Friday, 18 January 2019

Online divorce is no quick fix

Shropshire couples facing a relationship breakdown have been urged to steer clear of quick-fix divorce proceedings online.

Gemma Himsworth, who leads the family law team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford and Shrewsbury, made the appeal during one of the peak times of the year for divorce applications.

“January is notoriously busy when it comes to divorce proceedings being launched – and in fact, Christmas itself was one of the busiest ever with 13 people completing online applications on Christmas Day.

“Altogether there were 455 online divorce applications submitted between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day, and this month we’ve seen the usual annual spike in enquiries in person at our offices.”

Mrs Himsworth said couples should be cautious though about using the online procedure as it only dealt with the marriage, and not with financial matters or issues relating to children.

“It’s all well and good filling in an application online, uploading documents and paying fees over the internet, but this kind of fully digital divorce will not suit everyone. You won’t receive advice online about the legal implications of divorce, and you won’t be able to make sure that any necessary paperwork is completed correctly.

“So although it may seem tempting to try to do everything online in order to speed up the process and make things less complicated, you may actually be creating a situation that causes real problems as the divorce moves forward.”

Mrs Himsworth urged couples to seek professional advice to sort out the finer details of divorce in order to protect themselves from future legal action.

“For instance, if a couple gets divorced but doesn’t deal with their finances in a recognised legal agreement, they could be storing up trouble – it means they will still have claims against one another, including on any assets they acquire after the marriage is over or on any inheritance they may receive.

“And in an extreme case where maybe one of them wins the lottery, then arguably their former spouse could still make a claim.”

The online divorce system was introduced in April last year, and it allows spouses to complete a divorce application over the internet.

“It does not replace existing paper-based applications, but for some people it provides a quicker and easier service – couples though should be careful and should not hesitate to seek out expert advice if they’re unsure of how to proceed.”

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Employers not responsible for food allergy information

Shropshire employers have been reassured the onus is not on them when it comes to providing allergen information on food in the workplace.

Graham Davies, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford and Shrewsbury, said there had been several high-profile cases in the media lately where major firms had been criticised for their approach to food labelling.

“Pret a Manger hit the headlines after two customers died after consuming food that contained ingredients that they were severely allergic to – and a coroner said that even though the company was within the law, allergens were not labelled adequately or clearly.”

Mr Davies said employers who were concerned about how the rules affect food available in the workplace though should not be worried.

“When food is pre-packaged, labelling for all ingredients – including any allergens – must be on the packaging. But food not packaged and prepared on the premises, such as items in food catering businesses and sandwich shops, does not need to be individually labelled – even if it contains a major allergen. The supplier though must have clear signposting and information available so it can be shown to the customer.”

Mr Davies said the law required the food business operator to be responsible for providing allergen information – the business producing, processing or distributing the food.

“So if you have a staff canteen, the onus will be on the catering company to provide the information, and not on you. But of course, as a responsible employer, it would be sensible to check whether the information they’re providing is clear, and whether the catering team is sufficiently knowledgeable. If you have employees with allergies, you could also ask their opinion too.

“And when it comes to something as innocuous as packaged biscuits in a meeting, you’d be wise to leave the biscuits in their packets so staff can check the information themselves.”

Mr Davies said first aiders in the workplace should be advised if any staff had food allergies, but there was no legal requirement to train them to help with EpiPen injections which need to be administered if a reaction occurs.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Christmas workers have rights too

Temporary Christmas workers have the right to be treated just as fairly as your permanent staff according to a Shropshire employment lawyer.

Gemma Workman, from Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said at such a busy time of year, many employers needed to recruit extra workers, particularly in the retail sector.

“Obviously Christmas brings increased pressure with frantic shoppers trying to find the very best presents for their loved ones, and retail businesses need more staff to meet customer demand.

But even if you’re only employing staff for a short period of time over the holidays, you need to start by issuing these temporary workers with a contract of employment.”

Miss Workman said the contract should clearly set out the end date of the employment, and include a clause to allow either the employer or the worker to terminate the arrangement early.

“You must also ensure that temporary workers who are doing the same or a similar job to any of your permanent staff are included in pension or bonus schemes – unless you can objectively justify their exclusion.”

She said any temporary staff taken on through an agency were also entitled to treatment that was on a level playing field.

“Agency workers are entitled to access all the facilities in the workplace such as the canteen, car parking, and a creche from their very first day. They are also entitled to information on any permanent vacancies in your company from that first shift. But to qualify for extended employment rights and conditions, they would need to complete 12 weeks service and stay in the same role with your company for the entire three months.”

Miss Workman said the qualifying time would need to start from scratch if the agency worker moved to a new company and would be paused if they took time off sick – but during any maternity, paternity or adoption absences, the clock would still be ticking.

“It’s also an employer’s responsibility to check that any potential staff have permission to work here or you could face a civil penalty of up to £20,000. If you’re using an agency to hire your temporary staff though, as long as they remain employed by the agency throughout their contract, it would be the agency’s legal responsibility to check their work status.”

Miss Workman said when it came to salary, temporary Christmas workers must also receive a pro rata amount of pay and benefits compared to a permanent employee, unless it was not reasonable or it was inappropriate, such as a season ticket loan that permanent staff received.

“Temporary Christmas staff may well meet an urgent need, but they must be treated fairly and equally throughout their time in your business.”

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Employers can avoid a festive hangover

Staff Christmas parties can be an employers’ nightmare both during and after the event – but not if your company is well-prepared.

That’s the message from John Mehtam, the employment law specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, who said there were ways to avoid the dreaded personnel hangover following festive celebrations.

“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 – with half of all parties ending 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. Make sure you have a clear social media policy in place too, as embarrassing photographs of your staff or managers in compromising situations where they can clearly be associated with your company can cause irreparable damage to your company’s reputation.”

Mr Mehtam advised employers to take note of a recent case where the Court of Appeal had ruled that a company should be held liable when an employee launched a violent assault on a colleague at a heavy drinking session straight after the firm’s Christmas party.

“Originally the courts decided this was a separate incident for which the employer was not responsible. The row occurred after the company party when half the guests decided to go on to a hotel where some were staying to continue drinking.

“The attack was triggered by a work-related discussion, when the managing director felt his authority was being challenged. The victim made a claim for damages against the company saying it was vicariously liable for the managing director’s conduct, which was initially unsuccessful as the court decided the drinks were separate from the Christmas party itself and at a separate location.

“Now though, the Court of Appeal has ruled that because the assailant owned the company and because the gathering was a follow-on from an organised work event, with the company paying for taxis and drink, they believe the company should be held vicariously liable.

“So it’s clear that employers need to be sensitive when it comes to handling the fallout from any staff Christmas celebration, otherwise they could face a very awkward atmosphere in the workplace in the cold light of day.”

Friday, 26 October 2018

Cyber security is top notch

A Shropshire law firm has received nationally-recognised accreditation for the security of its cyber systems.

Martin-Kaye Solicitors has been accredited with Cyber Essentials by Falanx Cyber Defence – a Government-backed scheme supported by the National Cyber Security Centre.

The initiative encourages companies and organisations to adopt good practice in the way they use technology, and it protects them against a whole range of the most common cyber-attacks.

Martin-Kaye’s Systems and Administration Department Manager, Samantha Azzopardi-Tudor, said: “We’re very proud to have achieved this accreditation and it is a clear indication to our clients and employees that we are committed to preventing cyber-attacks and protecting their personal data.

“As part of the criteria, we are required to show we are committed to using a secure internet connection in all our offices in Telford, Wolverhampton and Shrewsbury, and to ensure that all our devices and software are also secure.

“It requires us to control who has access to our data and services, and for us to protect our systems from viruses and other malware, as well as making sure all our devices and software are regularly updated.”

Mrs Azzopardi-Tudor said thanks to the accreditation, Martin-Kaye Solicitors would now be listed in the recognised Government directory of organisations who have been awarded Cyber Essentials status.

“Many companies are now solely working with advisors and professional service providers who have been accredited, so anyone specifically looking to appoint a law firm that meets the very highest standards of cyber security will find us on the list,” she said.

“This recognition assures our clients that we take cyber security seriously, and that we’re continually updating our systems to protect their data at all times.”

Cyber Essentials is a simple but effective scheme that helps to protect companies and organisations against the most common attacks – and it’s particularly important as vulnerability to simple attacks can mark a company out as a target for more in-depth unwanted attention from cyber criminals.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

New office opens in county town

Lawyers at a Shropshire firm have opened a brand-new office in the heart of Shrewsbury.

Martin-Kaye Solicitors has its head office in Euston Way, in Telford, as well as another division in Wolverhampton. And now they’ve expanded their network of branches to open another in Bellstone Court, in the county town.

Partner Simon Wagner said: “We have seen an increase in enquiries from the Shrewsbury, west Shropshire and mid Wales areas, so it makes perfect sense for us to open a branch that’s more convenient for clients in those locations.”

The staff based in the new office will primarily concentrate on property matters and conveyancing, but clients will also be able to access legal advice for commercial, employment, wills and probate, and family law matters too.

Martin-Kaye’s specialist domestic property team is experienced and knowledgeable, and last year had its busiest year to date working with clients from all over the UK. The team is also accredited under the Conveyancing Quality Scheme – the quality mark for legal experts in buying or selling property.

“We’ve been looking for the right location for several months, and we believe we’ve now found exactly what we were searching for in Bellstone Court,” said Mr Wagner.

“We’ve already held the first in a series of employment law presentations at Shrewsbury Town FC as part of our expansion into the Shrewsbury area, and it was extremely well-received. In fact, the response was so good that around a dozen of the delegates who attended that seminar have asked specifically for a visit from our team with a view to signing up to our HR and employment scheme, Alpha.

“We’re off to a great start to our life in Shrewsbury and we’re looking forward to welcoming new and existing clients to our brand-new office.”

Pic: At the new Martin-Kaye office in Shrewsbury are, from left, Graham Davies, Emma Jones and Simon Wagner

Friday, 28 September 2018

Law seminar will reach a wider audience

A team of Shropshire employment law experts are set to share their knowledge with an even wider audience thanks to their latest event.

The lawyers from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, are hosting an interactive employment advice seminar that will see them share invaluable information to help employers protect their business from escalating employment tribunal claims.

The Top 10 Blunders seminar will take place at Shrewsbury Town FC on Thursday, October 4, at 12pm, and will be hosted by the firm’s employment law specialist, John Mehtam.

“Our presentations are always extremely popular wherever we hold them across Shropshire, Wales and the wider West Midlands, and as we are in the process of opening a new Shrewsbury office, this event is an opportunity for local companies to find out just how we may be able to help them.

“Statistically the number of claims now being lodged through employment tribunals is increasing at an unprecedented rate – in fact there has been a 500% rise since the Government abolished the fees that employees needed to pay to bring a claim.

“And with the avalanche of claims we’re seeing, some employees are bringing claims that stand little chance of succeeding, but employers have to take them all seriously and you need to be sure you’re complying with all the relevant legislation.”

Mr Mehtam said he would be sharing his advice to help businesses navigate through the increasingly-complicated minefield of employment law, and to help them avoid the most common pitfalls.

“We will include suggestions on how to tackle some of the most common workplace and HR issues including sickness absence, dismissals and poor employee performance – and perhaps more importantly, we will look at how to avoid these situations and how to protect your business.

“With employers short on time, it’s almost impossible to keep up-to-date with ever-changing legislation, so our seminars offer clear, concise information in a time frame that suits our busy delegates.”

Businesses who would like to attend the seminar should contact Maria Smallcombe on 01952 272222 or email mariasmallcombe@martinkaye.co.uk 

Pic: Martin-Kaye’s Employment Law Specialist John Mehtam who will be presenting the Top 10 Blunders seminar at Shrewsbury Town FC