Brittany Zalewski

Mandatory Recall for VW Diesel Owners?

Following an independent investigation, Volkswagen has admitted installing “defeat devices” in as many as 11 million diesel engines in car models 2009 to 2015 Golf, Passat, Beetle and Jetta. The engines are also in some Audi A3 vehicles. The devices enabled the cars to pass emission tests while, in normal operation, spewing 40 times more than the legal amount of pollution-causing nitrogen oxide.

The result has been a total freeze on all new and some used VW diesel-engine cars. The Environmental Protection Agency has refused to certify the 2016 line of VW diesels and the company has issued a stop-sell order to its dealers, preventing them from selling new diesel cars and certified ones.

In testimony before Congress earlier this month, VW U.S. CEO Michael Horn said bringing the cars into compliance with regulations could require changes to hardware, software, or both, depending on the model.

Roughly 325,000 vehicles in the U.S. may require the addition of SCR urea-injection systems, which other carmakers have used since 2009 to meet U.S. diesel emissions standards.Volkswagen owners who wish to check if their vehicle is one affected can use a Volkswagen VIN Look-up tool to check if their vehicle is in the database.

On other models, simple software changes could eliminate the “cheat” program that allowed cars to operate differently under testing conditions – something analysts believe will affect fuel economy and performance. Testers have noticed a lower fuel economy and slower acceleration when the cheating software was disabled.

This is definitely bad news for VW diesel owners. Aside from being scammed by VW and the resell value of their vehicles significantly decreasing, if owners abide by the recall, their cars will not perform in the same way they did before. The “clean diesel” cars they paid more for are now costing them more than they bargained for. Some owners are considering not having their car recalled or reprogrammed or retrofitted in any way due to not wanting to decrease the performance of their vehicle.

One thing to note is that “mandatory recall” does not mean that it is mandatory for owners to fix their vehicles. It means that VW as the manufacturer has been ruled by the government to issue a recall. It is voluntary for consumers unless you live in a state, such as California, that may decide to force the changes or they will block car registration.

Volkswagen almost inevitably will have to compensate owners of diesel cars equipped with emissions-rigging software. Some legal experts say the automaker could be forced to buy back the cars altogether. There is talk of class action lawsuits that may be forming.

Update 11/17/2015: VW has released a public statement offering a $500 gift certificate to owners of vehicles affected by the emissions scandal. Customers must submit their request for a “Goodwill Package” on Volkswagen’s  emissions update website. According to the letter sent to customers, they are “not required to waive their legal rights or release their claims against Volkswagen Group of American in order to receive the package.”

California Senate Bill 277 Eliminates Personal Vaccine Exemptions

vaccineFollowing Governor Jerry Brown’s signature passing SB 277, many parents have been prompted to rethink living in California. From their perspective, they have lost medical freedom. The vaccine debate is one that equals the heated topics of politics and religion. These debates get fiercely intense and this new vaccine bill is making heavy waves across the nation.

In an about-face turn from his earlier position in support of both personal and religious vaccine exemptions, Gov. Brown sided with the bill’s authors, Senators Dr. Richard Pan (Sacramento) and Ben Allen (Santa Monica), who both believe that children should be forcibly vaccinated in accordance with the official government vaccine schedule.

The passing of SB 277 is the most stringent vaccine mandate in the United States into law. In 2016, California parents will be forced to give their children more than 40 doses of 10 federally recommended vaccines. Families that do not comply with the one-size-fits-all vaccine mandate, will lose the option to use licensed daycare facilities, in-home daycare, public or private preschools and even after school programs. School children, not up-to-date on every mandated vaccine, will be required to home school without options for classroom learning.

Claiming that the legislation is necessary to support science, the bill’s supporters are hailing its passage as a boon for public health. But the opposition, many of whom have witnessed first-hand damage by vaccines, is furious about this monumental affront to health freedom. Many parents are pulling their children out of school rather than vaccinating them and some are even threatening to move out of the state.

Autism risk is one of the major concerns surrounding forced vaccinations as the autism rate has skyrocketed right alongside the ever-expanding government vaccination schedule. Countless parents have had to watch their children’s lives unravel immediately following childhood vaccinations. The advocacy group A Voice For Choice is already planning to file a referendum to have SB 277 barred from enactment. Various other entities have also begun filing lawsuits against the state of California for violating parental rights and freedom of medical choice.

Some celebrities have voiced their opinions, most notably Jim Carrey who went on a #sb277 Twitter rant stating, “California Gov says yes to poisoning more children with mercury and aluminum in mandatory vaccines. This corporate fascist must be stopped.” He later clarified he’s not anti-vaccine, but is against the “mercury laden thimerosal” in the vaccines. Carrey’s  ex-girlfriend Jenny McCarthy has been at the center of the anti-vaccine debate since a 2009 Time magazine interview during which she discussed her views on a possible link between vaccines and autism. McCarthy’s 13-year-old son, Evan, was diagnosed with autism in 2005.

Supporters of vaccines say the new law will protect public health. “It is a great day for California’s children,” said Paul Offit, chief of infectious diseases and director of Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “Finally, someone stood up for California’s children.” Sen. Richard Pan said he hopes other states will follow California’s example. “As the largest state in the country, we are sending a strong signal to the rest of the country that this can be done, that science and facts will prevail to make sound laws.”

Not all senators in California agree. Senator John Moorlach’s reaction was not in favor of the decision and stated, “I’m disheartened to hear that Governor Brown signed SB 277, which removes the personal belief exemption. To my constituents, I hear you and promise to continue fighting to protect your right to choose what is best for your families.”

What the Health Care Law Has Meant for SBO’s

Since the Affordable Care Act went into effect, there have been both tales of joy and stories of woe as the nation adapts to the new regulations.
I have a part time job at a restaurant so I decided to do some research and share what I have learned. For the small business owner, much of the outcome of the new legislation has been that of increased cost, hassle, and misery. That’s because the ACA places a tremendous burden on SBO’s, particularly in the area of record-keeping. In case you weren’t aware of this, here’s a short summary of the new rules for all companies with at least 50 employees.

ACA Compliance for SBOs

Business owners must now keep meticulous records on their employees’ work habits. In particular, they must now track the following and keep it all on file:

  • how many hours worked
  • absences
  • how much they spend on health insurance

What this means is a mountain of paperwork, for which many SBO’s don’t have the resources. Either they don’t have a large Human Resources department to handle all the extra work, or they have a hard time coming up with the funds to outsource the work.

The Cost of Compliance

In fact, compliance with the ACA has meant more than $15,000 per year, plus a whole lot of headaches. The reason for all the tracking requirements? Any worker with an average of 30 hours per week is supposed to be offered health insurance for them and for their dependents. If they’re not, the employer will be penalized.

The other reason for all the new paperwork is cost-tracking. The employer must now track how many months an employee is covered by health insurance, and how much it cost. That’s so the government can tell whether the premiums are actually affordable.

One survey conducted by the National Small Business Association cites that a shocking 91% of small businesses saw an increase in how much they paid out per employee on health insurance premiums. About one quarter of them said the increase was more than 20% more than pre-ACA days.

Sadly, the survey also revealed that about on third of the small businesses would stop their growth because of Affordable Care Act.

How SBOs Recover Those Costs

It’s not unusual for businesses incurring these extra costs to recover those costs from their employees. In most cases, that means reducing full-time employees down to less than 30 hours, or cutting raises and bonuses.

A Legal Battle

There’s another dimension to this, particularly relevant to the legal community. It’s the PPACA Complaint filed by small business owners who suddenly incurred employer mandates because of how the IRS is interpreting the ACA.

Originally, SBO’s in states who opted out of forming their own health insurance exchanges weren’t subject to the employer mandate of the ACA. Federal tax subsidies were originally meant only for people residing in states where the exchanges were set up. For the rest, they didn’t get a subsidy and therefore their employers were not subject to mandates and penalties for not offering insurance.

Now the IRS is offering the subsidies to those individuals, triggering employer mandates for those small business organizations. Currently in the courts, this case should prove to be pivotal in the state of affairs of the Affordable Care Act and small business owners everywhere.

“Low T” Lawsuits Have New Order Ruling by Federal Court Addressing State Court Coordination

heart-attack.On January 7th, a new order was issued on January 7th by the US federal court in regards to the state court testosterone lawsuit proceedings and the twin claims currently being dealt with in many different state courts. The order states that a number of attorneys who represent the plaintiffs must now act as the same with state proceedings held in Illinois, Missouri, Pennsylvania, California and Indiana and also for other state cases that happen in the future. This order may result in settlements ended faster for men injured by these drugs.

An estimated 620 – and growing – “Low T” therapy lawsuits have been filed in the Northern District of Illinois defending men who claim to have suffered strokes, heart attacks, life-threatening cardiovascular events, deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism as a result of their treatment. At the top of the list, the plaintiffs allege that the manufacturers of the prescribed drugs concealed their potentially adverse side effects from the public and did nothing to  warn doctors and physicians about the risks so they could inform patients. The plaintiffs also propose that sales of the medications were driven by misleading multi-million dollar marketing claims by pharmaceutical companies that drilled into minds that the drugs were remedies for male aging symptoms. Those claims have now injured healthy men that used the drugs without true medical need and did not have hypogonadism.

Court documents uncover that the “Low T” drug therapy litigation has been getting stronger since January of 2014 when the FDA published a safety announcement stating they were seriously investigating the drugs in question.


There are a variety of products on the market including gels, patches, pills and injections.

  • AndroGel®
  • Androderm®
  • Android 10®
  • Android 25®
  • Axiron®
  • Fortesta®
  • Bio-T-Gel®
  • Delatestryl®
  • Depo-Testosterone®
  • Methyltestosterone®
  • Striant®
  • Testim®
  • Testopel®
  • Testosterone
  • Cypionate®
  • Enanthate®
  • Testred®

FDA advisors have instructed the prescription labels be updated to reflect that the medications have indeed not been proved to lessen muscle loss, fatigue, low libido and other male aging symptoms. The FDA advisors also require manufacturers to conduct heart-related side effect studies on their drugs.

We will see many more lawsuits filed in 2015.





The Truth About Low Testosterone in Men

Heart attack striking a young man.jpgUnderstand the potential risks and consider alternatives before boosting your hormones indefinitely.

Millions of American men use a prescription testosterone gel or injection to restore normal levels of the manly hormone. The ongoing pharmaceutical marketing campaigns promise that treating “low T” this way can make men feel more alert, energetic, mentally sharp, and sexually functional. However, legitimate safety concerns linger. For example, in November 2013 a study in The Journal of the American Medical Association reported new evidence that some older men on testosterone could face higher cardiac risks. A 30% increased risk of death, heart attack, and stoke, to be exact.

“Because of the marketing, men have been flooded with information about the potential benefit of fixing low testosterone, but not with the potential costs,” says Dr. Carl Pallais, an endocrinologist and assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School. “Men should be much more mindful of the possible long-term complications.”

The Low-T Explosion

A loophole in FDA regulations allows pharmaceutical marketers the ability to urge men to talk to their doctors if they have certain “possible signs” of testosterone deficiency. Virtually everybody asks about this now because the direct-to-consumer marketing is so aggressive. Tons of men who would never have asked about it before started to do so when they saw ads that say ‘Do you feel tired?’

Just being tired isn’t enough to get a testosterone prescription. If a man has significant symptoms, they’ll need to have a lab test. In most men, the testosterone level is normal.

If a man’s testosterone looks below the normal range, there is a good chance he could end up on hormone supplements—often indefinitely. There is a bit of a testosterone trap. Men get started on testosterone replacement and they feel better, but then it’s hard to come off of it. On treatment, the body stops making testosterone. Men can often feel a big difference when they stop therapy because their body’s testosterone production has not yet recovered.

This wouldn’t matter so much if we were sure that long-term hormone therapy is safe, but some experts worry that low-T therapy is exposing men to small risks that could add up to harm over time.

What are the risks?

A relatively small number of men experience immediate side effects of testosterone supplementation, such as acne, disturbed breathing while sleeping, breast swelling or tenderness, or swelling in the ankles. Doctors also watch out for high red blood cell counts, which could increase the risk of clotting.

From 2001 to 2011, the number of men receiving testosterone therapy tripled. Over the recent years, lawsuits started being filed over cases involving men with serious side effects using “Low T” therapy, such as the popular Androgel. The side effects profiles are different for each drug, but there are some potential dangers common to all them:

  • Sleep apnea
  • Increased risk of prostate cancer
  • Stroke
  • Sudden cardiac death
  • Heart attack
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Acne
  • Breast enlargement
  • Anemia

What does the FDA say?

One year ago (January 2014), the FDA made an official safety announcement through their website that made clear that the agency would be investigating the link between heart attack and death with FDA-approved testosterone products. The risk of cardiovascular issues led consumer advocacy groups to call for a black-box warning on all testosterone drug packages and have petitioned the FDA to require manufacturers to do so.

Take a cautious approach

A large, definitive trial for hormone treatment of men is still to come. Until then, here is how to take a cautious approach to testosterone therapy.

Take stock of your health first

Unhappy couple in bedroomHave you considered other reasons why you may be experiencing fatigue, low sex drive, and other symptoms attributable to low testosterone? For example, do you eat a balanced, nutritious diet? Do you exercise regularly? Do you sleep well? Address these factors before turning to hormone therapy.

If your sex life is not what it used to be, have you ruled out relationship or psychological issues that could be contributing?

If erectile dysfunction has caused you to suspect “low T” as the culprit, consider that there are other factors that can also cause erectile dysfunction.

Get an accurate assessment

Inaccurate or misinterpreted test results can either falsely diagnose or miss a case of testosterone deficiency. Your testosterone level should be measured between 7 am and 10 am, when it’s at its peak. Confirm a low reading with a second test on a different day. It may require multiple measurements and careful interpretation to establish bioavailable testosterone, or the amount of the hormone that is able to have effects on the body. Consider getting a second opinion from an endocrinologist.

Be mindful of unknown risks

Approach testosterone therapy with caution: especially if you are at high risk for prostate cancer; have severe urinary symptoms from prostate enlargement; or have diagnosed heart disease, a previous heart attack, or multiple risk factors for heart problems.

Ask your doctor to explain the various side effects for the different formulations of testosterone, such as gels, patches, and injections. Know what to look for if something goes wrong.


Is Outsourcing your Law Library worth it?

photo credit: Robert Reukema, LLM

photo credit: Robert Reukema, LLM

The legal landscape is always evolving, and firms are constantly on the lookout for advantages that would maximize profits and lower risk. Today we will be talking about one such case: law library outsourcing. As more information is being converted into digital one and the need for diverse types of information intensifies. When firm partners are looking to branch out to business development and finance, a couple of issues – that everybody face – appear.

Do you choose to opt for a greater self-serve information model, risking overloading your lawyers and other staff (who are already working fastly and efficiently)? How does the cost of IT and information resources justify the benefits of automation and improved access? How do you keep your current clients satisfied with their information needs and how can you gain new ones?

While firms are looking for answers to these questions, outsourcing has come up time and time again. The CEO of one successful company in the outsourcing sector for law libraries, firmly believes in what they set out to do: Outsourcing gives a company leverage in their core business. However, as powerful as it is, outsourcing isn’t always the answer to every problem.

Although outsourcing has become more present now than it ever was, false information still abounds about it. We will try to debunk some of these myths that frequently crop up in conversation when discussing outsourcing with law firm managers. After we’ve looked at the common misconceptions about this process, we will look at the benefits that outsourcing brings a company.

1. Outsourcing is cheaper than hiring.

There’s a common saying that outsourcing allows you to do the same for cheaper and (sometimes) more efficiently. That may be true in the long term. In the short term however, it isn’t so. First of all, the outsourcing company doesn’t work for free. Couple of fees intervene when you’re outsourcing legal work to a specialized company: management fees (in addition to the cost of the work that was provided), certain benefits, time that was saved, etc.

But the real benefits of outsourcing become visible economically when you look at the long-term plan. After all one-time fees have been dealt with, the financial and managerial functions are now the responsibility of the outsourcing firm. The costs of employee churn rate, increases in salary, perks and bonuses and expenses such as workers’ compensation are all dealt with by the company that is handling the outsourcing. The company that hires an outsourcing firm has only to pay only one invoice to one provider and all the other elements such as service level agreements and achieving planned targets are included in the outsourcing agreement.

2. Outsourcing is bad for company morale and culture.

While not entirely false, outsourcing can be controlled and managed. Insight from law firm executives tells us that management is considering this issue more than they should be, worrying even about the effect that outsourcing would have in their company than they publicly let to know.

Employees may view outsourcing as a loyalty issue. However we should remember that the decision to outsource is never personal and concerns only the health of the business. The outsourcing provider may provide greater efficiency not only because of more people, but because of the technology they own, which allows them to streamline work flow and processes, their recruiting and hiring skills and a higher flexibility to meet needs with the resources available, no matter the situation.

3. Outsourcing means sending work away from home.

This is the most persistent myth about outsourcing and it has been debunked many times before. Outsourcing can take many different forms that do not include sending work (and money) to far-away countries. It’s possible to outsource to local companies and in fact, the majority of the outsourcing arrangements out there is done on the spot in a law firm’s office. It’s not uncommon to have the outsourced employees working hand-in-hand with your own attorneys and staff – in this respect the only that concerns them is the paycheck itself, not where it comes from. Outsourcing is also increasingly allowing businesses to delegate work to people who are working from home.

Another variation of this myth is that your employees will lose their current jobs. In most cases this isn’t true and even if it is, a reputable outsourcing company will work with finding another job for the employee who is going to be laid off.

4. Outsourcing lowers wages and does not value the real value that the outsourced employee provides.

The bigger outsourcing firms have a policy to provide a compensation package and a way to match the wages of the employee who is outsourced. While it isn’t always possible to offer the same benefits as a multinational would, there are many options for fair and balanced compensation packages that an outsourcing firm will try to match.

An outsourcing company also offers superior soft benefits such as improved support and coaching, as well as more opportunities for advancement and career development. Offering these benefits is also why an outsourcing company’s churn rate is so low. Employees that work in outsourcing are the hands of this industry so they are treated very well.

5. Outsourcing means that one life-long job is turned into an one-off assignment.

If nature has taught us anything it is that the only thing that is constant in the universe is change. No job has ever remained unchanged over the years. The forces of globalization and technology is what has changed this. If you’re an employee in a well-known outsourcing company, you’re neither worse nor better than an employee in a “traditional” law firm.

Outsourcing can sometimes provide that temporary relief that is so needed in disaster recovery situation. Take for example the case of one university library system that used an outsourcing firm to deal with a long-term assignment that would require less and less involvement over time. The people that got involved in this project knew about this and so, as time passed and needs changed, some employees were lost due to attrition and others moved on to other projects.

On the flip side, there are outsourcing companies that have outsourcing contracts going strong for 10 years and longer! In this constantly changing work landscape, 10 years is considered almost a life-time. However, does such a contract remain unchanged with time? Not necessarily. Contracts are reevaluated constantly and compared to current market prices. This means that a long-running legal outsourcing company has proven its worth by staying in business. Without delivering value, quality and the most excellent service, an outsourcing company will not last long in this arena.

Can You Legally Enforce Social Media Policy In The Workplace?

Social media is a double-edged sword: it brings tremendous power and far-reaching impact, but if left unsupervised, it can turn into a real privacy nightmare for your company. Because of this, a business must have some measures in place when it comes to social media. There two risks that have to be addressed:

  1. managing corporate social media accounts;
  2. managing how your employees use social media, on and off work.

We advise that every company have clear guidelines and a set of principles when it comes to these issues. While states have yet to enact legislation that is consistent across the country, you can easily draft a SMP or a Social Media Policy document. This will go a long way toward protecting your company’s public image.

Why is a Social Media Policy important for your business?

When social media hits the fan.  photo credit: Leo Hidalgo (@yompyz)

When social media hits the fan.
photo credit: Leo Hidalgo (@yompyz)

An SMP establishes guidelines and rules for social media use inside and outside your company. In addition to this it includes mitigation procedures for situations when these guidelines are broken. Don’t kid yourself – sooner or later, as Murphy’s Law states, something will go wrong. Keep in mind that the SMP is not just a descriptive document for your organization – it’s also a legal tool that has both proactive and defensive functions.

Having a Social Media Policy allows your company to be proactive on issues such as:

  • Guidelines for content creators. What is considered sensitive or restricted content.
  • Who will be held accountable for social media published content.
  • Chain of command and the role each employee has.
  • Security procedures (strong password rules, password sharing and so on)
  • Monitoring all social media streams – posts, feeds, comments and articles.
  • Interacting with the public.
  • Respecting the privacy of individuals.

A SMP allows your company to be defensive by:

  • Establishing that employee statements and other views are individual and do not make your company responsible for them.
  • Having a contingency plan when things go wrong.

Now would be a good idea to look at what can go wrong with social media, especially as it relates to a company.

Social Media Disasters

It’s not uncommon to see vacancies for full-time social media jobs. Nowadays, managing multiple social accounts on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and others can be its own job. However you should not forget that the person that is responsible for this task needs to be managed as well. If you don’t have a Social Media Policy in place, all that unrestricted access to social accounts can prove extremely risky to your business’ public image. Misuse of an account or a mistake can happen with every person – regardless if it’s an intern or an executive.

Stories of social media horror stories abound. British entertainment retailer HMV, lost its Twitter account to an employee after news of layoffs inside the company spread. The employee had created the account on her own when she was still an intern and she was the only one who had access to the password. What resulted was a storm of negative publicity when she tweeted about the company’s layoff plans live to over 60 thousand followers.

Some would be inclined to opt for the quick fix of a social media company that specializes in this type of work. However, delegating a task to a 3rd party does not guarantee that guidelines will be respected. In fact, some of the more known cases of social media mismanagement come from agencies that were tasked to handle accounts for multi-million brands.

That is why we recommend that you hire a lawyer to draft a SMP for your organization. Regardless if your social media needs are met in-house or outsourced, such a policy will prevent any unintentional mistakes from happening – or if they’ve already happened – to be able to distance yourself from the mess that has been created.

Always Remove An-Exployee’s Social Media Access

It may sound like common sense, but revoking the social media access of an employee that is about to be terminated or has been terminated can reduce further headaches down the line. There have been cases of spiteful workers who refused to share the passwords to social media accounts. Courts have already weighed in when it comes to ownership of social media contacts however they will always check to see what the company’s current social media and corporate policies were. When drafting your SMP, it is crucial to state that your company will own all social media accounts. This is also important for companies that have branded employee accounts which post on behalf of the company.

Policing Personal Social Media Accounts

Controlling your employees’ personal use of social media during and outside work hours is also essential as social media provides an irresistible distraction for most, if not all, people. Having corporate principles on the amount of “socializing” that is allowed during work hours will curb the decrease in productivity and will also help prevent any rogue “off-hours” posts to be sensationalized by the media. Having clear guidelines and rules on what, when and how your employees engage on social media will protect you from unseen problems.

Does every company need a SMP?

Here are a couple of factors to consider whether you need a SMP or not.

  1. Employees Gone Rogue

    There are many stories of employees’ personal comments, Facebook posts or Instagram images causing headaches for corporations. The fast-food industry is rife with examples of employees posting images of themselves doing “unsanitary acts” behind the counter. A smart employer will instruct all employees on their personal social media behavior, as well as promote and incentivize proper social media behavior.

  2.  Internet – The New Water Cooler

    Where as employees congregated around the office water cooler to discuss and vent about workplace issues, the Internet has now become the new water cooler where employees have the power to do so. A well-thought SMP will have guidelines regarding such public discussions – without preventing the right to discuss workplace issues in a private setting. This applies to everyone, including unionized employees. The law has authority over all kinds of workplace discussion, venting and ranting – regardless if you’re part of a union or not.

  3. Sharing Is Not Caring

    As social creatures, we love to share information. A lot. Statistics show that over 2 billion of the world’s population is active one way or another on social media, with 74% of these people being adults. Since social media is so widespread, it’s very likely that your employees are already present on social media. That is why having a SMP in place will prevent and protect your company’s image in case something goes wrong.