Tuesday, 10 December 2013
Social media networking has rapidly become a crucial tool for thriving businesses, but many could be breaking the law just by using it.
Our senior partner Graham Davies said many companies were now engaging with their customers through all kinds of methods including Twitter and Facebook.
“In years gone by, a listing in the Yellow Pages or a local business directory was the way to go, but increasingly social media is becoming a tool that cannot be ignored. The trouble is that some businesses may not realise that data protection laws apply to social media just as they do to more traditional forms of communication.”
Graham said as well as interacting with customers on social media, some businesses also ran a company blog or a forum linked to their website.
“The Information Commissioner’s Office has warned that many companies could be breaching the Data Protection Act 1998 with their online activities. It has said companies should take just as much care with their efforts in the virtual world as they do with other methods of promotion, and the office is now paying close attention to what’s happening online.”
Graham said formal guidelines had been published by the ICO and that company bosses should ensure they followed them to the letter.
“Equally companies should be very cautious about approaching customers and potential customers with direct marketing. Whether you’re making a telephone call, sending a text message or an email, all these sales methods are covered by the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations 2003.
“There are strict rules about having the customer’s permission to send them information like this – and just because they’ve agreed to receive phone calls from you, you can’t then simply email them aswell with your latest offers.
“They must have specifically agreed to receive your information in their chosen form and one permission doesn’t automatically open the flood gates for you to bombard them with all your promotional merchandise. Bear in mind too, that the ICO can impose fines of up to £500,000 if you send unwanted email marketing messages, so it really does make sense to familiarise yourself with the finer details of the rules before you start a new campaign.”
Friday, 29 November 2013
Experts from the award-winning Martin-Kaye Solicitors are to take their skills on the road in a bid to help local employers.
The team from our office on Tettenhall Road, in Wolverhampton, is launching a brand new programme of seminars designed to help companies chart a course through the minefield of employment law.
John Mehtam, who leads the team, said: “We have run our popular HELP presentations all over the country, and now we’re introducing them to the Wolverhampton area. HELP stands for HR and Employment Law in Practice, and our events will offer a unique opportunity for business leaders to hear from the very best when it comes to tackling topical issues.”
The presentations will run bi-monthly throughout 2014, starting on January 23, from 5.30pm to 7.30pm, at The Ramada Hall Hotel, in Park Drive, Goldthorn Park.
“We will cover a wide range of topical issues which business owners face every day – such as long-term sickness absence, discrimination, and employees leaving the company and taking valuable information with them,” said John.
“We deliberately restrict the number of places available at these events to ensure that everyone who attends gets the opportunity to be directly involved and that delegates also get the chance to ask as many questions as they like.”
John said there was a big difference between theory and practice, and as more regulations were introduced, even the most experienced HR managers and business owners could find they needed the back-up of professional legal advice.
“Many of our delegates have said in the past that they particularly appreciate the opportunity to share the problems they’re facing with others in a similar position. They also felt that removing themselves from the day-to-day business environment created the perfect setting for them to focus on the specific subject concerned.
“In the longer term, we’re hoping to extend our HELP presentations to the wider West Midlands area too as we’ve seen a real demand from customers in that region for our expertise. It’s clear that our events are extremely effective in helping businesses to pro-actively understand and apply the relevant legislation rather than just dealing with the outcomes if things don’t go so well.”
Nadia Davis is the family law partner at our head office in Euston Way, Telford, and she has now qualified as one of the very first collaborative lawyers in the county.
“My new qualification means I work with couples going through a divorce on an agreement that shows they are committed to finding the best solutions through negotiation, rather than the courts. The agreement also prevents lawyers involved in the initiative from representing their client in court if the collaborative process breaks down. So this means everyone involved is absolutely committed to making it work,” said Nadia.
But sadly this alternative route to resolve disputes has not been adopted by everyone, and national research shows some worrying figures.
“A poll of over 4,000 British adults was commissioned by Resolution, an organisation for family lawyers and other professionals in England and Wales,” said Nadia.
“And the statistics showed that only 51 per cent of those who responded would consider a non-court based solution. This is particularly disappointing as mediation, arbitration and other forms of alternative dispute resolution provide a much more cost-effective and faster route when compared to time-consuming court proceedings.”
Nadia said the family court system was coming under increasing strain and that raising awareness of alternative approaches could solve a lot of problems.
“One of the benefits of the collaborative process is that it is not driven by a timetable imposed by a court. The process can be built around each family’s individual timetable and priorities, and sometimes only a handful of meetings may be required to resolve the case, which really is a much quicker way to deal with divorce.
“One of the biggest fears for anyone who is going through a family breakdown is the potential costs they may face, and our fixed fee structure, combined with the new collaborative approach, gives our clients a much clearer picture of how things are likely to proceed.”
Friday, 18 October 2013
Details of disciplinary action in the workplace must stay behind closed doors, a leading legal expert has warned.
John Mehtam leads our employment law team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford and Wolverhampton, and he said employers must be extremely careful in order not to reveal any confidential information.
“It doesn’t matter how well you train your staff, things can and do go wrong, and when this happens, the directors must tread very gently. A complaint from an important customer is not good news for anyone, and if you don’t intervene, you could lose their business altogether.
“But equally, your staff are entitled to their privacy, even if you do take disciplinary action, and you should never reveal the outcome of any decisions you make.”
John said directors must never refer directly to what’s gone on behind closed doors, nor must they even drop hints to the client as to what action was taken.
“If you do slip up, and the employee finds out, they could resign and claim constructive dismissal for breach of trust and confidence, and report you to the Information Commissioner’s Office.”
John said often though a client’s complaint came with a demand to know exactly what the company planned to do about the situation.“This of course puts you in a very difficult position, and the best course of action is to acknowledge their complaint, apologise if it’s appropriate and tell them you will investigate the matter fully.
“Once the process is complete, you can give them a generic reply to say the company has reviewed its procedures and ensured staff are properly trained to follow them, but stop short of mentioning any disciplinary action.
“You can’t tell them if the employee has been sacked either – even though they no longer work for your company, you still have to respect the rules.”
John said there was one exception to the confidentiality clause, and that was if the company needed the client’s help with the investigation, maybe requiring a witness statement from them. “In these circumstances, you’ll obviously have to put them in the picture, but you must stress that they need to keep everything under wraps, and you must never disclose the final outcome to them unless you have the employee’s permission.”
Friday, 11 October 2013
But shockingly, if the remarks were made in a private setting, they could escape disciplinary action, no matter how derogatory their comments were.
John Mehtam said the immediate reaction would obviously be for directors to step in and discipline the employee. “But this situation needs to be handled sensitively, despite how angry an employer may feel at the time. We’re all guilty of talking down our job after a particularly tough day, but how can you tell when an employee has crossed the line?
“First you have to establish that the person passing on the comments is telling the truth – and not only do you need to find out what was said, you need to know the context of where the remarks were made.
“This is because comments made in private, perhaps between a husband and wife in their own home, are none of the directors’ business, even if the comments are terrible. But if they’re made in public, it’s a different matter. It’s easy to blur the two situations though – a conversation between two workmates in the pub, depending on the facts, could fall into either camp.”
John said if the comments were directed towards an existing or potential client, it would be hard for the employee to argue it was a private conversation.
“Before you step in, if the comments were made in public, you need to find out from anyone who was present just how bad the remarks were. Was it just a moaning session at the end of a difficult day, or a malicious and calculated attack on your company and its reputation?
“This will be the key as to whether formal disciplinary action is necessary. If the employee apologises quickly for their actions (to you and everyone else involved), then it’s unlikely sacking them could ever be justified. And even if it’s just a grumble, giving the employee a written warning is sure to discourage them from making similar mistakes ever again.”
Tuesday, 8 October 2013
She said the news that the Government had brought forward the launch date for the Help to Buy scheme had been welcomed by many people as it would not only help first time buyers, but also people looking to move up the property ladder.
“Initially it had been planned to launch the scheme in January 2014, but the launch was brought forward which has been declared a positive move by many. But although the scheme will help buyers to purchase a property with as little as five per cent deposit, it’s clear that it just hasn’t been thought through as well as it could have been.”
Nita said the concept of the scheme was good, as at a time when the property market was recovering first-time buyers needed all the help they could get.
“It’s a great idea to help first-time buyers who don’t have rich parents to help them with their deposit so that they can buy a new home. But it fails to tackle the real problem, which is a lack of house building across the UK.
“The scheme will inflate house prices even more, which will just make properties even more unaffordable for generations to come. And another issue is that solicitors will probably have to charge additional fees for dealing with the extra paperwork that will be created as a result of the changes.
“I believe it’s maybe been created as a quick-fix and that it’s been developed so that the Government is seen to be doing something to help struggling first-time buyers. It would have been better to delay the launch as they had originally planned in order to iron out some of these issues and to pin down the finer details of the scheme before it was opened to the public.”
The Help to Buy scheme applies to all properties up to a value of £600,000, and involves the Government making a loan of up to 20 per cent of the cost of the new-build home. Buyers can then secure a deal with a deposit of as little as five per cent, and a 75 per cent mortgage to make up the rest of the cost.
Friday, 4 October 2013
John Mehtam, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, was commenting on the case brought against Lyreco by field sales representative David Atkin.
Mr Atkin, a member of the GMB union, was awarded the five-figure sum after winning his case for unfair dismissal against the company, which has an office in Telford, after being fired by his regional sales manager.
The judge said the disciplinary process leading to Mr Atkin’s dismissal was “at worst a sham, but at best lacked any form of investigation or analysis”.
John said: “The judge also said it demonstrated practices which any human resources manager should quite frankly be ashamed of, and said the appeal was not worthy of the name.
“It is a very stern reminder to Shropshire companies that, if they do not have a proper infrastructure in place for dealing effectively with disciplinary matters, they could end up paying a stiff financial penalty.
“In particular, companies need to ensure they carry out a fair and thorough investigation into any staff disciplinary issues, apply a fair procedure, and under no circumstances must they pre-determine any disciplinary hearing.”
He said: “In Mr Atkin’s case, the judge clearly said that his regional sales manager did not approach the appeal with an open mind, and appeared to be partisan and biased.
“Employers who disregard these principles do so at their peril. They can face very serious sanctions including a rise in the compensation level awarded by the tribunal, and some very damaging, adverse publicity. This Lyreco case is an excellent example where the tribunal essentially lambasted the company for shortcomings in its disciplinary process.”