Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Are you sitting comfortably?

Employees need to be comfortable in the workplace but how far must their employers go to accommodate their needs?

Gemma Workman from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, Telford, said employers should tread carefully when it comes to decisions about office furniture.

“Modern office chairs can be adjusted to accommodate a wide range of shapes and sizes, and they also come in different dimensions for both extra tall and smaller staff.

“But what if an employee would prefer to bring in their own seating because they found it more comfortable? In particular, how should an employer react if the choice isn’t a traditional chair?

“If your staff work with a computer, their seating will be subject to health and safety regulations which set out certain requirements that standard chairs must have, including a height-adjustable seat and a backrest that can be adjusted for both height and tilt.

“Chairs must also be physically stable and allow for freedom of movement, but national guidance also says employers should consider the possibility of staff using unconventional chairs too.

“It says that employees suffering from back problems may benefit from a chair that comes with a fixed backrest or a seat that has no backrest at all, such as a kneeling chair. But whatever they choose, it must still be stable on the floor.

“This means employees will not be able to use exercise balls as seating for example, as although they can help strengthen core muscles, it’s too easy for an employee to fall off and hurt themselves.”

Miss Workman said before agreeing to anything, employers should find out exactly why their staff may want to bring in their own seating.

“Is their current chair uncomfortable because it’s broken or because they are not a standard size? If so, then this is easily put right by ordering them a new chair. Or maybe the employee uses non-conventional seating at home and finds it more to their liking?

“If their request is purely down to personal choice, you should think carefully before giving them the go-ahead because it will make it very difficult to refuse any requests from other staff in the future.”

Miss Workman said there may be some merit in the request if the employee has a pre-existing medical condition, or if they’re recovering from a back or hip injury.

“But you should ask for a full assessment from an occupational health advisor before you say yes, and then providing their chosen chair is suitable, you can allow them to bring it in to the workplace.”

Monday, 15 May 2017

Off the record comments can be costly

Employers have been warned that their business could be at risk if they disclose confidential information – even if they think it’s “off the record”.

John Mehtam is the employment law specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, and he said businesses must be aware that the actual phrase ‘off the record’ had no legal status whatsoever.

“Don’t be fooled by the idea that disclosing information which is clearly confidential is nothing to worry about – you’ll be putting your business in jeopardy and it’s not a risk worth taking.”

Mr Mehtam said confidential information often included personal data that related to directors, owners, current and former employees, customers and clients.

“It may also include information about individual and or business tax affairs, legal and other professional advice that’s been received, and current and future business plans. But no matter what details you’re asked to pass on, both you and the person asking for the information will be breaching confidentiality rules, even if you both agree you’re speaking off the record.”

Mr Mehtam said it wasn’t just employers who could find themselves in trouble, and all employees should be told that the phrase is meaningless and that they should never reveal anything to a third party.

“If your staff are asked for confidential information, you should insist that they refer the request to a senior manager or director, as you as their employer could be held responsible for their actions if they pass anything on.”

And it’s not just random requests for personal information that can get an employer into trouble.

“If you’re approached for a verbal reference about a former employee, don’t say ‘yes if it’s off the record’ because it won’t be, and the employee is entitled to know what you said about them.

“A recent ruling by the Supreme Court has also confirmed that disclosing confidential information in off the record comments does not get around confidentiality obligations. They said off the record discussions gave the person making the disclosure – and the person asking for the private information – no legal protection at all.

“If someone even mentions off the record discussions, it should immediately set alarm bells ringing, and you should be on your guard from the start. Don’t put yourself and your business at risk.”

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Michelle steps up at Martin-Kaye

A Telford lawyer with almost 20 years’ experience has now been named as an Associate at a leading local law firm.

Michelle Poulton began her career as a legal assistant in the conveyancing team with Martin-Kaye Solicitors, and she is now a qualified Licensed Conveyancer at the firm’s head office in Euston Way, in Telford.

Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said Michelle’s new position was
as a direct result of her dedication and commitment.

“We’re always keen to encourage staff to continuously develop their skills and it’s always a real pleasure to be able to give employees the opportunity to make positive progress in their career. Michelle is a key member of our conveyancing team and we’re very pleased to announce that she is now an Associate with the firm – an honour that we reserve for our most talented and committed staff.”

Michelle manages a small team of legal assistants and is responsible for both panel-based business and local estate agent referrals.

She also deals with a variety of property cases including remortgaging, transfer of equity, right to buy, equity release, and sale and purchase work.

“I’m delighted to have been promoted to the role of Associate, and I’m very proud that the hard work I’ve put in has been recognised in such a way. In my new position, I’m looking forward to playing an increasing role in helping to build the business even further, and to working with my team to ensure our clients receive the very best service at all times.”

Martin-Kaye’s experienced and knowledgeable property team is accredited under the Conveyancing Quality Scheme – the quality mark for legal experts in buying or selling property.

Pic: Michelle Poulton – the new Associate at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford – with Senior Partner Graham Davies

Monday, 20 March 2017

Employers bowled over by top advice tips

Over 40 employers joined lawyers from a Midlands firm to take part in an interactive employment advice seminar in Birmingham.

The Employment Law team from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford and Wolverhampton, teamed up with Monaco Insurance to host a Top Ten Employment Blunders seminar at Edgbaston Cricket Ground.

It was the first time the law firm had taken their renowned presentation to Birmingham, and the response from delegates has been so positive that more events are planned for the future.

Employment Law Specialist, John Mehtam, who led the presentation said the decision to take the seminar to the city was as a direct result of customer demand.

“We work very closely with Monaco Insurance, who are based in Edgbaston, and they felt the advice we had to offer would be very useful for their clients and for other businesses in the wider Birmingham area.

“Our presentations have always proved extremely successful in Shropshire, Wales, and the West Midlands, and now the response from our Birmingham audience means we will definitely be returning in the coming months.”

During the event, Mr Mehtam shared his advice to help businesses navigate through the increasingly-complicated minefield of employment law, and to help them avoid the most common pitfalls.

“We covered 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 looked at how to avoid these situations and protect your business.

“At Martin-Kaye, we’re committed to delivering effective and appropriate advice that really does make a difference to employers, and our short sharp seminars are designed to get right to the point.”
John said keeping up-to-date with ever-changing legislation was practically impossible for employers who were already battling with a packed schedule.

“That’s why our seminars are proving so popular right across the Midlands as we deliver clear, concise information in a time frame that suits our delegates.”

Pic: At the Edgbaston event are, from left, Graham Davies (Martin-Kaye), Kay Gill and Amrik Chote (both Monaco Insurance), John Mehtam (Martin-Kaye)

Friday, 17 March 2017

Ruling means hopes are dashed

Children unhappy with their inheritance who had hoped to find it easier to challenge a parent’s will have had their hopes dashed.

A ruling by the Court of Appeal had initially paved the way for wills to be overturned or changed by the courts if they were deemed to be ‘unfair’.

But this week, the Supreme Court has stepped in to clarify the rules, and the judges overturned the decision which had backed a woman who had been excluded from her mother’s will in favour of three animal charities.

Andrew Oranjuik, who is the head of commercial litigation at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said the latest decision had now cemented a person’s right to leave money to those they want to inherit it.

“Finally there is now a very clear direction on how the rules should be interpreted, and it underlines the importance of having a formal and legally-binding will in place.”

Mr Oranjuik said the case involved a 10-year legal battle by Heather Ilott, who went to court after her mother Melita Jackson left her entire £486,000 estate to animal charities. Mrs Ilott, who had been estranged from her mother for 26 years and was claiming benefits, had been granted a third of her late mother’s estate – a total of £164,000.

“But the Supreme Court has now overturned that result, and Mrs Ilott will only receive the original £50,000 that her mother had set out in her will. The judgement is excellent news for charities and will be a welcome relief that when a bequest is made, the person’s wishes should be respected.

“Many charities rely on legacies in wills and the three animal charities involved in this case will now receive the full amount they had been promised. The ruling also reaffirms a person’s right to have freedom of choice in what they do with their estate, meaning you can still disinherit your children in the knowledge that your wishes will be carried out.

“This case has been a 10-year battle which thankfully now is over – and although Mrs Ilott will not receive as much money as she had hoped for, at least the Supreme Court has put an end to the matter and clearly defined how the rules should be applied.”

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Headscarves ban is allowed

Employers can now ban staff from wearing headscarves and other religious symbols in the workplace – as long as they treat all religions equally.

The European Court of Justice has announced that firms can ban workers from wearing religious or political symbols in a landmark ruling that’s the first of its kind.

John Mehtam, who leads the employment law team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said the ruling followed after Europe’s top court heard the cases of two women who were dismissed for refusing to stop wearing Islamic headscarves.

“The two cases were very different – in the first, a Muslim woman who was working as a receptionist was asked not to wear a traditional headscarf because the company had a strict rule in place banning visible signs of political, philosophical or religious beliefs.

“The Court of Justice said her dismissal for refusing to stop wearing the headscarf was justified because it was about all political and religious symbols, and was not specifically targeting Islam. But in the second case, the employee was asked to remove her headscarf after a client complained.

“The Court said that without a formal rule covering all religious symbols, simply wanting to ‘take account of the wishes of a customer’ was not enough to ban headscarves.

“It’s clear that companies right across the UK and Europe need to take the guidance on board and update their workplace regulations accordingly.

“If your company has a clear written rule in place (which employees are fully aware of), that bans all religious, political or philosophical symbols, then everyone will understand your firm’s position. But you must apply the rule fairly and equally, otherwise employees who are affected could challenge your request to remove their headscarf or religious symbols and you could face the prospect of an employment tribunal.

“This ruling is the first case of its kind to be heard in a series of legal disputes over the right for Muslim women to wear the hijab at work, but it surely won’t be the last.

“Employers need to keep their company workplace regulations up-to-date to ensure they meet the ever-changing circumstances that every business faces on a daily basis.”

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Selling a business can be tricky

Selling your business could be difficult if minority shareholders decide to block the deal – but a Telford solicitor says there are steps you can take to ease the situation.

Andrew Oranjuik is a Partner at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, and he specialises in commercial litigation.

He said: “Sometimes an offer that’s too tempting to ignore comes in and selling your business seems like a great way forward. But if you don’t own all your company’s shares, you may need the approval of your shareholders to accept the deal.

“But shareholders can’t be forced to sell their shares and it’s unlikely a buyer will want to take on a company with minority shareholders hanging on, which means they could be a real stumbling block when it comes to sealing the deal.”

Mr Oranjuik said one solution would be for the company to sell its trade and other assets, rather than for the shareholders to sell their shares.

“But there’s a drawback as when you sell your business, the money from the sale goes to the company. For you and the other shareholders to access the money, it has to be paid out as a dividend or the company will have to be wound up, so this may mean more of the sale proceeds are lost in tax compared with a sale of shares.”

Mr Oranjuik said if the buyer was purely interested in buying the entire company, then selling shares was the only option.

“The best way to achieve this is to introduce a ‘drag along’ clause in your company’s shareholders’ agreement – this means if the majority of shareholders are keen to sell the business, then the others are required to agree.

“If you don’t already have a clause like this, then act now to add one to your agreement. It just requires a vote from all shareholders to have it added. But you may need to negotiate on the terms and conditions as minority shareholders will want assurances that they will get a decent deal if a buyer comes in.”

Mr Oranjuik said an agreement which included a drag clause would also have a tag along clause too.
“This gives minority shareholders the right to force majority shareholders to include them as part of any deal to sell their shares, ensuring their shares are not devalued as a result of a sale that goes ahead without them.

“No shareholders can be forced to sell their shares, but you can ensure clauses are in place to help smooth out the process if a tempting deal is on the table.”