Rocket Lawyer https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog Everyday Law Blog Fri, 03 Jul 2020 02:20:59 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.4.2 Property Manager’s Toolkit: Key Documents for Tenants to Sign https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/documents-for-tenants-to-sign-927264 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/documents-for-tenants-to-sign-927264#respond Fri, 03 Jul 2020 02:17:28 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27264 Managing rental paperwork can be a daunting task and staying organized is difficult. That’s why we’ve launched Rocket Sign™—fast digital signatures to help every landlord and property manager sign documents […]

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Managing rental paperwork can be a daunting task and staying organized is difficult. That’s why we’ve launched Rocket Sign™—fast digital signatures to help every landlord and property manager sign documents online with the confidence of knowing that legal help is available when needed. Given the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve put together a few ideas for how you can stay productive and get more peace of mind while managing your rental properties during this unprecedented time.


Fast Digital Signatures

Sign confidently with Rocket Sign™.


What legal documents can tenants sign digitally? 

Below are just a few examples of legal documents that every tenant can sign online:

Rental Application

It’s generally in your best interest to have all prospective tenants fill out a Rental Application. Make sure you get signatures from renters and co-signers, so that you are authorized to run background and credit checks for everyone. Not only will you be able to reduce your own potential liability if something goes wrong, but you will also more quickly and easily be able to find the right tenants.

Lease Agreement

A Lease Agreement is used to outline your rules and collect rent. All adult tenants in a household should sign the lease so that they may be held jointly responsible if one roommate breaks the agreement. Having all tenants sign a lease helps to protect your property by ensuring that everyone who lives on the premises is held accountable to the same standards.

Renter’s Inspection Worksheet

It’s typically recommended that you have the tenant do a walk-through of the property before moving in. With a Renter’s Inspection Worksheet, property managers and tenants can get on the same page about the condition of the property. This helps you set expectations for how clean or damage-free the property should be once the lease is over. 

Lease Renewal Agreement

While many leases transition to month-to-month agreements after one year, you may wish to send a Lease Renewal Agreement to your tenants to formally extend the rental duration for a longer period. Let your tenants know how much it would cost to renew the lease and any additional terms. Depending on your state, you may need to send notices within a certain number of days before the lease expires, so be sure to talk to a lawyer to determine what the guidelines are where you operate.

Lease Amendment

If your tenant’s life changes, you also may need to update their lease. Situations where you may want to use a Lease Amendment include when a roommate moves in or out, when a pet is brought into the home, or when the tenant acquires usage of new amenities like a parking space or storage area. An amendment helps you change the lease in order to add to or update your terms.

Can you sign a lease remotely?

Yes, with Rocket Lawyer, you can make and sign Lease Agreements online. If you’re accustomed to using your own lease template, you may still use Rocket Sign to execute your agreement and store it safely in your account for future reference. If you have questions about your lease, you can ask a lawyer before signing. Start using Rocket Sign, or explore more documents for landlords and property managers today.

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Rocket Sign™: Fast Digital Signatures & More https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/rocket-sign-927232 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/rocket-sign-927232#respond Tue, 30 Jun 2020 13:00:00 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27232 Since our founding in 2008, Rocket Lawyer has been committed to providing affordable and simple legal services for all. Early on, we realized that developing and delivering a fast and […]

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Since our founding in 2008, Rocket Lawyer has been committed to providing affordable and simple legal services for all. Early on, we realized that developing and delivering a fast and easy way to e-sign Rocket Lawyer documents would be essential to our mission—so we’re proud that digital signatures have been part of the Rocket Lawyer experience for many years already.

Over time, we’ve learned that our customers need more. In addition to being able to sign the documents they’ve made through our patented online interview process, customers must be able to sign any document with the peace of mind that comes alongside the tools of justice available to them in a Rocket Lawyer membership. Our members rely on tools like attorney advice, collaboration, document sharing, and secure online storage to navigate their legal matters with confidence and ease.

This is even more true today. Due to the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19, our members find themselves needing natively digital solutions that support completely virtual collaboration and end-to-end online workflows. That’s why we’re proud to announce Rocket Sign™. It’s a new, next-generation digital signature app to help people everywhere declare their independence from antiquated ways of doing business and—with online access to professional legal advice—from signing contracts they may not fully understand. 

rocket sign sign confidently

What is Rocket Sign™

Rocket Sign gives you the freedom to add fast digital signatures to any document with the peace of mind provided by optional attorney advice. In just a few seconds, you can easily put legally-binding signatures in place—with no in-person meetings or email attachments required. 

Here’s how it works:

  1. Prepare for signature – Simply add your document and drop in signature, text, and date fields.
  1. Share and sign – Choose who will see and sign your document, or share it with an attorney.
  1. Stay organized – Store signed documents for safekeeping and easy access anywhere.

More than an electronic signature tool, Rocket Lawyer provides a complete legal experience, so you can get legal help when you need it—before or after signing your contract. As a Premium member, you’ll have access to a nationwide network of Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorneys and a library of legal documents, perfect for all your legal needs. 


Declare Your Independence from Paper and Uncertainty

Join Rocket Lawyer for free and get fast digital signatures today.


Who can use Rocket Sign to sign documents online?

Small businesses owners

Get the most out of your Rocket Lawyer membership by using Rocket Sign to speed up the contract process, reduce errors, and organize your documents in one place for safekeeping.

Landlords and property managers

Renting out property? Use Rocket Sign to get secure, legal signatures on leases and other property management documents without having to meet with tenants in person.

Individuals and families

If you’re taking care of personal matters like selling a car or lending money to a friend, use Rocket Sign to get documents signed quickly and easily without leaving your home.

Are digital signatures legally valid? 

Yes! For 20+ years, the ESIGN Act has ensured that digital signatures are legally valid. Additionally, all signers are bound by the Rocket Lawyer terms of service, which identifies their digital signature as a legal representation of their signed consent. 

How can I sign documents online for free?

To commemorate 2020 as the twentieth anniversary of the ESIGN Act, we’re offering Rocket Sign for free to everyone! To take advantage of this limited-time offer, simply sign up for a Rocket Lawyer account and follow the steps outlined above.

Need help with your digital signatures?

Rocket Lawyer is here for you. Contact us online or call our dedicated customer support team toll-free at (877) 881-0947, Monday through Friday, from 6 am – 6 pm PT. 

If you have legal questions about signing a document, ask a lawyer

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H-1B Visa Ban: How Will the Executive Order Impact Employers? https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/h1b-visa-ban-how-will-the-executive-order-impact-employers-927210 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/h1b-visa-ban-how-will-the-executive-order-impact-employers-927210#respond Tue, 23 Jun 2020 00:58:32 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27210 In light of the impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. economy, President Trump has issued a new executive order restricting certain employment-related immigration visas—most notably, the H-1B visa for skilled […]

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In light of the impact of COVID-19 on the U.S. economy, President Trump has issued a new executive order restricting certain employment-related immigration visas—most notably, the H-1B visa for skilled workers. This new executive order is estimated to affect over 525,000 workers. Since many companies recruit and hire from a global talent pool, you may have questions about how this new policy will impact your business. We’ve answered a few questions that you may have as an employer. 


Need help with a work visa?

Ask a lawyer any question about employment law or immigration.


Which work visas are impacted by the executive order?

In addition to extending the existing green card ban through the end of the year, the new executive order impacts several types of work-related immigration visas:   

H-1B Visa

Meant for specialized, highly-skilled workers and used very often in the tech industry, H-1B visas will be suspended through the end of the year. For the most part, no new H-1B visas will be issued in 2020, however, there may be exemptions for healthcare workers providing medical care to COVID-19 patients and coronavirus researchers. Although H-1B visas are currently distributed via lottery, the program may change significantly once the suspension is lifted.

H2-B Visa

Designed for non-agricultural seasonal workers in industries like hospitality, construction, and landscaping, most H-2B visas will be suspended through the end of the year. One exception is workers employed in the food supply chain, such as food processing employees. Seasonal farm workers (who typically use H1-A visas) will not be impacted.

H-4 Visa

Granted to spouses and children of H-1B visa holders, H-4 visas are also suspended through the end of the year.

L-1 Visa

Often used to internally transfer executives or managers to the United States, L-1 visas are suspended through the end of the year.

J-1 Visa 

Typically reserved for professionals participating in cultural exchange programs, some J-1 visas will be suspended through the end of the year, including those for interns, teachers, camp counselors, and au pairs. 

Does this change impact employees who are currently working on H-1B visas? 

The current order impacts new visas only. It does not apply to employees currently living and working in the United States under an existing visa, nor does it apply to applicants who have already received visas. 

When can I apply for an H-1B visa?

Typically, a new batch of visas becomes available in October, which is the start of the national fiscal calendar. Generally speaking, applications can be submitted as early as April. That said, the new restrictions will disrupt this timeline. If you are planning to file a petition on behalf of an employee who will start work in 2021, it is strongly recommended that you work with a lawyer to navigate the process.

Are there other upcoming changes that I should be aware of?

A new policy that will deny work permits for asylum-seekers who enter the country without authorization is likely to be enacted later this summer. This policy will also block work permits for asylum-seekers who fail to file for protections within a year of arrival. 

What are my options as an employer?

Immigration law is complex, and there are a number of exemptions to this particular executive order. To understand the full range of options available for your business and your employees, it is best to talk to a lawyer

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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Making Juneteenth a Holiday? Review Your HR Policies, Too! https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/making-juneteenth-a-holiday-927165 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/making-juneteenth-a-holiday-927165#respond Sat, 20 Jun 2020 00:51:17 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27165 Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth celebrates liberation from slavery in the United States. The commemoration of Juneteenth started in Texas in 1980, and over the last few decades, it […]

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Also known as Freedom Day, Juneteenth celebrates liberation from slavery in the United States. The commemoration of Juneteenth started in Texas in 1980, and over the last few decades, it has been recognized as a holiday or observance in most states. More recently, many companies and local governments across the nation have opted to make Juneteenth a paid holiday or day-of-service for their employees and residents. A bill has also been proposed in the Senate to make Juneteenth a federal holiday. 

If you are considering making Juneteenth a holiday at your company, this may be a good time to review or create documentation of your HR policies overall. We’ve organized a few answers to common questions that you may have. 


Free Employee Handbook

Outline your policies as an employer.


Does my business need an Employee Handbook? 

While there is no legal requirement that you have an Employee Handbook, there are situations where you must inform your employees of their legal rights. Drafting an Employee Handbook allows you to distribute information consistently to all employees and it also helps you to communicate your values and expectations as an employer.

It’s important that your Employee Handbook contains the appropriate legal language to keep your company and your employees protected. At Rocket Lawyer, you can make an Employee Handbook for free, or ask a lawyer to review your existing document to ensure that it complies with federal, state, and local laws.

What should I do if I need to change or add to my Employee Handbook? 

Employee Handbooks are not contractual, which means that employers typically can change the contents without consent from their employees. It is important, however, to handle any changes carefully, so that policies remain reasonable and non-discriminatory. 

If you need to change or add to your Employee Handbook, consider the following steps:

  1. Seek input on the proposed change. Collecting employee feedback prior to a policy change can help your team feel included in the decision-making process.
  2. Talk to a lawyer. You’ll want to determine whether your proposed new policy is legal and valid, and that employee unionization or other local restrictions don’t prohibit you from making the change.
  3. Communicate the policy change. If the change impacts your employees’ compensation, benefits, or work schedule, it may be helpful to provide as much notice as possible. While minor changes may be communicated virtually, you may benefit from addressing major changes in person.
  4. Ask for acknowledgement. Depending on the severity of the change, you may also require employees to formally acknowledge that they received the information.

Generally speaking, you aren’t required to reprint your entire Employee Handbook and distribute new physical copies, however it may be a good idea to publish your updated handbook on your employee resources website and make a formal announcement on the appropriate channels. Whenever you make changes to your HR policy, it is recommended that you work with a lawyer.

Do I need a policy about diversity or discrimination in the workplace?

Employers often include anti-discrimination policies or diversity and inclusion statements in their Employee Handbook or on their careers website. This is typically to indicate that they are committed to equal opportunities for employment. After all, employers with diverse workforces are more likely to appeal to a wider range of customers and employees, resulting in increased business opportunities and a variety of new perspectives and ideas. As with any new HR policy, it is best to seek feedback from an employment lawyer.

Ask a lawyer

Employment law can be complex—and the guidelines may change based on your industry and location. If you have questions about HR policies or your existing human resources forms, a Rocket Lawyer On Call® attorney can review your documents and explain what you should do to maintain legal compliance as an employer.

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LGBTQI+ Discrimination Ruling: What Employers Should Know https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/lgbtqi-discrimination-ruling-what-employers-should-know-927149 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/lgbtqi-discrimination-ruling-what-employers-should-know-927149#respond Tue, 16 Jun 2020 01:47:46 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27149 June 15, 2020 marks a momentous win for the LGBTQI+ community, employment equality, and access to justice. In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed a long-contested grievance regarding […]

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June 15, 2020 marks a momentous win for the LGBTQI+ community, employment equality, and access to justice. In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed a long-contested grievance regarding a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by declaring that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal under federal law. Here are a few answers to questions that you may have about the ruling as an employer.


Free Employee Handbook

Outline your policies as an employer.


How does this compare to past interpretations of the law?

To give context, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits job discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sex. Traditionally, protection under the law was considered to apply in cases of discrimination on the basis of being a woman or a man. However as of today’s ruling, the court’s interpretation has expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. In the Supreme Court opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch writes, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguishable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Why is this ruling significant? How many people does it impact?

In terms of significance and breadth, it is close, if not equal, to the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states. In addition to providing employment protection for millions of LGBTQI+ workers, today’s Supreme Court decision is a major milestone in the ongoing fight against workplace discrimination, and will impact employers across the nation.    

As an employer, what does this mean for me? 

Naturally, this means that you cannot fire an employee based on their sexual orientation or transgender status. As with any other legislative change, this ruling also presents you an opportunity to review and, if necessary, revise your Employee Handbook to be inclusive and representative of a more just, diverse, and equal workplace for your team. If you require additional information or have any questions when reviewing your company’s policies or practices, ask a lawyer

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Does Business Insurance Cover Riots and Looting? https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/does-business-insurance-cover-riots-and-looting-927144 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/does-business-insurance-cover-riots-and-looting-927144#respond Fri, 12 Jun 2020 16:30:51 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27144 Small businesses have been hit hard in 2020. Some have suffered financially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and more recently, others have experienced property damage or looting in […]

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Small businesses have been hit hard in 2020. Some have suffered financially in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and more recently, others have experienced property damage or looting in isolated incidents from the recent protests. If your business was unfortunately among the latter, there are a few steps you can take toward rebuilding. We’ve put together answers to some of the most common questions you may have concerning insurance coverage on property damage, inventory loss, and rebuilding fees at a time of civil unrest. 

Will my business insurance cover property damage?

The answer to this question depends on the type of insurance you purchased. The most common types of insurance policies that small businesses owners tend to have is general liability, property insurance, and workers’ compensation insurance (if the business has employees). The damages from rioting are likely to be covered by most property insurance policies, as riots are part of the named perils in many policies. In order to understand what your policy covers, contact your insurance provider. 

Will insurance cover my inventory losses?

Generally speaking, insurance will cover not only property damage but also any harm to the contents inside of the property when the cause is civil unrest, riots, or anything similar. Your policy may also cover loss of income if it results from physical damage to the premises that have prevented the business from re-opening right away. Your insurance provider will be able to explain what is included in your policy. 

If I didn’t previously have insurance, what insurance policies should I invest in now?

Even if insurance is not required for your business, it can be a sound investment. General liability insurance and property insurance can cover damage, loss, or theft of property and merchandise, while workers’ compensation can help to protect you if an employee is injured on the job. If you have questions about other scenarios that may apply to your business, it may be helpful to talk to a lawyer.

What should I do now?

Typically, after you contact your insurance provider to report damage, an assessor will be assigned to verify the nature of your claim and determine the extent of coverage. If the damage was severe and you have not yet had it assessed, you might consider boarding up your business to prevent further losses. If your business was looted, you will likely need to make a list of inventory. You may also consider filing a police report for additional documentation. 

After your insurance claim is filed, you can start thinking of rebuilding. With Rocket Lawyer, you can make free legal documents such as a Construction Contract or a Repair Contract to help you start the process of physically restoring your business.

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Police Stops: Know Your Rights When Pulled Over or Questioned https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/police-stops-know-your-rights-when-pulled-over-or-questioned-927132 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/police-stops-know-your-rights-when-pulled-over-or-questioned-927132#respond Thu, 11 Jun 2020 20:41:14 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27132 Peace officers (including the police), are tasked with maintaining public safety and preserving law and order, however, for many people, interactions with law enforcement can be stressful. To stay safe during […]

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Peace officers (including the police), are tasked with maintaining public safety and preserving law and order, however, for many people, interactions with law enforcement can be stressful. To stay safe during a police encounter and minimize any associated risks or escalation, it’s important to fully understand your legal rights and responsibilities.  

What are my basic legal rights if I am stopped by the police in public?

If you are approached by the police, try to stay calm and keep your hands where they are visible. It is typically in your best interest not to argue or resist, but remember that you still have rights—especially the right to remain silent. While the police may require you to tell them your name (depending on state law), they may not legally require you to tell them about your immigration status, where you’re traveling from, where you’re going, or what you’re doing. If you wish to exercise your right to remain silent, you must say so out loud. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, remember that lying to the police is a crime, but remaining silent is not. 

This doesn’t mean they won’t ask questions. If you feel inclined to volunteer any information, perhaps in an effort to be helpful, you may do so. For example, you may have witnessed a robbery a few blocks away and want to help the officer track the suspect. However, you’re not required to answer such questions and by doing so you’re effectively waiving your rights. 

After you speak with the officer(s), ask whether you’re free to go. If so, you may go your own way. If they say you’re not free to go and either continue asking questions or detain you, again, stay calm. In many places, resisting arrest is a crime in itself. If you are placed under arrest, it is your right to know what you are being arrested for. You may ask them what crime you are accused of committing. 

If you feel that your rights are being violated, make it a point to note the details of your encounter in case you need to file a police misconduct claim later. You have the right to ask for the officers’ badge numbers and names.

If you feel the police are questioning you as the suspect of a crime, you have the right to remain silent and you typically should speak to an attorney before answering questions or writing/signing any statements—even if you are innocent. If you are arrested, you have the right to call a lawyer without the police listening, and if you are a minor, a parent/guardian must be contacted. Generally speaking, only a judge has the legal authority to make you answer questions.

If the officers ask you to come in to talk, but do not place you under arrest and do not read you your rights, you should most likely speak with an attorney before answering any questions.

May an officer search me?

The police may not search you if you are not under arrest or if they lack a valid warrant. If you don’t consent to an unwarranted search and they do it anyway, anything they find—even if it’s incriminating—may be dismissed. The right to be free from a warrantless search and seizure is protected by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. 

That said, the police may pat you down through your clothing (without a warrant or arrest) if they have reasonable suspicion that you’re carrying a weapon. This is one of those gray areas of law enforcement and has been a source of controversy and tension in many communities, since the rationale for a pat down typically comes down to the officer’s word versus that of the individual who was patted down.

May I record the police during an interaction?

You have the right to take images (video and still pictures) in a public place in all states, including actions by law enforcement, as long as you don’t interfere with their duties. Also, individuals consent to having their image taken by virtue of being in a public place (such as parks, streets, public sidewalks, and while participating in protests). This means you also have the right to record police interactions that don’t involve you personally, as long as you don’t interfere. 

Law enforcement officers may not require you to delete your videos and pictures or demand that you relinquish your phone or camera without a valid warrant. That said, while recording images is a federally protected right, the recording of sound without the subjects’ consent varies by state.

Regardless, the police may try to take your recording device or get you to delete images. If they request your recording device or tell you to stop recording, inform them of your rights. They may back off once they realize you know your rights. But if this request becomes a demand or otherwise intensifies, your best option may be to comply (in order to avoid further escalation) and then file a police misconduct claim later. 

What are my rights if I’m pulled over by the police? 

If you are pulled over by the police while driving your car, it is important that you stay calm. Pull over as quickly as it is safe to do so, making sure you’re not obstructing traffic, and turn off your engine. Turn on the internal light, open the window part way, and place your hands on the wheel if you’re the driver. Passengers should also keep their hands visible.

Since the police are prepared to respond at a moment’s notice if they fear they are in danger, it’s important to remain calm and avoid making any sudden movements. Keep your hands where the officer can see them and provide any necessary documents upon request, but wait until they ask for these documents. Reaching into your pocket or glove compartment unannounced could cause an escalation.

Make sure to memorize or write down badge or patrol car numbers and obtain witness contact information if you believe that your rights have been violated. Capturing video to do so is within your rights. While the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity”—the requirement that officers may only be held liable for actions that violate “clearly established” federal law—makes it very difficult for civilians to prevail in lawsuits against the police, don’t let that stop you from reporting any misconduct that you experience. 

Do police have to tell you why they pulled you over before asking for ID?

Generally speaking, no. Police do not have to tell you why they are stopping you before asking for ID in a traffic stop, though it may be a standard practice in many areas. The officer must have a reason—i.e., probable cause—for the stop, but they are not legally required to tell you. That said, if taken to court, the police offer must provide their reason. If you feel you are being stopped unlawfully, it is within your rights to capture video of the encounter.

Am I legally required to get out of the car if an officer tells me to?

The police may ask you to get out of your vehicle (to ensure you don’t have a concealed weapon), but you do have the right to remain in your vehicle. Practically speaking, it may be a good idea to comply if they make this request to avoid escalation; but it varies by situation. You also have the right to remain silent, although it can be good idea to answer simple questions (e.g., “Do you know why I pulled you over?”) or make polite small talk (e.g., “Good morning officer.”).

If you are a passenger, you have the right to ask if you can leave. If the officer agrees, then you may leave. 

May the police search my car?

Even if the reason for the stop is something minor, they may look around for signs of illegal activity or contraband as long as it’s in “plain view.” If the officers have reason to believe they are in imminent danger or they see evidence of a possible crime (such as blood splatter on the carseat), they may search the car. 

If they ask you to open your trunk or glove compartment, however, you may decline unless they have a valid search warrant. That said, they may search your glove compartment if they have reason to believe you are concealing a weapon. If you consent to a search, then you have waived your rights. If you do not consent to a search and they search your vehicle anyway, any evidence they find may not be used against you. 

What happens if I am arrested?

The police may read you your Miranda rights once they arrest you, but it’s not necessary for them to do so right away. Even if the officer delays your Miranda warning, you still have the right to remain silent. 

Your Miranda rights (rights of suspects upon lawful arrest) specifically include the following:

  • The right to remain silent. You’re not obligated to answer questions about where you are going or traveling from; what you are doing; where you live; or where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. If you want to exercise this right, simply say so. 
  • The right to a government-appointed lawyer. You have the right to seek legal representation and must be given the opportunity to call a lawyer after your arrest. If you can’t afford an attorney, you may be appointed a public defender. The police may not listen to the phone call with your lawyer, but they may listen to phone calls with other parties.

When you’re arrested, the arresting officer will put you in handcuffs and search you on the spot. Then, they’ll likely place you in a patrol car or, if they’re on foot, call for backup. Once you’re transported to a local jail, you will be processed (identified, fingerprinted, photographed, and issued one or more citations). The citation will indicate a specific charge or charges and the date on which you’re expected to appear in court.

You may be in police custody for at least several hours, but you could be held in jail overnight or even over the weekend (before bail is set). However, you also may be released on your own recognizance—meaning that you’ve signed a promise to appear at your court hearing—or simply released without charges. 

What if I’m illegally detained?

If you are illegally detained (meaning they have arrested you without probable cause), then you probably will want to file a police misconduct claim or contact a civil rights legal defense organization once it’s safe to do so. Until then, it is typically in your best interest not to argue or resist—even if you believe the arrest is unlawful—since it could lead to an escalation and result in a dangerous situation or, at minimum, additional charges.   

Also, even if it was done without probable cause, resisting an illegal arrest could provide a measure of cover for the officer and make it more difficult for you to assert your rights later. Remember, it often comes down to your word versus that of the officer (although eyewitness video or a police body cam could be helpful in these scenarios).

Know your rights and stay safe

It’s important to fully understand your rights, responsibilities, and practical considerations before you are stopped by the police. Knowing this beforehand will help ensure that encounters with police don’t escalate toward violence or jeopardize your liberty. If you have additional questions or concerns about police encounters, talk to a lawyer

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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Key Legal Documents for Rebuilding After Unrest https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/key-legal-documents-for-rebuilding-after-unrest-927116 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/key-legal-documents-for-rebuilding-after-unrest-927116#respond Wed, 10 Jun 2020 17:52:25 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27116 If you’ve been impacted by the civil unrest taking place across America, you may have questions about what to do next. While a majority of recent protests have been peaceful, […]

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If you’ve been impacted by the civil unrest taking place across America, you may have questions about what to do next. While a majority of recent protests have been peaceful, you or a loved one may have suffered property damage, physical injury, or general distress as a result of spontaneous acts of violence, rioting, or other backlash that may have occurred in the aftermath. In this time of nationwide unrest, you may find that you are in need of certain legal documents to help you recover and rebuild. 

What legal documents might I need to prepare?

Depending on the circumstances, you may need any of the following legal documents, among others:

Personal injury/medical care

Property damage

Employment


PERSONAL INJURY / MEDICAL CARE

What if I’m injured during a protest?

If you are injured during a protest, you may need to seek medical attention. Typically a care provider will file insurance claims on your behalf, however if they are out-of-network or simply do not provide this service, you may need to file a claim on your own. With a Letter to File a Medical Claim, you can package up all of the information necessary to make your claim. Each health insurance company has its own policy, so be sure to check your insurer’s specific guidelines to ensure that you’ve included all of the materials that they require. 

Even if you aren’t harmed physically, the effects of current events can also be taxing mentally. If you need a referral to see a specialist in mental health or other services, you can use a Medical Referral Request. This letter can also be helpful if your insurance provider requires documentation of referrals in order to approve a claim. If your claim is denied, you may also need a Letter to Appeal a Medical Claim Denial

If your injuries were sustained during an interaction with police, you may also want to file a police misconduct complaint to the appropriate local agency. If you have questions or feel that your rights were violated, you may find it helpful to talk to a lawyer

Should I prepare any legal documents before protesting?

While you may not intend to participate in a violent protest, you never know what opposition your demonstration may encounter. Regardless of the circumstances, there are several legal documents that every adult should have: A Last Will and Testament, a Living Will, and a Healthcare Power of Attorney. These documents together are often called “Estate Planning” documents and they allow you to set forth your wishes in relation to medical treatment and what should happen if you pass away. This is already a tense and emotional time, so having some guidelines in place can help relieve your loved ones from having to make life-and-death decisions for you.


PROPERTY DAMAGE

What if my business was damaged in the aftermath of protests?

If your business sustained any vandalism or other damage, you might consider contacting your insurance company to see what coverage might be available within your current policy before deciding on repair services. Your insurance provider may require a police report, so be sure to get the details in order and have them documented officially by your local law enforcement agency.

If you decide to hire a contractor to make repairs, be sure that the terms of your agreement are outlined in a Repair Contract. If your physical place of business was damaged beyond repair, you may choose to temporarily or permanently move your business operations to another location. If you do move, a Change of Address Letter can be used to formally notify your current and potential clients and customers of your business’ change in location.

If your business is unable to uphold its contractual obligations due to property damage, you may consider using a Force Majeure Notice to renegotiate or terminate your agreements. Typically, your original contract will need to contain a force majeure clause covering civil unrest in order for the clause to be applicable to riots/looting.

If your business can remain open but it requires the use of special machinery or appliances that were damaged, you may need to rent equipment until you can make a replacement. An Equipment Lease will outline details such as the owner’s and borrower’s names, a description of the equipment, and the rights and obligations of both parties. 

In addition to legal documents, there are also organizations that are helping small businesses that have been impacted by riots. If you’re unable to afford the cost of rebuilding or reopening your business, you might consider starting a fundraiser using online platforms. 

What if my home or car was damaged?

Before seeking repairs, you may want to contact your home or car insurance provider to learn what damage they will cover. Your insurer may require that you provide an official police report before they can approve any claims.

If you are prepared to make repairs on your home or other real estate property, using a Repair Contract can help to formalize your agreement with an independent contractor. You might also choose to make a document tailored for the specific type of work being done. Examples include: a Carpentry Contract, a Drywall Contract, an Electrical Service Agreement, or a Painting Contract.

If your car sustained damage, using an Auto Repair Contract will help to outline the details of your arrangement with a mechanic. That said, your service providers often will have their own standard contracts handy. If that is the case, you may want to ask a lawyer to review your agreement before signing. 


EMPLOYMENT 

What if I’m an employee and my workplace is no longer a welcoming place?

If you disagree with your employer’s position on social justice or your workplace has become an unwelcoming environment in light of current events, you may choose to end your employment using a Resignation Letter. If you feel that you are being retaliated against or treated unfairly after participating in a protest or speaking up about discrimination in your workplace, you may want to talk to a lawyer

How can I protect my business and my employees in the future? 

In addition to ensuring that you have proper insurance in place that provides coverage for damage incurred during civil unrest, you’ll want to make sure that your contracts include clauses that will protect you when you are unable to perform your obligations. You might also consider updating your Employee Handbook or drafting a separate Anti-Discrimination Policy to outline your standards and explain how employees can file a complaint, if needed. Finally, making a Business Contingency Plan can help you maintain business continuity in the event of future unrest by outlining the procedure for business closure as well as details related to back-up inventory and equipment. 

If you have more questions about how to safeguard your business and protect your employees, ask a lawyer.    

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What to Do if You or a Loved One is Arrested for Protesting https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/arrested-for-protesting-927099 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/arrested-for-protesting-927099#respond Sat, 06 Jun 2020 23:54:51 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27099 The right to peaceably assemble and voice your concerns in a public forum is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, the right to protest is a […]

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The right to peaceably assemble and voice your concerns in a public forum is enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Indeed, the right to protest is a fundamental aspect of a functioning democracy, along with freedom of the press, religion, and expression in general. In reality—particularly when protests involve civil disobedience, violence, property damage, or other unlawful behavior—there are scenarios where you could be arrested.

If you’re planning to attend a protest, whether it’s spontaneous or was planned in advance, you should prepare for the possibility of getting arrested. We’ll answer questions you may have about what to do if you or a loved one is arrested while protesting, including common arrest procedures, your rights, and best practices.

Why would I get arrested at a protest? Isn’t it my right to protest?

Authorities may restrict the time, place, and manner of a protest. For example, protests typically may not be held during an enforced curfew, on private property, or in a manner that endangers others. Generally, the police are tasked with balancing your right to protest with their responsibility to maintain the peace. Obtaining a permit prior to a planned protest will help ensure that it goes smoothly. It is typically not mandatory, though some states do require permits where the demonstration would block access to a street.

With that in mind, you could be arrested if you protest at a time or place, or in a manner that threatens public safety or violates the law, an official curfew, or some other legitimate restriction. Some protests knowingly violate certain restrictions, such as blocking access to a construction site or forming a human chain around a beloved tree. These are referred to as acts of civil disobedience and participants generally expect to be arrested.

You could also be arrested by virtue of association, such as being part of a protest where just one or a few participants are breaking the law, or through mistaken identity. However, protesters also may be arrested even if they’re fully compliant with the law (or when violence or vandalism is committed by outside provocateurs), only to be released at a later point without charges. Regardless of the circumstances, it is important to know your rights and understand how to protest legally and safely.    

What are some things I can do in advance to prepare for the possibility of getting arrested at a protest?

There are a few things you can do before participating in a protest to prepare for a possible arrest, including the following:

  • Share the time and place of the protest with a trusted family member, friend, or neighbor 
  • Memorize or write down the phone number (preferably on your arm, in permanent ink) of an attorney, legal defense organization, or other contact that could assist you if you are arrested
  • Write your name and number on any valuable items you would like to have returned in case they are confiscated
  • Be sure to carry a government-issued ID (such as your driver’s license), as it will allow you to get out of jail more quickly
  • Prepare a contingency plan for minor children, pets, or other responsibilities in case you’re unable to care for them due to an arrest

How do I know whether I’m being detained or if I’m free to go?

If you’re approached or stopped by the police, it is in your best interest to remain calm. Police in many states are allowed to ask your name, but you do not have to answer questions about your immigration status, where you live, or where you are going. If you wish to invoke your right to remain silent, you must say so out loud to the officer(s). That said, you may also ask them what crime you are accused of committing. After they speak with you, ask if you’re free to go. If so, you may rejoin the protest or go your own way. 

While the police may not search you without a valid warrant, they may pat you down (through your clothing) if they have reason to believe you’re carrying a weapon. If they say you’re not free to go and detain you, again, stay calm and keep your safety in mind. Remember that the right to remain silent may be to your benefit. Resisting arrest (even if you feel it unlawful) may lead to unsafe outcomes and is a crime in many places.

If you are illegally detained (i.e., they have arrested you without probable cause), then you may file a police misconduct claim or contact a civil rights legal defense organization later.  

What will happen if I am arrested?

If the police arrest you, they may read you your Miranda rights (the right to an attorney, the right to remain silent, etc.) but it’s not necessary for them to do so right away. What’s important to understand is that anything you say while detained may not be used against you until after you have been read your rights.

Upon arrest, the officer will put you in handcuffs or a zip tie and search you on the spot. Then, they’ll likely place you in a patrol car or put you into a larger vehicle with other arrestees. Once you’re transported to a local jail, you will be processed (identified, fingerprinted, photographed, and issued one or more citations). The citation will indicate the date on which you’re expected to appear in court.

You should expect to be in police custody for at least several hours, but you may be held in jail overnight or even over the weekend (before bail is set). However, you also may be released on your own recognizance—meaning that you’ve signed a promise to appear at your court hearing—or you may be released without charges. 

I have reason to believe a family member or loved one was arrested at a protest, but I haven’t heard from them and don’t know where they are. What can I do?

First, you should contact your local (and state) police and sheriff departments and ask if they are in custody. Some may offer this information on their website. Depending on which agency made the arrest, they could be held in a neighboring jurisdiction. Also, there are several inmate locators available online that gather nationwide information on arrests.

Once you have contacted your detained loved one, you’ll want to ensure that they have legal representation. If they haven’t already done so themselves, you’ll want to contact an attorney, explain the situation, and give them the name of the jail or police station where your loved one is located. Keep in mind that they may have already been assigned a public defender.

If your loved one needs medications while they’re in custody, but jail staff refuse the inmate’s request, then you should contact their physician. You also should make your request to jail staff in writing, including the diagnosis, the type and dosage of the medication, their physician’s contact information, and your contact information.   

How does bail work?

Bail is essentially used as insurance for your court appearance as a condition of being released from jail. If bail has been set, you can ask a friend or attorney to post bail for you. But since bail is typically much more than arrestees can afford, you may secure a bail bond instead of paying the full amount. 

This involves paying a percentage of the bail amount (usually 10 percent) to the bondsman, who then secures the full amount of the bail in the form of collateral (e.g., the defendant’s car or mortgage, or that of a family member) in exchange for your release. Upon satisfying the terms of the bond (appearing in court at the scheduled time and date), the bondsman will be released from the terms of the bond. The 10 percent cash payment is their fee. 

If you fail to satisfy the terms of the bail bond, the court will require payment of the remaining 90 percent of the bail amount. The bail bondsman will sell whatever collateral is put up in order to do this. 

If you or your family cannot afford bail, there also have been numerous bail funds set up to support protesters who get arrested. 

What should I do (or not do) while in jail after an arrest?

You may be tempted to talk to other inmates or officers while you’re awaiting bail or a meeting with your attorney, but it’s in your best interest to exercise your right to remain silent. Also, you want to ensure that you have legal representation—keep in mind that the police may not listen to your call with legal counsel. If you haven’t already been given the opportunity to do so, clearly state your intention to speak with a lawyer.

You may be stuck there for several hours, so this is also a good time to review the events leading up to your arrest and consider any evidence that may support your position. For example, did the police use excessive force and do you have witnesses? If they were dispersing the crowd for legitimate reasons, were you given an adequate opportunity to leave the scene of the protest? 

Will I be arraigned and tried?

It depends. The majority of protesters who are arrested are released with misdemeanor charges (such as disturbance of the peace or obstructing traffic) and are not arraigned, which is the court procedure where you’re officially charged and enter your plea. If a court date is set for your arraignment (usually within a day or so of the arrest) and you enter a plea of “not guilty,” then your trial will begin in a matter of weeks or even months.

What should I do after I am released?

Again, it really depends on your situation. If you have reason to believe the police acted unlawfully, such as using excessive force, planting evidence, or breaking up a peaceful protest under false pretext, then you’ll want to convey this to your attorney and file an official complaint with the corresponding police agency.

You also will want to reach out to potential witnesses who can corroborate your story and gather any relevant photographic or physical evidence that supports your case. For instance, take pictures of any injuries you sustained at the hands of the police as soon as possible. If the injuries are serious, make sure you seek medical attention; this can also help you document any alleged abuses, which could strengthen your case.

Know your rights if you are arrested at a protest

Protests are as American as baseball and apple pie, but police encounters at such events may still be stressful and confusing. Regardless of your actions (or inactions) prior to an arrest, you have certain rights. If you have questions or concerns, or require additional information about your legal rights as a protester, consider asking a lawyer

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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Know Your Rights: How to Protest Legally and Safely https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/know-your-rights-how-to-protest-legally-and-safely-927090 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/know-your-rights-how-to-protest-legally-and-safely-927090#respond Sat, 06 Jun 2020 02:16:32 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27090 The constitutional right to express your grievances against the government and demand justice is rooted in one of the most cherished founding principles of the United States, which was itself […]

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The constitutional right to express your grievances against the government and demand justice is rooted in one of the most cherished founding principles of the United States, which was itself founded in protest of its overseas rulers. Indeed, protests—most notably those addressing both overt and institutionalized racism—have been effective at urging progressive reforms at various points in our nation’s history.

However, the right to protest is not absolute nor has it been applied evenly. Countless legal protests have been met with police violence, while the line between “peaceful assembly” and “unruly mob” often gets defined by those in power.    

By protesting a perceived injustice, you’re exercising your rights and directly participating in democracy—but there’s no guarantee that the authorities will always respect these rights. Keeping this in mind, we’ve answered some important questions you may have about your legal rights as a protester and how to stay safe.

Don’t I have a constitutional right to protest? 

The First Amendment to The Constitution grants “…the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances,” among other provisions. But, as with any right, authorities may place reasonable limits on protests if there are legitimate concerns, such as public safety.

Just as your right to free speech doesn’t allow you to publish damaging lies about others, you don’t have the legal right to protest in a manner that impedes or endangers others or results in the destruction or theft of property. And while the content of your speech can’t be censored, per se, any speech that incites imminent violence or illegal acts may be prohibited.

Therefore, your First Amendment right to protest is balanced against the government’s responsibility to maintain order and protect the safety and property of others.

What specific limits may authorities place on protests?

In the interest of maintaining the peace and protecting individuals’ safety and property, authorities may place restrictions on protest activities in the context of:

  • Time – For instance, a jurisdiction (city, state, etc.) may enforce a curfew that would prohibit protests after a certain time.
  • Place – Protests on private property are not protected, nor are protests that disrupt official business in government buildings. 
  • Manner – Authorities may limit the noise level or crowd size of a protest, for example.  

Since protest is a public act, public spaces such as sidewalks, public parks, and most streets are considered acceptable places for protesting.

Why would I need a permit if I already have the right to protest?

Spontaneous protests, such as those that took place in Minneapolis and other U.S. cities after George Floyd was killed while in police custody, are protected by the First Amendment (within the limits discussed above). But for protests that are planned in advance, such as the 2017 Women’s March, getting a permit can be helpful.  

Getting a permit prior to a planned protest ensures that participants have a protected area in which to protest. This may be appropriate for marches, parades, and other events that require the right-of-way on a public street, setting up chairs, or other temporary measures that otherwise may not be allowed. Some states require a permit for any protest that blocks a public street.

Your permit will indicate the time, place, and manner of the protest, which the police are required to honor as long as it remains peaceful and orderly. This includes their responsibility to ensure your safety as you exercise your constitutional rights. So, while you legally don’t need to have a permit to protest, it may be practical to do so in certain instances.

What should I bring with me to a protest?

Don’t bring anything that could get you in trouble or give police reasonable suspicion, such as a knife, and be prepared to be searched if you choose to carry a backpack or bag. It’s a good idea to bring drinking water and perhaps a snack. Also, make sure you have adequate personal safety protection, such as goggles (in case tear gas is deployed) and—in light of the COVID-19 pandemic—a face covering, gloves, or personal protective equipment. 

Whether you plan on getting arrested as an act of civil disobedience or anticipate a relatively calm protest, either memorize or write down (on your arm, for instance) the number of a trusted contact in the event you are detained. There are several legal aid organizations and bail funds that offer emergency support for arrested protestors.

It’s also a good idea to bring your phone to record potential police misconduct or the actions of provocateurs who may try to discredit the protestors through vandalism or looting.

Am I obligated to disperse if told to by the police or other authorities?

It depends. If a mayor, governor, or other government official pleads with protestors to disperse, you have no legal obligation to do so. Similarly, the police may not require you to disperse if you are acting within your rights and they otherwise have no compelling legal reason to intervene. 

With a reasonable amount of notice, the police and government officials may order protestors to leave for certain valid reasons, such as: 

  • The enforcement of a curfew
  • The movement of others is impeded (such as blocking a freeway)
  • The protest is on or affecting private property
  • There are reports of violence, looting, or vandalism

Can I record the police?

Yes. You have the right to take images (video and still pictures) at a protest in a public place in all states, including actions by law enforcement, as long as you don’t interfere with their duties. Furthermore, individuals at a protest consent to having their image taken by virtue of their participation. 

Police officers may not require you to delete your videos and pictures or demand that you relinquish your phone or camera (without a valid warrant). While recording images is protected federally under the Constitution, the recording of sound without the subjects’ consent varies by state.

This doesn’t mean the police won’t try to take your recording device or get you to delete images. If they demand your recording device, however, your best option is to comply (in order to avoid further escalation) and then file a police misconduct claim later. 

What are the police authorized to do at a protest? What are considered illegal police activities during a protest?

The objective of the police is to enforce the law, which includes your right to peaceably assemble (i.e, protest) in addition to maintaining order and stopping violence or destruction of property. But despite their responsibility to maintain this balance between keeping the peace and protecting your right to voice dissent, police overreach can occur. Using excessive force, provoking violence, or vandalizing property (but blaming it on the protestors) are some obvious examples.  

Police overreach also can be much more subtle. For instance, by consenting to certain police requests—specifically those you are not required to fulfill—you may be waiving your rights. Even if an officer suggests that you have no choice but to comply, you’re not obligated to let them search your phone or other electronic devices (or delete images) without a valid warrant.   

By explaining to the officer that you understand your rights, they’ll likely back off from such a request. If an officer forcibly compels you to comply with a request you’re not obligated to fulfill (such as grabbing your phone or camera), then it’s in your best interests to remain calm, memorize the officer’s name and badge number, and file a police complaint later.

Similarly, police may request that you leave the scene of a protest, but you don’t have to comply unless there’s an official order to do so (typically based on an escalation toward violence or destruction). Also, police may not stop counter-protestors from gathering within sight of the initial protests. However, in the interest of keeping the peace, they may take reasonable measures to prevent potentially violent interactions between different groups of protestors.  

What if I’m stopped by the police? 

If you’re stopped by the police, don’t argue or try to resist but remain calm. Ask if you’re free to go after they speak with you; if so, you may rejoin the protest or go your own way. If they say you’re not free to go and detain you, again, don’t argue or resist. However, you may ask them what crime you are accused of committing. They may require you to tell them your name (in certain states), but they may not ask about your immigration status, where you’re from, where you’re going, or what you’re doing.

While the police may not search you without a valid warrant, they may pat you down through your clothing (without a warrant) if they have reasonable suspicion that you’re carrying a weapon. If you don’t consent to a search and they do it anyway, anything they find will be dismissed. 

If you are illegally detained (i.e., they have arrested you without probable cause), then you may file a police misconduct claim or contact a civil rights legal defense organization later. Resisting arrest (even if you feel it unlawful) may lead to unsafe outcomes and is illegal in many places.  

What should I do if I am arrested at a protest?

Some protestors expect to get arrested in order to make their point, such as intentionally blocking a gate or roadway as an act of civil disobedience. Other times, protestors expect to disperse peacefully afterward. Whatever the case, it is important to understand that resisting arrest is a crime in many places, even if you know the arrest is illegal.

If you are arrested, make sure you exercise your right to remain silent. If you’ve memorized or written down the number of an attorney, legal defense organization, or some other trusted contact, then remember you have the right to make that call. If you’re booked into jail, do so immediately.

I believe my rights were violated. What are my legal options?

It may be difficult to prove that your rights were violated by the police, so it’s important that you gather all of the information you can. This includes the badge number and agency (e.g., county sheriff, city police, state trooper) of any officers involved, photographs or video showing evidence of police misconduct (including any physical injuries), and the contact information of any potential witnesses.

At a minimum (depending on the nature of the violation), you’ll want to file a police misconduct claim with the appropriate agency. You may also consider contacting a legal defense organization or other local institution doing work in civil liberties and social justice. If you decide to contact members of the press, keep in mind that anything you say could be used against you if you file a lawsuit later.

If you believe you have a strong case, you might consider hiring an attorney and filing a federal lawsuit claiming violation of your civil rights. Since these types of cases are expensive and difficult to prove, you may also consider joining (or organizing) a class action lawsuit if you know others’ rights were similarly violated at the protest. Because of the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which limits police exposure to civil liability, you’ll have to prove that they violated your “clearly established” constitutional rights, which is a high bar.  

Finally, you may consider your options at the state or local level (which will vary by jurisdiction).    

Understand and protect your right to peaceably protest

By thoroughly understanding your rights and responsibilities as a protestor, you’ll be able to exercise your constitutional freedoms while minimizing legal exposure. But it’s important to realize that protests can be unpredictable, so you’ll want to be prepared for all outcomes. If you have additional questions or concerns, talk to a lawyer

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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Business Interruption Insurance Claims for COVID-19 Losses https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/business-interruption-insurance-claims-for-covid-19-losses-927081 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/business-interruption-insurance-claims-for-covid-19-losses-927081#respond Mon, 01 Jun 2020 16:00:00 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27081 As efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic—social distancing, in particular—continue to negatively impact many small businesses, you may be wondering whether your insurance policy covers your losses. Business interruption insurance, […]

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As efforts to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic—social distancing, in particular—continue to negatively impact many small businesses, you may be wondering whether your insurance policy covers your losses. Business interruption insurance, in particular, is intended to cover losses directly related to events outside of your control that interrupt your normal business operations, such as natural disasters or vandalism. You may assume that a global pandemic would be a qualifying event, but that’s not necessarily the case.  

Your ability to file a business interruption claim depends on the specific language in your policy and several other factors. Insurers have denied many claims stemming from the pandemic, prompting state and federal legislative efforts to compel payouts in a much broader manner. For now, at least until the dust settles, it’s not entirely clear how broadly these insurance policies may be applied.

We’ll answer questions you and other business owners may have about business interruption insurance claims for losses related to COVID-19, including various clauses that may bolster (or diminish) your claim.


Questions about the coronavirus pandemic?

Visit the Coronavirus Legal Center and ask a lawyer today.


What is business interruption insurance and how does it work?

Business interruption insurance covers the loss of income resulting from some kind of unexpected catastrophe that disrupts business, and may also cover added expenses such as having to operate out of a temporary location. Policyholders must file such claims “promptly,” as failure to act fast could result in a denial of your claim.

Your business interruption policy may also include a “civil authority” clause, which covers losses when access to business premises (such as an office, factory, or retail store) is blocked by an order from a federal, state, or local governmental entity. State shelter-in-place and stay-at-home orders meant to mitigate COVID-19 infection rates may apply (however, this isn’t entirely clear in all situations). 

Is business interruption coverage included in my policy?

While you may purchase it as a stand-alone policy, most small business owners obtain business interruption coverage as part of a larger package known as a business owner’s policy (BOP). Your BOP will also likely include general liability and property coverage. Your insurance provider can help you determine what is covered in your specific business insurance policy. If you are unsure, you can also ask a lawyer to review your policy.

Why are insurance companies denying business interruption insurance claims related to the pandemic?

There are two primary reasons why an insurer may deny your claim:

  • Lack of physical damage to the business. Most of these types of claims pertain to business interruption caused by flooding, fires, and other events of a physical nature. 
  • Excluded coverage for viruses or diseases. Some business interruption policies expressly state that communicable diseases do not qualify as covered events for the purpose of filing a claim.

A lawyer can help you determine how to make a claim specific to your situation or how to appeal a claim that has been denied.

How have lawmakers responded to these denials?

A bipartisan group of eighteen members of the U.S. House of Representatives signed a letter to insurance industry trade organizations urging their members to more broadly recognize coronavirus-related business interruption insurance claims. The insurance industry insists they’re unable to cover all of those claims and that they would become insolvent if they were forced to do so.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in at least six states (including New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, and Louisiana) have proposed legislation that would require insurers to broadly honor business interruption claims for losses pertaining to COVID-19 and social distancing guidelines. A local lawyer can help you understand if there are any new measures passed that would impact your business.

What other financial relief options are available for my business?

While it’s a good idea to pursue a claim for losses if you have business interruption insurance, you may not want to pin your hopes on it. Depending on the size and type of your business and your particular needs, other types of relief may include:

You also may be eligible for relief programs at the state and local level. See what government relief you might be eligible for.

Get legal help

If your business is suffering, it’s in your best interests to read your policy and determine what your options are as soon as possible. If you want help from a lawyer, you can ask legal questions and access essential legal documents for free in the Coronavirus Legal Center.  

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Going Out of Business: Closing a Business Checklist https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/going-out-of-business-closing-a-business-checklist-927070 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/going-out-of-business-closing-a-business-checklist-927070#respond Fri, 29 May 2020 16:00:00 +0000 https://www.rocketlawyer.com/blog/?p=27070 Sometimes, entrepreneurs decide to close, sell, or transfer their businesses years in advance and have plenty of time to plan their exit strategies. Unfortunately for many other business owners, circumstances […]

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Sometimes, entrepreneurs decide to close, sell, or transfer their businesses years in advance and have plenty of time to plan their exit strategies. Unfortunately for many other business owners, circumstances beyond their control may leave them with no choice but to halt operations for good. Whatever the reason for shuttering your company, you’ll likely have some questions about how to proceed.

In this article, we’ve compiled several common questions business owners may have about closing a business, with answers designed to make your transition as smooth as possible.


Questions about closing a business due to COVID-19?

Visit the Coronavirus Legal Center and ask a lawyer today.


How do I dissolve my business?

Following the appropriate steps to dissolve your business is important, as doing so can limit your continued liability. Dissolution involves formally notifying the following (among others, as applicable): 

  • Secretary of State’s Office (in each state in which you do business)
  • The IRS
  • State tax authorities
  • Licensing agencies

You will need to file formal Articles of Dissolution and pay required fees to the state business authorities. If your business has more than one owner, you should also create a formal resolution of the members, shareholders, or partners. This document officially approves the decision to close the business and authorizes the corporate officers to take action as needed to terminate the company’s operations and state registration.

Don’t forget to also cancel business licenses, permits, and trade names/assumed business names.

What should I do with assets when closing a business?

Unfortunately, sometimes there are more debts than assets when it’s time to close a business. List your business creditors, including: 

  • Bank(s)
  • Landlord
  • Utility companies
  • Suppliers
  • Third-party service providers 
  • Employees. 

If your business has sufficient assets to meet all obligations, then pay your outstanding bills and ask creditors for ‘paid in full’ letters to document you have satisfied your accounts. Don’t forget to include business tax obligations not yet paid. Consider paying employees in full on their last day of working for you (this may be mandatory in some states). After paying for costs associated with dissolution and outstanding debts, remaining assets should be divided by the business shareholders or members as provided in the shareholder or member agreement.

If your business does not have sufficient assets to satisfy all of its obligations, reach out to creditors about settling your accounts with them. Understand that if you are not able to pay your creditors in full, they may file claims against you for payment. The window of time for filing claims and circumstances around such claims are defined by each state’s laws. In some cases, it may make sense to file for business bankruptcy protection.

How do I tell my staff I’m closing the business?

There is never an easy way to tell employees that you have made the difficult decision to close your business. If possible, give your employees some notice. It is also important to understand and comply with all applicable local, state, and federal employment and labor laws.

Business consultants recommend being as honest and straightforward with staff as possible, explaining the reason you need to close the company. Plan your communication as carefully as you can and anticipate questions from workers about what the decision means for them. Employees will likely need guidance when it comes to what to tell customers, when and how they will be paid, and whether you will be able to offer any assistance as they search for new roles.

How do I report closing a business?

Report your business closure by contacting your state’s Secretary of State or other business authority, as discussed more fully above. You will need to take this step in every state where your company is registered to conduct business. The good news is that in most states, dissolution forms can be filed electronically.

The IRS website provides resources for small business owners who are closing their doors for good, including forms used to report asset sales and transfers. If your business was required to file separate tax returns, you will need to file a final return by April 15 of the year after you have ceased operations.

What other things should I do when closing a business?

If you have customers who have not yet paid for goods or services provided, make attempts to collect on their accounts before you officially close your business and distribute its remaining assets. Some business owners find it is easier to collect on outstanding debts by calling customers rather than sending letters. In some cases, it may make sense to offer a discount for paying immediately. Try to collect on debts before notifying customers your business is closing, as doing so will likely increase your chances of collecting.

You will also need to cancel your company’s online presence, including: 

  • Websites
  • Social media profiles/accounts
  • Business referral services
  • Search engine listings 

Taking a deliberate approach to removing pages and listings with each site or service provider can ensure you capture all of them.

Seek legal guidance when needed for a smooth dissolution

Closing your business is rarely easy, but doing so deliberately can help you avoid legal liability down the road. As you can see from the discussion above, there are many considerations involved in dissolving a business. Consulting an attorney and tax professional can help ensure you have taken all appropriate actions to protect yourself from future claims, so you can start the next chapter in your career with confidence and peace of mind. If you have questions about closing down your business in light of COVID-19, you can access free legal advice and essential documents in the Coronavirus Legal Center

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