Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Christmas party woes don't need to be a nightmare

Staff Christmas parties can be an employer’s nightmare – but not if experts from a Midlands law firm have their way.

The team from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Wolverhampton and Telford, is urging local employers to sign up to an interactive seminar that could help them avoid the dreaded personnel hangover this year.

John Mehtam, who leads the team, said: “Christmas parties are well-known for causing a festive headache – and not just for any staff who have one too many to drink either.

“Statistics show that staff parties at this time of year can be a minefield – half of all parties end with work colleagues fighting; one in three parties brings allegations of sexual harassment; and one in five parties ends with an accident involving employees.

"And although traditionally parties take place away from the office and out of hours, as an employer you could well be held liable, particularly if alcohol has been provided.”

But John and his team are hosting a presentation on Thursday, December 3, at the Ramada Hotel, in Wolverhampton, at 6pm, which they believe is the perfect antidote to party-time stress.

“Our Christmas HR Sins presentation is designed specifically for employers and we’ll be sharing our expertise on the pitfalls you may face and, more importantly, the ways you can avoid them. We’d be very pleased to welcome employers from all over the region to our event, but anyone interested in attending will need to register in advance.

“It’s clear that employers really do need to be sensitive when it comes to handling the fallout from any staff Christmas party – in fact, three out of four bosses have admitted an employee has threatened to take them to an employment tribunal following bad behaviour at a festive gathering.

“And with almost two thirds of employees admitting to a one-night wonder that made the atmosphere at work awkward afterwards, it’s a situation that employers will find very difficult to ignore.”

To register for the event, email or call 01952 525951

Monday, 9 November 2015

Families making a wise choice when it comes to wills

A growing number of people are choosing solicitors to draft their wills – amid fears that many ‘DIY’ options might not be worth the paper they are written on.

Fiona Mainwaring, probate department manager at Shropshire law firm Martin-Kaye Solicitors, said a series of recent high-profile court cases had highlighted the dangers.

Solicitors have increased their share in the will writing market over the past four years, despite growing concerns of an increase in poorly drafted wills by unregulated will writers.

Fiona, based at Martin-Kaye’s headquarters in Euston Way, Telford, said: “There has been a spate of cases recently involving wills drafted by unregulated providers which have caused serious problems.

“For example, Barclays has this year been sued by Tinuola Aregbesola, who claims that a botched will deprived her of a stake in her late father's London home. It was drawn up using the bank’s £90 will writing service, which is unregulated.”

Latest figures show the use of will writing services provided by banks and other organisations has declined from 8.7 per cent in 2009 to 5.9 per cent in 2015, and is continuing to fall.

Fiona added: “It is evident from national research that the public prefer to use a solicitor to write their will, wherever possible.

“They are aware that, with a solicitor such as Martin-Kaye where we have a dedicated probate department, you can be assured of a valid will and if anything does go wrong, there is proper insurance and redress.

“This may not be the case with an unregulated provider and certainly isn't the case if you take the DIY option, and decide to write your own will. It may save you money in the short term, but with the average estate in the UK now standing at £160,000, it could be hugely costly if you only find out too late that the paperwork is flawed.”

“An off-the-shelf will may seem very attractive, but it can be a risky approach - if errors are made, or if the strict witnessing rules are not followed correctly, the document could be invalid.

“And the implications can be serious. Not only might you risk leaving your family with a financial and emotional mess, but your legacy could be eaten away by legal bills or unnecessary tax.”

Friday, 6 November 2015

Rogue landlords beware - you're being watched

Rogue property landlords who fail to act in the best interests of their tenants have been warned – the authorities are watching you closer than ever.

Solicitor Mohammed Ahsan, from Martin-Kaye in Telford, said: “Irresponsible landlords are giving the rental industry a bad name, and the Government is clamping down hard.

“More and more people are renting homes privately these days, instead of buying, and officials are determined to help make sure they have decent homes to live in. Most landlords act lawfully, but when rogue landlords break the rules, the message is clear – the authorities, and the courts, will go after them.

“Local authorities can issue penalties of up to £5,000 for non-compliance with rules, so it is more important than ever for landlords to ensure their paperwork meets with legal requirements.”

His comments come as a new survey of British tenants showed that both landlords and tenants were unclear what needed to be done both before and during a tenancy agreement. One in four tenants said their landlord had not provided them with any kind of written rental agreement, in the survey carried out by EasyRoommate.

“The survey also showed that 25 per cent of tenants said their landlord did not provide them with a satisfactory service for dealing with urgent house repairs. The Government says it is determined to crack down on rogue landlords, and has warned them they will be heavily fined for committing housing-related offences.

“These include providing a local authority with false or misleading information, permitting or causing a property to be overcrowded, illegally evicting or harassing a tenant, or letting a property to an immigrant who cannot provide the paperwork to prove they are in the country legally.”

It has also become a legal requirement this year for a landlord to fit at least one smoke alarm on every storey of a property, as well as a carbon monoxide alarm in any room with a solid fuel burning appliance.

“Ignorance of the rules is no excuse, so any landlord unsure about the new regulations should seek specialist legal advice – it’s far less expensive than the potential fines which are now being imposed on law-breakers.”

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

Experts need to keep their distance

Human resources experts must remain impartial when it comes to disciplinary procedures and not attempt to influence the final outcome, a Telford solicitor has warned.

John Mehtam, who leads the employment team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, said HR staff were essential when it came to supporting any management team dealing with employment issues.

“But there is a real difference between supporting a fair and balanced process, and influencing the final decision in a case, and it’s vital that HR experts maintain an objective and clear-headed approach.”

John’s warning follows a disciplinary case where an employee was investigated after possible misconduct over his expenses and using hire cars inappropriately.

“The employee’s manager received initial advice from the company’s HR department that led him to draft a report including a number of favourable findings about the employee’s behaviour. He said he was satisfied that the misuse was not deliberate and that the employee’s explanations were plausible and consistent.

“But after speaking to the HR team further, his final report was much more critical of the employee who was eventually sacked – an employment tribunal rejected his claim of unfair dismissal, but the employee appealed.

“And at this point, the appeal committee backed his claim, as it was clear that the favourable comments had been completely removed and replaced with criticisms.

“They said that HR had appeared to try to persuade the manager to take a more critical view of the employee’s conduct and to reject his explanation that he had simply made mistakes – a reason which the manager had previously appeared to believe.”

John said the committee ruled that anyone facing disciplinary charges and possible dismissal was entitled to expect the appropriate manager to take the decision.

“They should not be lobbied by other teams or departments on how they should view the employee’s actions, and the employee should be given adequate notice of any changes in the evidence so they can deal with them accordingly.

“The case showed that the HR team had been directly involved in the decision-making process which was outside their remit, and it’s a warning to other experts to keep their professional distance.”

Friday, 16 October 2015

Six of the best for Martin-Kaye

A Telford law firm has scored six of the best in a worldwide ranking scheme that recognises the industry’s best performers.

Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, has been named in six sections of the Legal 500 listings which is a guide to help clients choose the legal advisers who are the cream of the crop.

Teams from the firm’s commercial litigation, commercial property, company corporate, family, personal injury and employment departments have all made the list.

Senior Partner Graham Davies said: “We’re extremely proud of our staff who have worked so hard to achieve this national recognition, and it’s a great coup for a regional firm to have been recognised in so many areas of our business.

“We believe we are one of a very small number of law firms in the Midlands to have been listed in so many categories, and it’s testimony to the commitment and dedication of our staff.”

The Legal 500 assessors said Martin-Kaye was “very well respected and regularly involved in good quality litigation”. In particular they also praised the firm for achieving a six-figure settlement in a multi-party negligence claim against a national firm of solicitors and a firm of surveyors.

Commercial Litigation expert Andrew Oranjuik was named specifically in the assessment with the assessors praising him as “authoritative”.

The Legal 500 listings have been published for more than 20 years and give a comprehensive overview of legal services worldwide.

They are compiled every year through independent researchers contacting thousands of UK law firm clients across the UK and referencing their feedback against the opinions of other commercial lawyers. The Legal 500 team also gathers information about client lists and the transactions handled by individual law firms.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Stark warning for divorcing couples

Spouses who attempt to hide their true wealth when it comes to divorce proceedings have been given a stark warning by a landmark ruling.

And the decision to allow the appeals by two women who said they were duped into accepting “unfair” settlements from their former husbands has been welcomed by a Telford family law expert.

Nadia Davis, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, said the decision had set a strong precedent that should deter any spouse from ever making a false claim during a divorce.

“The two women claimed their husbands had deliberately misled them and the court by providing false information as to the true extent of their wealth during the original hearings. Their lawyers had asked the Supreme Court to set aside the original divorce settlements as a matter of principle and justice, and the judges agreed to allow their appeal.

“Now the existing settlements will be set aside and the cases will have to return to the Family Courts to be reviewed and re-assessed. This clearly opens the door to former spouses who may have already agreed settlements but who feel they may not be fair and that there may be cause to believe that someone has failed to be completely honest about their wealth.

“It’s a stark warning that couples should always declare their assets and income at every stage of divorce proceedings, otherwise they could find the original decision overturned if more evidence comes to light.

“There will no doubt be implications for a huge number of divorce cases which may already have gone through the courts, and the Supreme Court’s decision really is a clear indication that dishonesty won’t be tolerated.”

Nadia said there had been some concern that the decision would open the floodgates to overturn divorce proceedings by greedy ex-spouses.

“But it’s more likely that the case will have a greater impact on couples in the kind of smaller money cases that are heard by the courts every day, and it’s a vital step towards giving spouses access to shared assets to ensure they have enough to live on.”

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Tribunal fees causing trouble

Employees could be missing out on a fair hearing as a rise in tribunal fees may mean they can’t afford to make a claim, a Telford solicitor has warned.

Lubna Laheria from the employment team at Martin-Kaye, said rising tribunal fees had also given employers less of a reason to consider early conciliation.

“It’s clear that employers believe the fees will discourage employees from going to tribunal, and so it’s far less likely that they’ll feel the need to agree to conciliatory talks.

“The new fees mean that for financial reasons, employers are tempted not to engage in the early conciliation process, in the hope that employees won’t be prepared to pay the tribunal fee that’s required to bring a claim, or the hearing fee either.”

Lubna was speaking after a House of Lords committee held an enquiry into the way the Equality Act 2010 was being implemented.

“Many leading barristers and discrimination law specialists have given evidence to the committee, and the Law Society has also called for radical changes to the employment tribunal structure too.”

Lubna said since May 2014, it was compulsory for employees to use the early conciliation procedures run by the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) before they could lodge a tribunal claim.

“With employers facing fewer claims because fewer are being brought, the temptation is to take a more rigorous approach and avoid conciliation because they feel there is less pressure to settle matters.

“If tribunal fees are restricting an employee’s ability to bring a genuine claim, then it’s vital that action is taken so that unlawful practices in the workplace are rightly punished.”