The Legal Insider

August 2013

How to Avoid Vacation Leave Disputes

It’s August, you have the perfect vacation spot picked out, and you’re all set to book a plane flight and a hotel. But first, you still have to ask your boss if you can take the time off work…

Vacation leave can sometimes be a sensitive topic to bring up with an employer. Not all employee job rights include paid vacation time (for instance, with temporary workers). However, you should never hesitate to bring up vacation leave at your work, especially if your contract entitles you to take scheduled paid vacation periods.

Here are a few tips to avoid disputes over vacation leave:

  • Give some head’s up: Always put in for vacation leave well beforehand. Disputes can be lessened by avoiding last-minute mentions of your vacation. This will also help you and your office adjust to the upcoming changes.
  • Negotiate vacation time from the get-go: It’s often best to discuss vacation leave privileges during employment contract negotiations. This will help solidify your vacation leave terms into a legally enforceable contract. You may even want to mention vacation times before you get hired, if you know in advance when you plan to leave.  
  • Review company policies: Many vacation leave disputes can be avoided by a simple understanding of your company’s policies when it comes to vacation leave. Re-read the employee handbook or talk to HR if you have questions about how leave is processed at your job.
  • Use a power of attorney: If you will be gone for an extended period of time, or will be out of the country, you may want to use a power of attorney to handle documents or other matters while you’re away.  
  • Document any harassment or discrimination: For instance, if one set of workers is being granted vacation leave, while another set of workers aren’t being granted leave, it may be a case of discrimination. Each state has different laws when it comes to vacation and family leave. Report any violations to HR.

Employers understand that vacation leave is a part of the normal work life; in fact, some employers might find it strange if a worker never takes a leave for vacation. So, just be sure to follow your company’s policies when it comes to filing for vacation leave. If you have a dispute, it may be possible to resolve the dispute through the HR department, or by hiring a lawyer for help with filing a complaint.


Moving Companies Take Hostages

Americans are constantly on the move – one in five of us relocate our home every year. Each of these movers is a potential customer for moving companies. Aware of the stress and complications that can arise in packing up all your belongings, some moving companies take advantage of their customers by presenting deals that are in fact too good to be true.

A common dilemma faced by movers is the so-called “hostage hold.” Some moving companies initially charge a low-price for their services in order to lure in consumers. The moving company will receive the consumer’s property – and then refuse to give it back. Instead, the moving company will hold the property “hostage” until the consumer pays extra money to get their own belongings back. Although the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has the power to fine moving companies for these illegal “hostage holds,” many movers cannot wait months for the federal government to take action.

The best way to prevent “hostage holds” is to have a written contract before the moving company comes to pick up the property. Some moving companies might give an initial price online or over the phone. However, a moving company cannot know what its exact price before knowing the locations and the number/type of property being moved. For instance, a moving company might charge $.50 per lbs for 200 miles. This might sound reasonable on its face, but some moving companies will charge extra if the move is from state to state. This kind of confusion should be cleared up before the move occurs.

The contract between the mover and the moving company should at least contain the essential terms of the deal. First, the contract should contain the total price for the moving company’s services. A locked-in price will save a lot of time about how much is owed. Second, the contract should state what is being moved, as well as where the property is coming from and where the property is going. Date and time for pick-up and delivery should also be given. The terms should be spelled out exactly to avoid any mistakes in understanding. There is a substantial difference between the City of Richmond, Virginia; the City of Richmond, California; and the District of Richmond, in San Francisco, California.

Potential expenses should also be considered when making a contract. If the mover has many friends and family willing to help, the labor costs should be down. The parties should also decide how many trucks are required, who is providing the packaging, and who pays gas and tolls. Finally, the consumer should check if the moving company has insurance. The consumer should check if the moving company covers lost items, employee on the job injuries, and/or auto accidents.

Moving companies should make relocation easier, not give legal headaches. Making a written contract can make the road much smoother.


Top 5 Ways to Survive Foreclosure

Foreclosure is a bitter, stressful, and confusing experience for most homeowners. Each case presents unique issues. In some instances, selling the property before foreclosure becomes inevitable might be a good idea. In other situations, negotiating with the bank might be better than selling the house. Since the best solution to each case will vary, homeowners should always consider all available options.

Here are five tips to help homeowners survive foreclosure:

1. Don’t Assume Foreclosure is the Only Option

When a bank threatens foreclosure, the homeowner’s initial reaction is to sink into despair. However, keep in mind that foreclosure is often the last option lenders want to pursue. Even if the banks seem to aggressively pursue foreclosure, state laws often compel lenders to explore alternatives.

The Nevada Homeowner Bill of Rights, for instance, requires that the lenders and the borrower engage in mediation before the house can be sold. A similar law in California mandates that lenders offer a loan modification before they can foreclose a property.

2. Don’t Abandon the Property Before the Foreclosure is Over

During the foreclosure crisis of 2008, many individuals faced with foreclosure walked away from their homes. Some even abandoned their homes before the notice of sales had been posted. These homeowners assumed that since the banks were taking their homes, they did not have to stick around to see the entire process through. This turned out to be a huge mistake.

Although the banks did foreclose some of the homes, the banks also failed to foreclose other properties because the process was too expensive. The homeowners thus retained ownership of their abandoned property. As a result, the homeowners, continued to hold liability for all taxes and liens accumulated on the property in their absence.

3. Avoid Sitting On an Underwater Mortgage

Having a mortgage worth more than the home is a terrible situation, but in today’s housing market, it is not uncommon. Selling the property is almost impossible. Abandoning the property could be illegal if the property is in a recourse state. Many homeowners in these circumstances will keep paying the mortgage and allow the foreclosure to run its course.

The problem with this “solution” is that paying the mortgage on an underwater property is like giving free money to the lender. The homeowner is not getting anything out of it and even if the property is foreclosed, the homeowner might still be liable for the bank selling the property at a loss (in certain states).

It is crucial that homeowners with underwater mortgages try to modify the existing mortgage terms or refinance the mortgage. Getting the property out of the “underwater” mark is not easy, but this is a better solution than other alternatives.

4. Carefully Follow the Guidelines Established by Lenders and/or the Court

As the foreclosure process transpires, it is never advisable to ignore the phone calls, letters, or e-mails sent by lenders or the court. Avoiding the banks will only accelerate the foreclosure, since banks are only responsible for making a good-faith effort to communicate and negotiate with the homeowner. Ignoring the court is even worse, since the homeowner will miss important hearings, collect fines, and in some cases, even be charged with contempt of court. Financial trouble might be embarrassing, but it’s easier to deal with finances when the judge is not yelling at you for your failure to answer the phone.

5. Do Not Spend All Your Money

This might sound difficult for a homeowner being foreclosed, but setting aside some money for the mortgage is important. Modifying a mortgage depends on the homeowner’s ability to pay. Even if you plan to voluntarily sell your home or abandon your home, you still need money for rent or for the next mortgage. Foreclosure is not pleasant, but there is always a future after the foreclosure.


5 Tips to Prevent Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is a pervasive issue effecting millions of Americans. However, it can be prevented. Below are five simple steps to help you recognize and prevent abuse to the elderly.

1. Recognize and Address Warning Signs of Elder Abuse

Elder abuse most frequently takes place outside long-term care facilities. As many as 90% of elder abuse cases are inflicted by an elderly person’s family members. By using common sense, you can recognize cases of elder abuse in your own family or community. Common signs of elder abuse include:

  • Sudden increase in isolation of an elderly person
  • Unexplained bruises or sores
  • Unclean living space or clothing
  • Constant refusals to take necessary medications
  • Changes in emotional mood, depression, or increased confusion
  • Paying extra money to a caregiver for services already covered
  • Absence or disappearance of household items that are within the senior’s budget

2. Communicate with Elderly Individuals About Elder Abuse

Visiting an elderly family member living separately from you may give you an opportunity to discuss planning issues and address your loved one’s concerns. Be an active listener and let your loved ones express their immediate as well as long-term needs.

3. Report Instances of Elder Abuse to Appropriate Agencies

Do not assume that you must be entirely sure that elder abuse is taking place before you report it. It is not your job to investigate elder abuse. Instead, simply look up your state’s reporting agency and report suspicious behavior. Contacting the appropriate authorities is also more effective than pursuing self-help remedies.

Organizations that you can contact include Adult Protective Services or Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

4. Reach Out and Stay Connected

For many elderly as well as vulnerable adults it may be emotionally difficult to reach out and ask for assistance. But elder abuse is associated with increased isolation and related dependence on very few individuals. Therefore, reaching out is no longer an option; it’s a must. Easy ways to become proactive:

  • Speak about elder abuse to your personal banker or a teller as your bank may have elder abuse awareness programs.
  • Discuss potential mistreatment with your health care provider.
  • Consider joining seniors or abuse support and prevention groups.
  • Reach out to your religious congregation concerning elder abuse.

5. Protect Your Own Future

By planning early for your own future as well as members of your immediate family, you can prevent family tensions and avoid potential elder abuse. Individuals nearing the latter stages of life should also prepare for financial issues by drafting a power of attorney, setting up a representative payee account, and setting up a will or a trust.


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