreements are illegal for non-managerial or non-administrative employees in construction or employees covered by collective bargaining agreements under the Illinois Public Labor Relations Act or the Illinois Educational Labor Relations Act.

Employees’ Rights

If an employee is not advised by the employer in writing to consult with an attorney before entering into a non-competition and non-solicitation agreement, the agreement is invalid. Likewise, if an employee does not receive a copy of a non-competition and non-solicitation agreement before starting employment or with at least 14 days to review the covenant, the agreement is invalid. The employee may sign the agreement before the 14-day period has ended.

An employee that successfully defends against an employer’s enforcement of a non-competition or non-solicitation agreement not to solicit shall recover from the employer all costs and reasonable attorney’s fees, along with any other appropriate relief.

Requirements for a Restrictive Covenant to be Valid

Continue reading »

Essential Points to Follow When Entering Into or Renewing Your Lease

Michael J. McKitrick

By Michael J. McKitrick



leaseIn spite of the uncertainties caused by the pandemic, your lease remains critical to your business. Commercial leases are complex transactions and should be undertaken with great care.

Following these basic points will make the lease renewal or new lease go smoothly. Continue reading »

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