Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are used for a variety of reasons these days, from accessing different country’s streaming services to downloading, well, “dubious” files. But they were initially created to allow employees of a business to access the company network from home or from the road. Instead of having essential files saved to their device, where they’re quite vulnerable, they are kept in a central location with better security.
How Do VPNs Work?
As its name implies, a VPN creates a secure, private connection to a network of your choosing via the internet. It encrypts your entire internet connection by re-routing it through another server. Maybe you’ve heard that VPNs can make it look like your computer is in a different location, even a different country. That’s because of this re-routing process.
Bottom line: it makes your connection much harder to hack.
Why Lawyers Need VPNs
Using a VPN is especially important when working from home or other remote arrangements. First, our home wifi is often not as well-protected as the one at the office. And even with a strong password, data can still be shared by your internet service provider (ISP). ISPs often collect customer data, anonymize it, and sell it. It’s generally not a malicious practice, but it is a cause for concern for those who need to protect client information. Law practices have also become prime targets for hackers – especially those that handle the data of corporate clients.
The Bright Side
Even though the concepts behind VPNs are a little complicated, using them is surprisingly easy. There are several services out there that offer VPNs for a reasonable price, and they’re often packaged with other security tools. And once you have it, you just click connect, maybe enter a password, and you’re good to go. Many even allow you to have the VPN automatically connect when your computer starts up.
Once you have it set up, be sure all staff know about the business VPN and how to use it. As many in the cybersecurity world like to say: Your system is only as secure as its weakest point.
The push for non-essential businesses to open is gaining momentum. As American employers contemplate reopening, they will face some legal obstacles. Perhaps the biggest concern is the risk that workers will contract COVID-19 after returning to work.
What liability will businesses have if that occurs?
Easing Social Distancing May Not Let Employers Off the Hook
While more restrictive measures may end soon, employers will have to be sure to follow all CDC, OSHA, and DOL guidelines when they do reopen for business. Failing to take reasonable measures to protect workers could lead to liability. For example, on April 6, the family of a Walmart employee who died from COVID-19 filed a wrongful death claim, alleging the store failed to enforce social distancing guidelines and clean and sterilize the store properly, among other claims.
States Will Vary Their Approach
Businesses will also face different restrictions for opening by state. For example, in California, workers in the food and service industry may need to wear masks. Businesses will need to monitor their state’s ongoing restrictions carefully.
DOL to Begin Enforcing Worker COVID-19 Protections
On Monday, April 20, the U.S. Department of Labor announced it would begin enforcing rules enacted to help workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Reuters. Under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, employers with fewer than 500 employees must provide up to two weeks of paid leave for workers who are quarantined with COVID-19, and up to 12 weeks of partial paid leave for workers who need to care for sick relatives. Employers with over 500 employees are excluded.
So far, the DOL has received hundreds of complaints alleging violations of the FFCRA. The DOL had allowed a grace period for employers. Now that the grace period is ending, employers will need to ensure they are up-to-date and following FFCRA provisions. The end to stay-at-home orders does not end the FFCRA.
Employers Are Seeking Protection
The legal risks of re-opening for business is not lost on employers. That is why corporate lobbying groups are currently urging Congress to pass protective measures to prevent a flood of litigation.
Congressman Mike Johnson told Reuters there would be “probably near-unanimous support” for such protections among Republican legislators, but it is not clear if there is bipartisan agreement on the issue.
Whether or not such legislation passes, it is important for employers to emphasize safety moving forward.
Employer Liability for Covid-19 Exposure (With Links to Relevant Federal Guides) (FindLaw’s COVID-19 Resources)
Keeping Your Law Firm Operational During an Outbreak (FindLaw’s Strategist)
Reassuring Clients During a Crisis (FindLaw’s Strategist)
The Supreme Court will not reconvene this term to hear oral arguments in person. On April 13, the nation’s highest court announced it will hear remote oral arguments in select cases in May. The 10 remaining cases will be pushed to next term.
Live Streaming Oral Arguments
Notably, the oral arguments will be live streamed, according to the press release. While the court will occasionally post oral arguments on the same day, and transcripts are routinely available within hours, Chief Justice John Roberts has been reluctant to allow live feeds, saying that “it has the potential to hurt the court” by having counsel and justices “play to the audience.” The Chief Justice has argued the transcripts and recordings posted the Friday after oral arguments provide enough transparency.
It appears that the novel coronavirus has forced the Supreme Court to at least temporarily allow access to the public.
What Cases Will Be Heard?
Perhaps the most notable cases to be heard in a couple of weeks will involve President Trump’s financial records. That these cases will be heard is unsurprising, since both Trump v. Vance and Trump v. Mazars USA, LLP, are already on an accelerated timeline. Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance agreed to not seek enforcement of the Second Circuit’s ruling that President Trump had to provide the DA with a copy of his tax returns related to an investigation of potential violations of campaign finance laws, provided the Supreme Court heard the appeal this term.
Other cases include a question about whether electors must vote in line with their state’s popular vote, whether adding .com to a generic top-level domain can create a trademark, and whether the First Amendment prohibits courts from interfering in employment disputes involving religious institutions.
Will Live Tweeting SCOTUS Become a Thing?
The Supreme Court has yet to announce the exact schedule but will hear oral arguments Monday through Wednesday the first two full weeks of May.
Considering the importance of some of the remaining cases (and since we’re all at home anyway) it is not unreasonable to think that some of the upcoming oral arguments will be the most listened to in U.S. history. One also wonders whether we will get a certain amount of live tweeting during oral arguments, particularly from President Trump, who has demonstrated a penchant for live tweeting legal proceedings in the past.
The lawsuits and enforcement actions against alleged price gougers is heating up. State attorneys general have been handling numerous complaints and have indicated a willingness to prosecute offenders. Florida businesses have returned hundreds of thousands of dollars to consumers after complaints about price gouging were filed with the state. Meanwhile, consumers in California and elsewhere are beginning to file class actions against retailers, alleging they are profiting from the pandemic.
A Legal Gray Area
There is no federal law that prohibits price gouging. However, in most states, price gouging is illegal, or is considered an unfair or deceptive trade practice. Retailers accused of price gouging can face fines and other penalties. Many states have set up hotlines to receive consumer complaints.
So far, at least, states have largely focused on established retailers when investigating potential price gouging. However, that may be changing. For example, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost recently filed a price gouging lawsuit against online seller “Donkey476″ for selling N95 masks at exorbitant prices. A California man was recently arrested for similar behavior.
There is also some movement at the federal level to prohibit hoarding and price gouging. President Trump issued an Executive Order to enforce the anti-hoarding provisions of the Defense Production Act. Federal authorities could also conceivably use existing laws such as fraud and anti-trust laws to prosecute egregious instances. A bill has also been introduced in the House to ban price-gouging items related to COVID-19.
Lawsuits Alleging Price Gouging Increasing
It is not just state authorities on the lookout for retailers taking advantage of unprecedented circumstances. According to a federal lawsuit filed in San Francisco, Amazon, Walmart, and Costco, among others, have “taken advantage of the misery of millions” to profit from selling eggs at an inflated price. Eggs in California have tripled in price since the pandemic.
Amazon is also facing a separate lawsuit over the price of “essential items.”
More Enforcement and Lawsuits Sure to Come
Retailers will need to be careful to comply with state price gouging laws and monitor for any federal action. Meanwhile, attorneys who practice criminal defense or consumer protection may find a new demand for their services.
Price Gouging, Cancellations, and Other Consumer Issues During the Pandemic (FindLaw’s COVID-19 Legal Center)
A Third Class Action Filed Against Purell for False Claims About Its Effectiveness (FindLaw’s Greedy Associates)
New Trend? Federal Judge Says Amazon Can be Liable For Selling Defective Third-Party Products (FindLaw’s Greedy Associates)