Fraud is any dishonest deception intended to gain something by taking advantage of someone. It is an act of profiting from someone else’s loss. The basic elements of fraud include:

  • The intention to deceive
  • Misrepresentation of material fact
  • Knowledge of falsehood
  • Reasonable reliance by the victim
  • Injury suffered

Fraud can be a criminal or civil tort, depending on the situation. These two are different, and as such, criminal fraud cases will be handled differently from civil fraud cases. This article highlights the types of fraud, and their differences.

What is Criminal Fraud?

“Any action intended to deceive another through false representation of fact that causes a legal detriment to the person who relied on such information, according to criminal fraud law, amounts to a crime.” Criminal fraud is regarded as a “white collar crime.”

It is a crime that involves deception and cheating another party to gain a financial advantage over them. It includes using a false representation of facts to deceive an individual who is made to believe such information is reliable.

Local, state, or federal prosecutors usually enforce a criminal case. These prosecutors must prove that a defendant willingly committed the fraud, intending to enrich themselves from it and that the victim suffered losses. Even in cases where the fraud was unsuccessful, prosecutors can still pursue a criminal fraud case.

What is Civil Fraud?

Civil fraud is a type of fraud that also involves a forged misrepresentation or inducement. The plaintiff in a civil fraud claim must prove that they suffered damages from the act.

If the plaintiff in a civil fraud case wins, the defendant will have to pay back economic and non-economic damages. Economic damages include loss of income, property, and other financial assets. Non-economic damages would cover things like pain, stress, and suffering.

What Differentiates Criminal Fraud from Civil Fraud?

“A basic difference between the two types of fraud cases is that a criminal fraud case usually occurs between the government and an individual, while a civil fraud case is between two individuals,” says attorney William M. Bailey of BK Law Group.

In a civil fraud case, the plaintiff who goes against the defendant is the victim of the fraud. But in a criminal fraud case, the government (prosecutors) attempt to prove the defendant is guilty of the fraud they are accused of.

Another difference is that the defendant faces possible imprisonment or probation, paying fines, and restitution to the victims in a criminal fraud case. However, in a civil fraud case, the punishment is often to reimburse for the damage suffered by the victim.

The difference here is that civil fraud cases are concerned solely with the payment of damages. In contrast, a criminal case will sanction the guilty defendant with fines, prison time, and other punishments.

One way a civil lawsuit differs from a criminal lawsuit is that the burden of proof is placed on different parties. In a civil case, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant caused them injury through fraud. But in a criminal case, the prosecutor must prove the truth of the charges, and that the defendant committed fraud beyond a reasonable doubt.

Civil cases also see less publicity than criminal cases due to their nature. A lot of criminal cases involve witnesses, and may involve news coverage as well.


Criminal and civil are the two types of fraud that can lead to a lawsuit. While both cases have deception in common, they still differ.

Accidents are a common sight on U.S. roads — nearly 14,000 crashes are recorded each day. Therefore, knowing what to do and what to avoid after a crash is vital.

It is expected that you will be confused, shocked, or angry after an accident. However, the steps that you take after the crash should be intentional. First, ensure that you seek medical attention for injuries sustained, as health always comes first.

Next, ensure that you get a police report on the accident. Once all this is settled, you can hire a personal injury lawyer to advise on the next steps, like filing a personal injury lawsuit. Lawyers are very helpful in such circumstances due to the following reasons:

They Help Estimate the Value of Your Damages

Accidents will most certainly cause property and financial losses to the victims. While seeking compensation, it is common for insurance companies or the party at fault to offer a little reimbursement, often less than what you have lost. Having a lawyer by your side will protect you from under-compensation.

Lawyers know what to look for when making a settlement claim. When calculating your losses, they will include long-term costs like lost wages and medical bills. Moreover, they will also help quantify other aspects of your compensation claim, like psychological trauma, pain, and suffering.

They Give Professional Advice

Lawyers are very resourceful in guiding you after an accident. Firstly, they help you avoid pitfalls when speaking to insurance companies, authorities, and other parties. They will help generate statements that cannot be used against you in later stages of the case.

Similarly, they will provide tips on optimizing your case. This includes collecting vital information after a crash. Additionally, they will advise you to gather certain details from the accident scene as well as keep track of your medical and transport expenses.

Finally, they will instruct you on the steps to take. Without proper knowledge of personal injury claims, you might make mistakes that will impact the outcome of your claim. “Your lawyer may guide you on the course of action, especially if you are uncertain about what to do” says Andrew S. Kryder of The Kryder Law Group, LLC Accident & Injury Lawyers.

They Represent You in Court

Following up on the case may be challenging if you are still recovering from the accident. Moreover, you may not be accustomed to the intricacies of the legal system. You might also have difficulties with the documentation process and meeting court deadlines.

An experienced lawyer can help you achieve all this without your direct involvement, which is helpful if you do not want public attention. They can collect important evidence and witnesses to help your case. Handling a personal injury claim by yourself might also be intimidating, especially when dealing with big companies.

They Help You Fight Intimidation Strategies

Employers and insurance companies can devise intimidation strategies like threats and lowball settlements to prevent you from filing a lawsuit. An attorney will help react accordingly to pressure from the workplace and other strategies by insurance companies to delay the claim process.

The Takeaway

Filing a personal injury claim is a long and complicated process. Fortunately, lawyers can help simplify the process by calculating your losses, gathering evidence, and representing you in court.

A good lawyer will also advise on what to do and avoid to improve your chances of receiving legitimate compensation.

As part of a broad criminal justice reform approved by President Donald Trump more than three years ago, the Justice Department will start transferring hundreds of offenders out of federal prisons this week.

In legislation published in the Federal Register on Thursday, the Department of Justice explains how “time credits” for convicts will function. The bipartisan legislation aims to encourage offenders to participate in recidivism-reduction programs, which could help them reduce their jail time.

It also makes obligatory minimum sentences less stringent and provides more leeway to judges in passing sentences. While the transfers are slated to begin this week, the exact number of inmates who will benefit from it is unknown. However, according to the government, “thousands” of convicts will be affected.

Inmates can earn time credits under a law enacted in December 2018 that allows them to earn 10 to 15 days of credit for every 30 days they participate in prison programs to minimize recidivism.

Anger management and addiction treatment are among the programs available, as are educational, career, and social skills workshops. The news of the publication of a finalized regulation came two months after the department’s inspector general raised concerns that the Bureau of Prisons had failed to apply earned time credits to nearly 60,000 federal offenders who had finished the programs.

It also came just a week after Michael Carvajal, the director of the jail service, announced his resignation in the face of rising criticism of his leadership. Both Democratic and Republican senators have pressed the Biden administration to do more to implement additional provisions of the First Step Act, and the FBI has been accused of dragging its feet.

For years, the bureau has had a serious staffing deficit, forcing teachers, cooks, nurses, and other employees to work as correctional officers. Employees have long maintained that taking them away from their other responsibilities to guard convicts causes delays in implementing the First Step Act because they have less time to teach seminars, examine release papers, and provide inmate services.

According to the Justice Department, the total number of programs for which offenders are eligible has risen, and detainees will not be penalized if they cannot participate due to circumstances beyond their control. For months, the department has been attempting to enhance bureau staffing.

The inmates who will benefit from the enactment will be placed in supervised release programs, home confinement, or the bureau’s residential reentry centers, also known as halfway houses. Inmates can earn time credits dating back to the First Step Act’s enactment in 2018.

The Law Outlines How Inmates Can Be Released

According to the Justice Department, specific offenders to be the first beneficiaries of the time credit program include:

  • Inmates with time credits that is more than the number of days remaining on their sentence
  • Inmates whose release is less than one year
  • Inmates who are on supervised release

Transfers are in the works. More are expected in the coming weeks when time credits are applied to convicts’ records. The rule also alters the definition of a “day” of credit at the agency.

To qualify for time credit equivalent to one day of jail term, offenders would have to participate for eight hours in specified academic programs or prison occupations, according to a suggested version released in January 2020.

However, the final version alters the timeline and states that the last criterion “was inconsistent with the law’s purposes.” For every 30 days that inmates participate in programs, they will receive 10 days.

Inmates who stay in lower-risk categories for the entire 30-day term will receive an additional five days of credit. According to advocates, the approved definition of a “day” will make it simpler for a wide range of prison programs to count toward time credits, allowing more prisoners to be eligible for early release.

Barriers Affecting the Implementation of the First Step Act

“In recent years, the Justice Department’s implementation of the First Step Act has run into serious roadblocks as there have been many concerns raised from different quarters” says criminal justice attorney Jeffrey Lichtman. Among these are the need to reassess the risk and needs of all federal detainees using new standards and a lack of space in prison programs due to recurrent staffing shortages.

This came after advocacy groups objected to the bureau’s use of a rebranded version of its security assessment system rather than building a new one. The Prisoner Assessment Tool Targeting Estimated Risks and Needs (PATTERN) is a tool that uses an algorithm to examine all convicts and decide whether they are at high, medium, low, or no risk of reoffending.

The Justice Department altered the assessment program it was using to change measures. These measures potentially introduced a racial bias months after the bureau completed the legislation’s mandated “risk and needs” assessments. The assessments were revised to eliminate questions about an offender’s age when they were initially arrested and whether or not the inmate was offered the chance to turn themselves in at a jail.

However, campaigners claim that the PATTERN tool still has weaknesses and that it has resulted in racial discrepancies in its judgments in some circumstances. According to the rule, the department will continue to analyze the tool, consult outside experts, and attempt to “address and mitigate against racial bias or other inequities.”


Thousands of inmates will be relieved by this announcement, most especially those who have worked hard to turn their lives around and reunite with their families and communities as productive, law-abiding citizens. They can qualify for early release into welfare homes or home confinement if they acquire enough credits.

In some situations, offenders may be able to earn up to 12 months of credit toward supervised release. This initiative has given many prisoners hope of finishing their terms earlier than initially thought.

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

Undertaking your first major home remodel can be a daunting task. It’s not always easy knowing where to start and what to look out for when deciding on which home remodeling company or general contractor is right for you.

We’ve all heard the renovation nightmare stories. As a professional home remodeling company, the last thing we want is for any homeowner to end up in a situation where their remodel is dragging on and on with no end in sight, or to hear that the initial estimate given has now doubled and the total cost is growing by the day. So, this month, we’re looking at a few red flags and things to ask to help you pick the perfect remodeling partner for your project!

Red flag #1

A general contractor or home remodeling company tells you they can start construction in a few weeks. This should cause you to pause and ask why.

We’ve heard from a number of homeowners in the area recently who have told us they can’t even get remodelers and tradespeople to return phone calls. As with the housing market, the construction and home remodeling industry is still booming. There is no excuse for an unreturned email or phone call, but the reality is many companies have no bandwidth to start any new construction projects until later 2022/early 2023.

At Synergy, we can start the design process within the next six months, but construction start dates for new projects are now booking in early 2023. So, if someone comes to your home with promises of being able to start construction ‘in a few weeks’, ask questions why they have availability.

When it comes to how long it takes to complete a remodel, we’ve said it before, but we’ll say it again: no major home remodeling project is going to be completed within a couple of weeks (and at minimal cost) from the time you sign on the dotted line. Any company or individual who tells differently is setting you up for disappointment. Design thoughtful remodeling takes time. Design comes first, construction follows. We have a saying at Synergy “materials wait for construction, construction doesn’t wait for materials” meaning you should have made all of your design choices with most of them ordered (especially things like cabinetry and appliances which have extensive lead times — especially in recent times due to supply chain issues) before anyone comes anywhere near your home with a sledgehammer.

The point is, if you’re thinking of a home remodel, have realistic expectations about how long the process will take. Start the conversation now and don’t call in the early fall expecting to have your new kitchen by Thanksgiving!

Red flag #2 

The contractor gives you a cost on their first visit.

This one makes us crazy! We know you want to know on the first visit, but asking a professional remodeler how much a remodel costs is like asking, “How much is a car?” The make, model, engine size, alloy wheels, leather seats, heated steering wheel and that third row you really want to ferry the kids around all increase the price. The same thing applies to home remodeling. Providing a free estimate for a simple pull and replace powder room remodel or to paint your main level is one thing, but totally different for a full kitchen or other home remodel.

A number of things impact the cost of your remodel from changing the footprint (which usually requires plumbing, electrical and/or mechanical changes), to the cabinetry line you want to the level of finishes you expect. No one wants to be change ordered at every turn during the remodeling process when you have no option but to pay more to get the job done. Not every remodeler takes the same approach, but we’d rather be realistic about cost with you upfront so you know what you’re getting yourself into rather than get to the end of the project with your budget blown and costs twice what you’d been told initially.

Read more in Square Foot Pricing for a Home Remodel: What Every Homeowner Should Know.

Kitchen Remodel in Fairfax (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction). At Synergy, we pride ourselves on coming in on-time, on-budget for every home remodel!

Red flag #3 The contractor hasn’t worked on a project of similar size and scope to your project before.

This one is a recipe for disaster. Before you meet any potential remodelers, poke around the contractor/remodeling company’s website and take a look at project examples to get a sense of the size and scope of a typical project they work on. Read testimonials and Google reviews — they are a great way to get a sense of what a company is all about from real clients.

A cautionary tale! One of Synergy’s project photos turned up in the marketing materials of another company who had just started out and they didn’t have a portfolio of their own. If something doesn’t seem right to you, trust your gut and ask to see photos from actual projects they have completed.

Basement Remodel in McLean (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction). See more of our projects here.

Red Flag #4

You’re told you don’t need a permit for your remodel.

If a contractor tells you this, one of two things is happening. You are doing a small, simple pull-and-replace type remodel and just replacing cabinets or countertops or they are not telling you the truth. Why lie? Because permits take time and cost money. The bottom line: If you are undertaking a remodel in any part of your home that requires moving or adding mechanical, electrical, plumbing or even walls within your home, you need a permit.

Reputable companies will submit permits and get approvals on your behalf. Read more about why it’s important to permit and what the longer term consequences are if you decide not to apply for a permit here.

Kitchen Remodel in Vienna (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction). Was this kitchen remodel in Vienna permitted? You bet it was — it’s one of ours!

Red Flag #5

The contractor outsources all of their work to subcontractors.

Not all remodeling contractors or remodeling companies are set up in the same way. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they source carpenters, designers, project management and specialty trades (think plumbing, mechanical, electrical, drywall, tiling etc). Are they in-house or subcontractors?

When you work with a full service design-build firm like Synergy, there will usually be an in-house team who work on your project. The benefit of this is continuity and a single point of accountability with less likelihood of things being forgotten or dropped during handoffs. At Synergy, we have a team of carpenters, interior designers and project managers who work on your remodel but we partner with trusted speciality trades who we manage on your behalf. Read more in Life Under Construction: Who’s in Your Home?

And lastly, don’t assume the contractor is licensed and insured. Ask!

Thinking of a home remodel and not sure what’s possible or where to start? Give us a call! Our consultations are free and we’re happy to help you get started!

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Some people may have the perception about the back seat being the safest spot for passengers. While this may have been true at one time, new safety technology in vehicles have made this assumption incorrect.

Recently, the numerous safety advancements in the automobile world have improved seatbelt technology among other changes. However, many of these advancements have predominantly benefited front-seat passengers.

After a car crash, the effect of the impact can be far worse for back-seat passengers than for the occupants in the front. Some reports indicate automakers are yet to offer the same safety features for back-seat passengers. However, there are plans to develop a technological safety feature for back-seat passengers.

Fatal Injuries Common With Back-seat Passengers

Studies have shown that back-seat passengers are faced with more fatal injuries than front-seat passengers. In the event of a car accident, back-seat passengers can experience:

  • Severe concussions
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Chest, Abdominal, Neck, and Spinal injuries
  • Bone fractures

Why Riding in The Back Seat is More Dangerous

The lives of front-seat passengers are at risk if back-seat passengers refuse to wear their seatbelts. This is because the space between them offers no protection from the impact of a collision.

Additionally, in the event of an accident, unfastened backseat passengers can be propelled forward, causing significant or even deadly damage to the driver or front-seat passenger.

However, safety isn’t assured for back-seat passengers who put on their seatbelts at all times. This is because some automakers create enhanced seatbelt technology for front-seat passengers while not offering such technology for back-seat passengers.

This is why, if compared to front-seat passengers who fastened their seat belts, buckled back-seat passengers are at higher risk of being severely injured in a car crash. Some vehicles have a more advanced front-seat belt option that adjusts instantly if a collision is likely, but this technology is not always used for seatbelts in back seats.

Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has advised people aged 55 and over to always stay in the front seat. In their study, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety found that a higher number of fatalities were back-seat passengers between ages 50 to 80. They called on the auto industry to make the back seat a top priority in their newest auto technology.

Back Seat Safety Features Motorists Wish Were in Place

The safety of back-seat passengers is important. Automobile manufacturers are going ahead to create safety features that will safeguard all vehicle occupants, even as the auto industry and safety authorities learn more about the value of back-seat safety technology.

Some of the features that can provide additional safety for back-seat passengers include:

1. Airbags for Back-seat Passengers

Front-seat passengers enjoy the airbag safety feature. This feature can also be provided for back-seat passengers. The airbags can ensure that back-seat occupants do not collide with any hard surfaces, and prevent them from being fatally injured in the case of a crash.

Air-filled back-seat belts are available in some premium vehicles, minimizing the force on the occupant’s chest if there is a collision. Some auto manufacturers include airbags that expand from the back of the front seat, providing additional protection for the head, neck, and shoulders of back-seat passengers. The back airbags can be further tested to see if they are compatible with child car seats.

2. Individualized Protection

Back seats can be engineered to automatically change to accommodate the demands of a broad range of passengers of different sizes, ages, and shapes. There are reports that seat belt manufacturers are developing technology that adapts the position of the shoulder belt to the passenger to provide a secure fit.

3. Crash Simulation

There are no crash test ratings for the safety of back-seat passengers. Researchers at the Center of Injury Research Prevention are test running better safety measures for back-seat passengers using computational human body models.

These models measure how well a booster seat protects a child even if they are not sitting correctly. Some researchers are also running simulations using taller or shorter occupants than usual, as crash simulation mannequins do not typically reflect these people.

Ways to Make the Back Seat Safe for Children

Children and babies frequently occupy the back seat of a car. Even if a car does not have the latest back-seat belt technology, parents and guardians can do the following to ensure that the back seat is safe.

1. Choose a Suitable Car Seat

The process of selecting a safe spot in the car can be pretty challenging. Parents or guardians must determine whether it is suitable to switch their child from a back-facing seat to a forward-facing seat in addition to selecting the seat.

Except if the child’s height and weight matches the limits listed on the car seat label, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that children under the age of two ride in a back-facing car seat. Children should sit in a booster seat and remain in a forward-facing car seat until they can no longer fit in it. A pediatrician can recommend the safest car seat based on a child’s height, weight, and age.

2. Dispose of Loose Objects

Most times, objects such as cans, plastics, and other items are frequently left on the passenger seat, the floor, or the console between the front seats by drivers. These objects can cause harm to a driver or passengers if there is a sudden halt or collision. It is advisable to put all loose objects in the trunk of a car, glove compartment, or behind the seat pockets.

 3. Change Faulty Car Seats

If a car seat has torn straps or is otherwise defective, it should be changed immediately. Car seats are costly, but parents should avoid buying used car seats to cut costs.

It is difficult to determine if the second-hand product was correctly used and maintained. If there are loopholes like some parts missing or broken, it may not protect the child from severe injuries if there is a car crash.


Back-seat passengers are at higher risk of injuries in a car crash. Automakers can help in minimizing this risk by paying more attention to the safety of backseat passengers while coming up with new car safety features.

Dump trucks are standard in areas close to construction sites or quarries. Dump trucks are essential to the construction process by transporting materials to building sites. These multipurpose heavy-duty trucks transport large volumes of loose materials such as dirt, sand, ores, gravel, and more.

Unfortunately, dump trucks can also be dangerous, especially in tip-over accidents. Over the past few years, dump truck accidents have steadily risen, as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported, and can cause severe injuries and death.

What Makes Dump Truck Accidents Dangerous?

In 2019, dump trucks accounted for 8 percent of all fatal accidents involving large trucks and buses. These trucks were involved in more than 6000 crashes that resulted in severe injuries during the same year.

A dump truck can become dangerous when there is instability or unevenness during the dump. The Texas Department of Worker’s Compensation (TDI) mentions how this can occur in many ways below:

Stability of the Truck End Dump

When the back-end box carrying the materials in the truck is raised, the truck’s center of gravity can become unbalanced. The lack of stability on these trucks during unloading can increase the chances of a tip-over accident.

Uneven Loads

In addition, the truckload can be packed unevenly, furthering the chances of a tip-over accident. Sometimes the truck driver may need to unload on uneven ground or slopes. This may cause the load to not flow appropriately during dumping, increasing danger for the driver and those around the truck.

Wheel Stability and Mechanical Factors

The truck’s stability may also be compromised if the back wheels settle unevenly while dumping. Finally, mechanical factors can also contribute to the dump truck’s stability. Some mechanical factors include poor suspension, uneven tire pressure, and worn or inadequate components in the lifting system.

How to Prevent Dump Truck Accidents

How can you prevent dump truck accidents? The TDI has recommended several tips you could follow to prevent dump truck accidents:

Stick to the Weight Limit

This may seem obvious, but you may be surprised how many people ignore this rule. Ignoring the weight limit increases the chances of an accident as it can tamper with the truck’s stability.

Use the Right Type of Truck

The nature of the job will determine the correct type of truck. Note that there are different types of dump trucks, each designed for a specific job.

Lighten the Load

It is best to lighten the load whenever the truck carries poor flowing materials. This will help maintain stability and reduce the chances of an accident.

Check the Ground before Dumping

Before dumping, you should ensure that the truck is on even ground. It would be best if you stayed away from soft, uneven surfaces. Also, always dump away from vehicles and people.

Maintain the truck

Ensure you have a strict maintenance schedule for the truck with regular inspections. Failing to identify malfunctions or damages to the truck can easily lead to injury.


Ultimately, it is the duty of employers and dumps truck manufacturers to enforce federally approved safety procedures to prevent workplace injuries. Workers are entitled to a worker’s compensation claim whenever they sustain an injury while at work.

If a dump truck is involved, the worker may file a claim against the manufacturer for additional damages. Lastly, if the truck was sold in an unsafe condition, the worker can file a lawsuit against the manufacturer, supplier, or distributor.

Therefore, you must adopt adequate safety measures to prevent dump truck accidents. Apart from injury and death, these incidences can result in potential lawsuits.


If you are convicted of a crime, you can expect several outcomes at sentencing, one of which could be probation. Probation means you do not have to serve time in jail, which can be quite a relief.

However, not serving time in prison doesn’t mean your life will not be disrupted. Sometimes the terms of probation can be so restrictive that keeping them is almost impossible. If you are taking probation as part of a plea deal, it is best to work with a criminal defense lawyer to ensure that the terms of your probation match your charge.

There are also situations where probation is a condition for release for individuals that have served extended time in prison, which also comes with strict control.

You Can Travel But With Restrictions

One significant restriction which comes with probation is out-of-state travel. However, the restrictions can vary based on the terms of individual probation sentences and the underlying circumstances, such as if the person serving the probation had done time for a felony offense.

If you get probation as a first-time offender or through a plea deal, the terms of your probation could be much lighter, and the probation officer may not be so rigid in granting a request to travel when necessary, for example, for a job. But travel restrictions may be much stricter if your probation comes after serving considerable jail time or a felony conviction. Under such circumstances, the probation officer and the court may deem you a flight risk requiring you to report to the probation officer every few days.

But even then, the probation officer has the liberty to grant your request to travel based on the seriousness of your reason for travel. However, you must maintain contact with your probation officer the entire time and communicate any change of plans to avoid a violation of your probation terms.

Probation Violations

If there are reasonable grounds for suspicion of probation terms violations, your probation officer can order your arrest. Under such circumstances, they do not need to get a warrant of arrest or serve the judge with an affidavit. If convicted for probation violations, you risk facing additional sentencing.

In most cases, violation of probation terms results in prison sentences. If you are charged with probation terms violation, you may want to speak to a criminal defense lawyer for help securing a favorable outcome.

It may also be possible to modify your probation terms depending on your state of residence with the help of a lawyer and your probation officer. However, a review of probation terms mainly depends on a probationer’s compliance with the terms in a given period.

In some states, the waiting period for a term’s review is six months. In others, you have to wait until you are halfway through your probation period. Either way, good conduct is a significant factor in determining your success in having your terms reviewed.

A Lawyer Can Help

It is not a legal requirement to maintain contact with your lawyer throughout your probation period. But you may still want to keep them close because you may encounter complications.

For instance, poor communication can hinder your chances of getting travel clearance, so you may want to channel your communication with the probation officer through your lawyer for such matters. Alternatively, you can involve them when you encounter challenges in your quest to get clearance.

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Security clearance holders are expected to self-report security issues or incidents that may impact their ability to hold a security clearance.

Security Executive Agent Directive (SEAD) 4 is the applicable guide for clearance holders to determine whether a new incident or development touches upon a security concern which triggers a duty to self-report. Self-reporting is required and not doing so can cause harm to a security clearance holder. Furthermore, it is generally much better to be proactive in disclosing reportable events than for them to be discovered later.

Disclosing security incidents prior to them being discovered by clearance investigators can be considered a potential mitigating factor. Of course, there is also often many concerns in reporting security incidents by clearance holders which should be answered by an attorney experienced in security clearance law. Following legal advice, the usual first step in disclosing a new security concern involves contacting the individual’s security officer.

For example, if an individual is arrested for driving under the influence, it would be important to reach out to the security officer for guidance and first steps. The security officer may ask the individual to complete a form known as the SF-86C or other documentation to document the concern.

Timing is important. Self-reporting security incidents should be done, in many cases, as soon as possible. There are several examples of types of incidents that should be reported.  The following are just a few examples which may trigger the duty to report a new security issue:

  • Financial Issues — Reporting negative financial circumstances such as bankruptcy, state or federal tax liens or unusual adverse financial debt issues.
  • Arrests — Reporting any arrest, even if charges were not ultimately filed.
  • Marriage — Reporting marriages, other new serious relationships or changes in co-habitation.
  • Psychological or Substance Abuse Counseling — Reporting certain mental health and substance abuse issues impacting judgment or reliability.
  • Illegal drug use — Reporting the use of marijuana and other drugs still considered illegal on a federal level.
  • The Loss or Classified Information or Technology — Reporting inadvertent or accidental loss or compromise of classified or other sensitive information.
  • Foreign Contacts — Reporting unusual or substantial foreign contacts, especially those where classified or sensitive information is sought by the foreign contact.
  • Foreign Travel — Reporting travel outside the United States (other than for official business).

There are countless of other types of incidents that may need to be reported to a security officer, so if an individual has any questions it is often advisable to get legal advice as soon as possible. The Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (DCSA) has issued a notice which helps outline the self-reporting obligations of security clearance holders.

Contact Us

If you need assistance with a security clearance issues, please contact our office at (703) 668-0070 or at to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By Melissa L. Watkins, Esq.

On March 3, 2022, President Biden signed the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (H.R. 4445).

The law took effect immediately and was approved with overwhelming support in the House of Representatives, with a vote of 335 to 97. The Senate followed suit, passing the law, without amendment, by voice vote. This new law is more than just giving victims of sexual harassment and assault “their day in court.” It’s also about forcing employers to put more effort into addressing sexual assault or harassment claims.

What is Forced Arbitration?

Forced arbitration is a controversial employment practice that is used by many employers requiring employees to arbitrate legal disputes with the company rather than going to court. Forced arbitration occurs when an employer conditions initial employment, continued employment, or important employment benefits on the employee’s agreement to arbitrate any future claims against the employer.

Companies use such arbitration agreements to bar access to the courts for all types of legal claims, including employment discrimination and sexual harassment claims. If an employment right protected by a federal or state law has been violated and the employee has signed a mandatory arbitration agreement, that employee does not have access to the courts and instead must handle the claim through the arbitration procedure set out in the arbitration agreement that she or he was required to sign.

Some of the downsides of an employee being forced into arbitration (instead of going to court) often include higher costs/fees for employees, less opportunity to obtain key evidence in preparation for cases and the employer’s ability to force a less convenient location (i.e. in another state far away) for the arbitration; many other downsides exist.

What Does the Law Change?

The law allows an employee alleging sexual harassment or sexual assault in the workplace to opt out of the pre-dispute arbitration agreement. However, the law only applies to disputes that arise after March 3, 2022. In other words, the new law does not apply to sexual harassment or sexual assault claims that occurred prior to March 3, 2022. However, this new law applies regardless of when the employee may have signed an arbitration agreement.

What Does the Change Mean for Employees?

Employees should understand that arbitration agreements are not automatically invalid as a result of the new law, but an employee can choose to avoid them where the law applies. The employee, not the employer, now gets to choose whether to litigate their sexual assault or harassment claims in court or through arbitration.

Often, employees alleging sexual assault or sexual harassment also allege other claims, such as discrimination or retaliation. Given the recency of the law, it is not yet fully known whether the law will allow all claims brought in a case involving sexual harassment or sexual assault, including discrimination and retaliation, to avoid an arbitration agreement.

However, given the wording of the law, referring to “cases” and not just “claims” it is likely that the law will allow employees to bring all claims in a case, even those not involving sexual harassment, into court rather than arbitration.

It is also important to note that even if an employee does not wish to sue in court, the employee can still raise a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). We have also included a link to the EEOC table showing the number of claims involving sexual harassment in the private sector filed since 2010. These numbers illustrate just how pervasive this problem is in workplaces throughout the country.

There are multiple ways in which an employee can going about raising such concerns and speaking with experienced legal counsel can allow you to evaluate all of your options. This new law is just the first step in freeing employees from forced arbitration in sexual harassment and assault cases.


If you are an employee in need of employment law representation, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook and Twitter.

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Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction

By Nicola Caul Shelley, Synergy Design & Construction

We’ve been in the home remodeling business a long time. We know it can be overwhelming when you start thinking about a kitchen remodel and all the decisions that have to be made. We’re here to help make life a little easier. Here are five design tips when it comes to remodeling your kitchen to get you started!

 1. The Kitchen ‘Triangle’

This one is a BIG one. We often say a great home remodel starts with figuring out how you actually use the space. Function first, form follows. When it comes to kitchen design, one of the first considerations is the kitchen ‘triangle’. Simply put, this is the most effective layout between the refrigerator, stove and sink, usually loosely based on a triangle. It’s not a hard and fast rule (and one that has undergone some changes with the addition of multiple kitchen ‘zones’ over the years), but it’s a great place to start with your dream kitchen remodel.

Got a galley kitchen or other layout that doesn’t lend itself to the triangle rule? No problem! The main consideration is to think through the best flow and energy efficiency of your space to minimize the back and forth between cooking, cleaning and storing areas.

In this kitchen remodel in Reston, the redesign of the kitchen included the sink and refrigerator along one wall with the stove on the left forming the third point of the ‘triangle’. This remodel also highlights another kitchen design issue to consider — cabinet height! Read on for more information…

The Kitchen Triangle (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

 2. The Kitchen Island

The kitchen island has made it onto the “must have” list for many homeowners. Kitchen islands are great in large kitchens and provide tons of prep space, storage and a gathering place when everyone inevitably ends up in the kitchen! They also work great in smaller spaces where walls are being removed to open up a kitchen to a dining area or family room, for example.

A growing trend in recent years has been the addition of not one but two kitchen islands. Two islands allow you to have one dedicated to prep and/or cooking and another for casual dining/entertaining. This kitchen remodel in Herndon features two islands and shows how the kitchen now seamlessly blends into the family room and dining area.

Double Kitchen Islands (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

The general rule of thumb is that aisles in the kitchen should be at least 36″ wide. Ideally, the aisle in a cooking zone should be 42″ to 48″ depending on your cooking configuration. Island and peninsula sizes should be adjusted accordingly.

Lastly, if you have a small or galley kitchen with no room for an island, fear not! There are LOTS of really great versatile options for moveable islands that double up as dining tables or bar areas that won’t break your remodeling budget.

3. Cabinet Height

Nothing says “wow” more than kitchen cabinets that go all the way to the ceiling. Adding  cabinets that go to the ceiling WILL add cost to your remodel, but if look outweighs budget considerations and it’s something you really want, go for it!

Ceiling height cabinets look at home in all types of kitchen designs from transitional to contemporary. If your aesthetic leans more transitional, a good way to break up cabinet “blocks” is with the use of smaller, glass fronted upper cabinets. This allows for the storage and display of treasured, but infrequently used, items. A great example of this can be seen in this local home remodel. The interior cabinet lighting is the final touch to this elegant space!

Cabinet Height (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

In more contemporary homes, slab fronted cabinets that run all the way to the ceiling create a sleek, ultramodern look that oozes a designer feel and keeps the lines clean and crisp. In this home remodel in Reston, a “cloud” ceiling detail was added that dropped the ceiling height creating the illusion of a much bigger space. The contemporary white cabinets are warmed up by the contrasting wood tones.

Cabinet Height (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

Many mid-century homes in this area have sloped ceilings that don’t lend themselves to ceiling-height cabinets. If you work with an experienced kitchen designer, they will help you figure out the layout that works best for your home. Our in-house Interior Designer, Emily, not only partners with all of our clients on the actual kitchen cabinet type and color, she also produces realistic 3D images that help give clients a real sense of what the finished space will look like. The image below shows a 3D image for a local home remodel in Reston with a sloping roof that is currently under construction. Watch this space for the finished product!

Cabinet Height (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

Looking for more cabinet inspiration? Check out project Before & Afters on our website.

4. Let’s Talk Trash

OK, so it’s not one of the most glamorous or exciting things on the home remodeling checklist, but don’t forget about your trash location! Nothing ruins a beautifully remodeled kitchen more than a large free-standing trash can stuck on the end of a cabinet or beside an island. Incorporate your trash receptacles into a cabinet somewhere near the sink or main prep area. You won’t regret it! These days, most quality cabinet lines include options for both regular and recycling cans to be contained within one pull-out cabinet, either on the kitchen perimeter or kitchen island.

Can you spot the location of the trash in this home remodel in Vienna? These homeowners decided to locate their trash and recycling cans to the left of the sink. This photo also provides a preview of our next design tip — the microwave drawer!

Hidden Trash (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

 5. Small Appliance Consideration: Microwaves

There was a time when there were only two microwave options: a hung microwave at eye level installed above the stove or a free-standing one sitting on a countertop. There is a third option: the microwave drawer. They’ve been around for a long time, but they’re often not top-of-the-list when it comes to kitchen design considerations. They should be! Microwave drawers can be integrated into your kitchen design and tucked away in an island.

What we love about them is that they are not only stylish, they are safer when it comes to lifting hot containers/bowls. Instead of having to reach up to take out hot liquids at head and shoulder level, microwave drawers allow you to lift hot food up onto a countertop. Microwave drawers are also a great universal design consideration. Growing children, older adults and those with mobility considerations can more easily reach a drawer independently, and the drawers typically open on their own with the touch of a button, making them easier to use with less strength.

For most of our clients, once you’ve had a microwave drawer in your kitchen, there is no going back. The photo below of a kitchen remodel in Oakton shows a microwave drawer installed in a beautiful blue island.

Microwave Drawer (Photo courtesy Synergy Design & Construction)

What design tips or questions do you have? Let us know in the comments!

Looking for a local home remodeling company to partner with on your dream kitchen remodel? We’ve been in business in the Reston area helping local homeowners renovate happy for almost 15 years! Get in touch! Our consultations are FREE.

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The Kensington Reston Open House April 3

Join our open house on Sunday, April 3 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
By appointment only by RSVPing.

We invite you to join The Kensington Reston for a peek inside our community at our Hello Spring Open House!

Gather with us to celebrate the warmer weather and longer days of spring. Visit our community to experience the Kensington Difference for yourself. From the moment you step inside, you’ll feel an indescribable sense of family, belonging and home.

Stop by and meet our team of best-in-class professionals whose spirit of uncompromising commitment to excellence in care and service is brighter than ever. Learn about how our assisted living and memory care services are multi-faceted and highly personalized. We are a family of families that cherish the fact that every single day, we get to contribute care, attention and friendship to our residents.

To ensure your safety and the safety of our residents, our Hello Spring Open House is by appointment only. We are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 and we are taking all the necessary precautions to keep our community safe. Our team is also available to meet virtually!

To RSVP, or for questions about joining our Kensington Family or our COVID-19 protocols, click here.

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This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

Virginia, the first state to enact COVID-19 workplace rules in July of 2020, has now become the first state to end them.

The action was taken following a vote on March 21, 2022, by the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry’s (DOLI) Safety and Health Codes Board (Safety Board). Under the previous standards, Virginia employers had a number of requirements with respect to COVID-19, including indoor masking in higher-risk areas and reporting COVID-19 outbreaks to the Virginia Department of Health. These standards have been rescinded.

Workplace safety is governed by both the federal Occupational and Safety Health Administration (OSHA) and state and local rules. States, like Virginia, with workplace safety agencies are required to have rules that are at least as effective as those set by OSHA.

OSHA originally attempted to enact rules regarding COVID-19 vaccines and COVID-19 testing, but the effort was dropped after being blocked by the Supreme Court. As a result, employers now remain subject to various state and local regulations with respect to COVID-19 issues.

New Guidance for Employers

While the prior rules are ending, new guidance is being finalized. Virginia employers still remain subject to workplace safety rules by DOLI, Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Programs (VOSH). VOSH has just proposed draft guidance for general health and safety rules concerning COVID-19 in the workplace.

The draft guidance, 5 pages in length, provides expectations for Virginia employers for handling COVID-19 employment issues, including, but not limited to:

  1. Encouraging employees with COVID-19 symptoms to stay home
  2. Assisting employees seeking to get vaccinated or in receiving booster shots
  3. Requiring employees infected with COVID-19 to stay home
  4. Providing employees masks or coverings as appropriate

There are many other items in the draft guidance, that employers and employees should review. The draft rules are still under review and the public may comment beginning March 28, 2022, until April 27, 2022.  It is likely that the draft rules will mostly remain the same as the final rules eventually issued.

Employers generally have the legal right to adopt safety and health workplace rules for employees that are more stringent than the guidance per the Code of Virginia.

Contact Us

If you are a Virginia employee in need of employment law representation, please contact our office at 703-668-0070 or through our contact page to schedule a consultation. Please also visit and like us on Facebook and Twitter.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on

The Kensington Reston Open House April 3

Join our open house on Sunday, April 3 from 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
By appointment only by RSVPing.

We invite you to join The Kensington Reston for a peek inside our community at our Hello Spring Open House!

Gather with us to celebrate the warmer weather and longer days of spring. Visit our community to experience the Kensington Difference for yourself. From the moment you step inside, you’ll feel an indescribable sense of family, belonging and home.

Stop by and meet our team of best-in-class professionals whose spirit of uncompromising commitment to excellence in care and service is brighter than ever. Learn about how our assisted living and memory care services are multi-faceted and highly personalized. We are a family of families that cherish the fact that every single day, we get to contribute care, attention and friendship to our residents.

To ensure your safety and the safety of our residents, our Hello Spring Open House is by appointment only. We are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19 and we are taking all the necessary precautions to keep our community safe. Our team is also available to meet virtually!

To RSVP, or for questions about joining our Kensington Family or our COVID-19 protocols, click here.

The preceding sponsored post was also published on

If you’re a cat lover, there’s nothing better than arriving home after a busy day to have your cat greet you at the door with purrs.

You can help your feline companion to live a long and healthy life by taking them to a vet where your cat can experience some of the best care available.

Just Cats Clinic is the only feline exclusive veterinary practice directly serving the Reston community. What makes a cat only practice different from the rest?

The moment you walk in the door you can see that the whole practice is designed to make your cat comfortable by catering to their unique needs. Absent are the smells and loud sounds of dogs. A synthetic calming pheromone is used throughout the practice, and exam rooms feature hiding spaces and bird feeder views to help soothe stressed cats.

The staff and doctors are specially trained in cat friendly handling techniques approved by the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and they are continually updating their knowledge with the latest research in feline medicine and behavior.

The state-of-the-art facility offers preventive care, surgery, dental cleaning, boarding, and alternative therapies like acupuncture and laser treatments. For cats experiencing acute illness outside of normal business hours, Just Cats Clinic offers urgent care appointments in the evenings during the week and in the afternoon on weekends.

If you are ready to see what cat only care has to offer, request an appointment today!

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By Mina Fies, Soulful Living Guide & Founder, Synergy Design & Construction

Let’s face it… we all live busy lives and are often stretched way too thin — and yet it’s our homes that help us come back to ourselves at the end of every day. While it’s always been important to me that our home remodels go beyond gorgeous countertops and new flooring, it really is all about the creation of ‘home’ however that shows up for us.

Everyone deserves to feel good when they walk in the door everyday, which is why I created a dedicated way in which I could help others create personal, meaningful spaces that support them in day-to-day life (even when they’re not ready for a full remodel). Although I don’t have a magic potion for achieving a perfect equilibrium, I have realized finding time to renew and recharge, even if it’s just for a few minutes, is the single most important part of my day.

Imagine a space created just for you, to restore your energy, provide a sense of calm and restoration, and bring you back in alignment with your true nature.

As a Soulful Living Guide, I like to call this the “Zen Zone”.

Personally, I use my Zen Zone as a place to meditate and to be present to how grateful I am for the blessings in my life. I love to journal, so this is where I find time to write. Some of my clients use theirs as a place to read a few pages from a book, flip through a magazine or cool down after a long week.

Your Zen Zone can be anywhere you’d like. The key is feeling relaxed and calm when you’re there.

So, how do you create your own Zen Zone?

Identify Your Zone — Start to visualize your home and ask yourself where you feel your zone should be. Use your intuition to choose a spot that feels right. If you have an extra bedroom, that’s fine, but all you really need is a little nook, corner of a room, even a portion of a walk-in closet.

Prepare Your Zone — It’s time to shift the energy. Remove any nearby clutter from your new spot so the energy feels light and calming. Do a thorough clean of the area.

Zen Your Zone — Cozy it up! Add objects that activate your senses and give you a positive vibe! THIS finishing touch is what makes it such a powerful addition to your self-care routine.

Have fun with it, incorporating natural elements like plants and flowers, calming scented candles, music, or your seasonal journal.

Looking for design inspiration and more pointers to create your own Zen Zone?

Watch my free Zen Zone masterclass here. Our homes serve as access to our highest awareness and yet we rarely give them the attention they deserve. Learning to tap into a deeper understanding of how your home can support you and your evolution is the first step in shifting everything and creating your very own sacred space in time.

Are you ready to love your home again? Learn more at

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