Friday, 10 December 2010

Christmas party warning for companies

Shropshire employers are so concerned about staff behaviour at Christmas parties that many are choosing not to hold them at all.

Claire Williams, one of our HR advisors and a senior legal assistant, said it was important for companies and their staff to realise that the same rules and obligations applied at a staff party as in the workplace.

“All too often, employers find themselves spending December and January dealing with disciplinary issues which are a direct result of bad behaviour at Christmas parties. These can range from all kinds of situations including being drunk and disorderly, fighting, or staff telling the boss exactly what they think of them.

“Not only does this mean you’re wasting valuable management time dealing with these issues, but the effects of the Christmas celebrations can often drag on further into the New Year with staff relationships being damaged. As a result, many employers are increasingly choosing not to hold Christmas parties at all, to avoid any difficulties which may affect their business.”

Claire said one of the most common problems was allegations of sexual harassment, particularly when colleagues had too much to drink.

“Sexual harassment is a serious disciplinary offence and one that could result in an employee being dismissed from the company. So it’s vital that employers who are planning festivities advise their staff well in advance of the kind of behaviour they will expect at work functions.
“The best way to deal with this is to send a memo to all staff reminding them that normal workplace rules will apply at the party, and clearly outline the behaviour that will and will not be tolerated.

“Generally though, it’s enough to just remind staff that they will need to face their colleagues on the morning after the night before, to make them think twice about the actions they may take.”

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Employers take up equality advice

More than 70 Shropshire employers took the opportunity to find out more about radical changes in equality law from our Alpha Team.

We organised two seminars to lift the lid on the dramatic shake-up created by the Equality Act 2010 which has just been introduced. And the employers who attended the free sessions were extremely impressed by the advice they received.

John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said the new Act had brought the most significant changes in the sector for 50 years.

“We wanted to help local employers understand the implications of the changes to the equality rules as failing to comply could leave them facing a host of tribunal claims and paying out a fortune in compensation.

“We were very pleased with the response to our seminars, and many delegates said they would now be reviewing their existing policies as a result of what they had learned. They also said that although the law was a daunting challenge, they felt better prepared to handle the changes it had brought.”

The Alpha Team were joined by leading barrister Sophie Garner, from St Phillips Chambers, for both presentations, who explained to employers what their new responsibilities are and how they could avoid expensive employment tribunal claims.

The new Act includes a major overhaul of the equality rules covering discrimination, behaviour, harassment and interview techniques. Our Alpha Team supports local businesses by offering 24-hour practical employment law and HR advice from qualified lawyers from our Commercial Department.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Festive fund raising kicks off


Four employees from Martin-Kaye LLP Solicitors will be spending the festive season raising vital charity cash. The fund raisers are all members of our Personal Injury Team and they will be supporting Hope House with their efforts.

Lynsey Kilvert, who has organised the campaign, said they were looking forward to a whole series of challenges and events.

“We’ll be kicking off our week-long campaign by taking part in the Hope House Santa Fun Run, in Oswestry, on December 12, which will be a great event to be involved in. And we will also be selling cakes at our offices on December 13, as well as holding a quiz on Wednesday, December 15, at the Hare and Hounds in Oakengates.

“Our aim is to raise as much money as we can for this important charity which plays such a vital role in the lives of so many children and their families.”

As well as Lynsey, the other staff members taking part are Clare Pitchford, Sarah Mears and Alison Carter. Anyone who would like to support the staff taking part in the campaign or find out more about the events they have planned should email lynseykilvert@martinkaye.co.uk

Pic: Ready for their Hope House fund-raising week are, from left, Sarah Mears, Lynsey Kilvert, and Clare Pitchford

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Seminars lift the lid on new rules

Shropshire employers must take note of the latest radical changes in equality law if they want to avoid a host of tribunal claims.

That’s the message from our Alpha Team who have organised two seminars to lift the lid on the dramatic shake-up.

John Mehtam, for the team, said: “The Equality Act 2010 came into force earlier this month, and has brought the most significant changes in Employment Law for 50 years.

"But there may be employers across the county who are not fully aware of the implications the changes will have.
And this is dangerous, because failing to comply with the new rules could leave employers facing a host of tribunal claims and paying out a fortune in compensation.”

So we are planning two free seminars on Wednesday, November 17, at our offices in Euston Way, Telford, and employers can choose from a morning or afternoon session.

“We’ll explain the changes which have radically transformed the way employers deal with their staff, and help company bosses discover how to avoid the pitfalls,” said John. “We’re also extremely pleased that leading barrister Sophie Garner, from St Phillips Chambers, will be joining us for both presentations, and she will explain to delegates what their new responsibilities are, and how they can avoid expensive employment tribunal claims.

“The new Act has included a major overhaul of the equality rules covering discrimination, behaviour, harassment and interview techniques, and for local employers, our presentations could prove invaluable.”

The event is open to any employer but places are limited and need to be booked in advance by emailing emmapalmer@martinkaye.co.uk

Monday, 25 October 2010

Health check warning for employers

Shropshire company bosses must be wary when it comes to asking about the health of any potential new employee.

John Mehtam, from our Employment Law Team, said the rules had changed with the introduction of the Equality Act earlier this month.

“Employers are now strictly limited in terms of when they can ask health-related questions during the recruitment process. The new rules will affect the way companies manage potential candidates, and all businesses will need to review their procedures and application forms.”

John said employers could only ask health-related questions prior to a job offer in certain circumstances.

“You can ask these questions before you offer the person a job if you need to decide whether the applicant can carry out the essential duties that the role involves, such as heavy lifting. But if this is the case, you must think about reasonable adjustments which could be made to help the person carry out the role.

“You can also ask such questions to monitor diversity and to take positive action, or to make sure the candidate has a disability where the job genuinely requires the post holder to have a disability, such as a counselling role. And if employers fail to comply with the new rules, their company could face limitless fines if a successful claim for discrimination, victimisation or harassment is filed against them.”

John said the new Act had also introduced major changes on third party harassment, discrimination, powers of employment tribunals, and pay secrecy. “The Act reinforces existing legislation on discrimination, and it’s vital that employers ensure they are meeting the new criteria or face serious consequences.”

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Overseas links for Telford firm


Martin-Kaye LLP Solicitors have taken part in an international assembly of lawyers in London.

We are a founder member of the IAG organisation, which gives professional firms from all over the world the opportunity to network and share business ideas.


Our Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said: “It was great to be able to take part in an IAG meeting in the UK, as it’s a rare opportunity to bring members from far and wide to this country. The meetings are held all over Europe, and are an invaluable way to cement our relationships with international lawyers.

“Many of our Shropshire clients have increasing business interests overseas and often require legal support in the most unusual places – currently we have local businesses with issues in Holland, the USA, India, China, Italy and Australia.
By joining forces with other members of the IAG organisation, we can call on support wherever our clients need it.”

During the two-day event, Graham also took part in a presentation about dispute resolution in the UK and the cost implications of taking proceedings in the UK.

The assembly was held over the same weekend as the Royal Parks Half Marathon and the IAG organisation entered an 15-strong team of runners, including Martin-Kaye's Louise Clowes. “We took part in the Corporate Challenge, which requires each runner in a team to complete the full race distance of 13.1 miles – the times of the fastest six team members are then added together to find the fastest team.

“I finished in just over one hour 52 minutes, raising £150 for the PDSA, and our team finished in 36th place out of 85 teams.
We were really grateful for the support of the crowd, particularly the other IAG members who had been attending workshops and seminars, and who came out onto the Embankment to cheer us on.”

Pic: Louise Clowes celebrates completing the Royal Parks Half Marathon

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Counting cost of online time wasters

Shropshire employees waste more than an hour every day on social networking sites while they’re at work.

And Lynsey Woolley, from our Employment Law Team, says such time wasting could cost businesses dearly unless they take action.

“It’s vital that employers tackle this issue as soon as possible, because social networking sites are only expected to grow in number. If your company fails to act, productivity will drop, and it could cost your business a great deal of money.”

Lynsey said the figures revealed in a poll by MyJobGroup.co.uk also showed that idling on social networking websites was costing British industry around £14 billion every year.

“The social networking phenomenon has really taken off in the last few months, and more and more people are relying on it as their preferred method of communicating with friends and colleagues. Employers must ensure they make their staff fully aware of what is and is not acceptable during work hours and on their company computer or phone.

“Suggest that they try to restrict their time on these websites to their lunch hour or breaks, and that anyone found spending excessive amounts of time online during the working day will face disciplinary action.”

Lynsey said it was also wise for employers to monitor just exactly what their staff were posting online.

“If it’s left unchecked, you could find that social networking is not only reducing productivity, it could also lead to confidential information being posted. And look out too for any derogatory comments being made by your employees about the company, your staff or even your customers, because once they’re online, the comments will be there for everyone to see.”

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Don't put your company's future at risk

Shropshire business owners are being warned that breaching environmental rules can damage the reputation of their company beyond repair.

Louise Clowes, from our Commercial Property Team, said an environmental prosecution often meant more than just a fine. “All environmental offences are subject to a fine, which can be unlimited in the Crown Court, and the more serious cases are also subject to a prison sentence. But that’s not all – being found guilty of harming the environment around your premises can have ongoing repercussions that you may never recover from.”

Louise said a conviction may also lead to local, and in some cases, national publicity.
“The Environment Agency publicises environmental convictions on its website as part of its name and shame policy, and the local press often sit in on criminal court proceedings. There will inevitably be damage to your business’ reputation, even if it is found not guilty at the end of the proceedings.”

She said a conviction could also mean your company’s insurance premiums would increase, and your ongoing relationship with the Environment Agency could be damaged.

“You may also find prosecutions and convictions can cause difficulties if you decide to try to sell your business, especially if the buyer asks for additional environmental warranties and indemnities. So it’s vital to take your environmental responsibilities seriously and not just dismiss a breach as nothing to worry about. The consequences could be far more reaching than you imagined, and could literally put the future of your business in jeopardy.”

Louise warned that company directors should also be aware they could be disqualified from acting as a director, and breaching that order would be a criminal offence.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Check your dates carefully

Expectant parents across Shropshire whose babies are due from April onwards next year should be sure of their rights when it comes to time off work.

New rules introduced earlier this year mean if a child is due on, or after April 3, 2011, the father or mother’s partner will be entitled to 26 weeks’ additional paternity leave. But Emma Palmer, from our Employment Team, warned that babies may not stick to expected deadlines.

“The extra time off is on top of the existing two weeks’ paternity leave, which fathers can take within eight weeks of the birth, but babies are rarely on time.

“The new rules will only apply to births on, or after the April date, and the additional leave can only begin once the child is 20 weeks old. But what happens if your baby arrives early? Are you still entitled to take the additional paternity leave or do you lose your right to extra time off?

“The simple answer is if the original due date met the new criteria, your family will still be entitled to the additional leave – this is why the guidelines are based on the expected due date rather than the actual birth date, as it’s so difficult to predict accurately.

“But remember, before you can claim the additional leave, you must have a minimum of 26 weeks’ continuous employment at the 15th week before the expected week of childbirth. If you don’t, then no matter what day the child is born, you won’t be entitled to the 26 extra weeks. You will also only be allowed to take the extra time if the mother has returned to work – you cannot both be off work at the same time.

“And when it comes to money, you will only receive additional statutory paternity pay during what would have been the mother’s statutory maternity pay period. The rest of the leave will be unpaid, which may well make parents think twice before they go ahead.”

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Check the small print

Shropshire employees are being urged to make sure they understand the finer details of their payslips and not ignore the small print.

Lynsey Woolley, from our Employment Law team, said figures showed almost ten per cent of workers were unsure what some of the references meant.

“There is so much confusion about payslips that the Institute of Payroll Professionals has organised a national payroll week to help make things clearer.” The week will be held from September 6 to 10, and during the week employees will be encouraged to visit their payroll department to discuss any queries they may have.

“The aim of the initiative is to help employees decipher the small print because if they are unsure of what the details mean, they may not be getting paid correctly,” said Lynsey. “And it’s no good simply comparing your slip with the person who sits next to you in the office, as everyone’s wages can be different.”

She said an itemised payroll was a legal requirement, but the levels of National Insurance contributions, taxes or pension reductions, were not always easy to understand.

“It’s important that employees take this opportunity to seek advice in order to monitor their pay correctly, particularly in such difficult economic times.” Lynsey said employees should also keep copies of their payslips and any other related documents, such as P60s, for at least 22 months from the end of the tax year they correspond with.

“You may need these documents if you are applying for a mortgage or tax credits, so it’s vital that they are kept somewhere safe.”

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Think green - but stay safe

Property developers who strive to make their buildings more energy efficient could find they are breaching new rules, one of our solicitors has warned.

Louise Clowes, from our Commercial Property team, said several building regulations changes would be introduced later this year.

“Previously draughty windows and doors in old properties acted as escape routes for carbon monoxide. But with advances in insulation and the growing trend for very airtight houses which retain valuable heat inside, the energy efficient improvements could actually be putting people’s health at risk.”

Louise said the changes to the regulations would bring new requirements and guidance to make sure ventilation was increased in today’s properties.

“There will be several measures aimed at reducing the threat of carbon monoxide poisoning, including the installation of carbon monoxide alarms in houses with new solid fuel appliances. Developers will also have to follow guidance on improving ventilation, but at the same time improve energy efficiency of new homes by 25 per cent.”

Louise said it was a difficult time for property developers, as improving energy efficiency was a valid aim, but protecting health and safety was also vital.

“There are safeguards in place though, and the local authority building control body can take several actions if building work is carried out that breaches the rules. They can serve an enforcement which will allow 28 days for the work to be put right, or they can apply for an injunction for the removal or alteration of the work. And in the most severe cases, developers could face a fine of up to £5000 followed by £50 per day for each day the breach continues.

“Developers should make sure they are clear about the new guidelines, and that they don’t sacrifice good health and safety for the sake of a greener approach to property development.”

Friday, 30 July 2010

Don't be afraid of new media

Shropshire companies should embrace social networking sites in order to protect their business.

Our Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace had become phenomenally popular in a very short space of time.

“Social networking is proving to be an extremely powerful force with many larger companies using it to keep their customers up-to-date with new products and business information. Although they have their place, these sites won’t suit everyone. Some companies don’t want, or even need to advertise in this way. But even if your company does not have any intention of using it, there are compelling reasons as to why you should still register a page for your company anyway.”

Graham said setting up a corporate profile was the best way to stop someone else setting one up first.

“A competitor or company with a similar sounding name could register a Facebook profile under the listing that you would need to use. And once that was done, they’d be unlikely to give it up easily, which may leave you no option but to resort to expensive legal action. It would also prevent unhappy employees or customers having ‘fun’ at your company’s expense, so it makes sense to opt in to Facebook, if only to ensure you have the genuine profile.

“According to Facebook itself, it has over 200 million active users who each have, on average, 120 friends or contacts. So the good news is that once your company decides to sign up, your name has a very strong chance of becoming more widely known.

“Other than the time it takes you to set up and update this type of page, it won’t cost you anything to host it, so by spending a few minutes doing this now, you will both protect your company and have the option to use these sites in the future.”

Friday, 25 June 2010

No age limit will bring extra burden

Shropshire employers will face an extra burden if the idea of axing the traditional retirement age of 65 goes ahead as planned.

Lynsey Woolley, from our Alpha Team, said the Government’s plans to abolish the default retirement age, and to extend the age when employees are entitled to take their pension to 66, would bring real challenges.

“The Government has been under pressure from many organisations who want the retirement age extended or removed completely. This means justifying a retirement age used by a company will be in its own hands if the default retirement age is axed, and companies will not simply be able to end an employee’s contract just because they turn 65.

“It will be vital for employers to monitor staff closely, as if they are asked to retire – whatever age the employer selects – there will need to be enough evidence to back up the decision.

On the positive side though, Lynsey said the decision to axe the age limit could help towards reducing age discrimination in the workplace. “It could have a dramatic impact on the way older workers are perceived, and on perceptions about their ability to contribute to the company.

“Tough decisions like this all create an extra burden for employers, but with people living longer, it’s clear that something has to be done to keep the balance right.”

Monday, 14 June 2010

Green thinking will pay off

Green-thinking Shropshire landlords should work with tenants to reduce the environmental impact of commercial buildings across the county.

Louise Clowes, from our Commercial Property Team, said by working in partnership landlords and tenants could make a huge difference.

“A green lease is not a legal requirement, but it’s a way for landlords and tenants to work together towards reducing the impact their building has on the environment. Usually the green provisions will include improving the energy efficiency of the building, but may also include waste and water management, and transport matters such as providing bike racks or car sharing schemes.”

But Louise said the green clauses did not have to be part of a lease – they could also be included in the rules of the overall industrial estate, or in a general environmental policy for the building itself.

“The most obvious advantage of introducing green policies is that reducing the amount of energy that’s used will cut costs, as will reducing the amount of waste that’s produced. Larger organisations may also decide to use the green lease as part of an overall scheme to demonstrate their commitment to corporate social responsibility objectives.”

Louise said there were some barriers though if landlords were considering adopting greener leases. “Generally improvements to an industrial estate introduced by a landlord are not recoverable through a service charge, and so landlords might be reluctant to spend a lot of money introducing new technologies for no financial return.

“Tenants with shorter leases may also decide they don’t want to spend money on capital items, which might only pay for themselves once their lease has ended. But if you’re really committed to reducing the impact your business premises have on the environment, there are ways to move forward – it just takes determination and effort, but the results will be worth it.”

Friday, 11 June 2010

Don't believe the myth!

Shropshire couples are being warned there’s no such thing as a “quickie” divorce.

Rebecca Littleford, from our Family Team, said with domestic violence predicted to increase during the World Cup, more and more couples may face marital difficulties.

“We’ve all heard the stories about celebrities wanting their marriage over quickly when it falls apart – and the latest couple in the news, Cheryl and Ashley Cole, appear to be no different. But although you can start divorce proceedings immediately if it’s based on the other person’s adultery or unreasonable behaviour, the divorce process itself actually takes months.”

Rebecca said the divorce could be speeded up if the couple were prepared to take a non-confrontational approach.

“This would mean both sides working together on the draft divorce petition so that the finer details, including arrangements for any children in the family, would be agreed before it goes to the courts. If you can agree this kind of detail in advance, the case will proceed more smoothly and hopefully more quickly. If either side starts to contest the petition, it will take longer and of course the costs of the divorce will grow.”

Once the petition has been filed with the courts, your spouse has the opportunity to decide if they want to fight the divorce – and it’s only after they agree not to fight it, that you can apply for a Decree Nisi. "This is not a divorce, it’s just an indication from the courts that they agree in principle with the action,” said Rebecca.

“In fact, apart from in some highly unusual cases, six weeks and a day must pass between Decree Nisi and Decree Absolute. It’s only once the Decree Absolute has been issued that the couple will actually be divorced.

“Clearly divorce is a dramatic step, and a truly life-changing event, and even if things do get heated over the next few weeks during the World Cup, it’s important not to make any hasty decisions. Statistics show that domestic violence levels do increase during the tournament, particularly if alcohol is involved.

“But take time out and diffuse the situation – walk away from arguments which threaten to escalate, and really consider whether things have broken down irretrievably before you start divorce proceedings.”

Thursday, 3 June 2010

It's a team game

Teamwork is the key to a successful World Cup, and not just on the football pitch, according to one of our Employment Law specialists.

Tina Chander said: “Major sporting occasions can divide as well as unite workplaces, and it’s important that employers are prepared for this summer’s World Cup. Many staff members will want to watch the matches, but there will be others who have no interest in the football at all.

“Employers will need to balance the needs of both camps, and use teamwork to get the best out of their staff, finding compromises where possible that will keep everyone happy.”

Tina urged employers to be flexible by possibly changing the start and finish times of the working day, or allowing a longer lunch break so staff could catch the match. “Be honest and open with your staff though, and if you can’t accommodate any changes to your working practices, say so.

“You should also be fair with the way you respond to requests for time off and avoid favouritism. Don’t forget to ensure those people who are not interested in football are treated equally too.”

She said employees who were unable to get to a television for a big match may well turn to the internet instead. “Make sure you are clear about your policies on this and whether you will allow it, as there is likely to be an increase in the use of social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter, or in viewing sports news websites.

“And inform your staff that sudden absences that just happen to coincide with the time of a big match will not be tolerated, and that you will take disciplinary action if necessary. The way to win a World Cup is down to teamwork, and that approach is just as important in the workplace too if companies want to successfully balance business and football.”

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Employers face real changes

Employers should prepare for some major changes in workplace rules now that the new Government is in place - that's the warning from John Mehtam, our Employment Law specialist.

“The creation of a Coalition Government meant that initially we were in the strange position of having a new government without knowing what their actual policies were. Now following the Queen’s Speech, and with the emergency budget due on June 22, things are becoming clearer, and the message is that things are going to change.”

John said the workplace would be particularly affected by the new government’s plans. “We could well see a new system of flexible parental leave, with parents sharing maternity and paternity leave for up to 18 months, which will have a huge impact on local companies. And if the Liberal Democrat proposal to extend fathers’ rights to take time off for ante-natal appointments is also introduced, the impact could be even greater.”

John said there was likely to be new protection for “whistle blowers”, in particular NHS staff who raise concerns about patient safety.

“The Government is planning to introduce an annual limit on the number of economic migrants who come into the UK from outside the EU, which is good news for the local workforce. This means only migrants who bring the most value to the economy or who have specific skills will be allowed to enter the country, and so valuable jobs will be protected for UK workers.”

And John also welcomed the news that the current employment tribunal system is to be overhauled. “There are suggestions that higher deposits will be required and that costs will be increased to prevent weak claims going forward, and to encourage mediation instead.

“This is an exciting time for businesses, as the new government is considering some brave and thought-provoking proposals – but it’s clear that the changes will need to be carefully managed as the economy continues its fragile recovery.”

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Slave labour warning for employers

Employers who turn a blind eye to "slave labour" working conditions could face tough prison sentences.

Claire Williams, from our Alpha team, said the new Coroners and Justice Act which came into force in April, had introduced a new offence.

"The offence prevents employers from holding anyone in ‘slavery’, by using threats or deception to force them to work.
"And it’s a very serious offence, as any employer who is found to have knowingly ignored such a working environment could face up to 14 years in prison."

Claire said the new offence was introduced largely to protect vulnerable workers, such as migrants who may have little understanding of English or employment law.

"So if an employer threatened an employee with violence, or made threats to report the worker to the authorities, or made threats against the worker’s family, they could face severe consequences. The rules are a welcome introduction to employment law, but in today’s society, you would have expected that this kind of behaviour should have been outlawed decades ago.

"In reality, most employers will not be affected by the changes, as they will be already complying with existing employment law and treating their employees with the appropriate respect. But there is obviously still a need for this type of legislation, so its introduction can only be good news."

Claire said in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, there are exceptions for labour that may be necessary to protect public safety and other people’s rights. These include work done while someone is legally detained; military service; emergencies or life threatening situations; and work or service that forms part of everyone’s civic obligations.

Martin-Kaye’s Alpha Team offers all-inclusive employment law and human resources advice that can be tailored to suit the needs of each individual business.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Don't be rash over ash

Shropshire employers are being urged to take a “reasonable” approach when it comes to staff who may be stranded abroad.

Lynsey Woolley, from our Alpha Team, said thousands of people had been affected in the last few weeks by the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

“The disruption caused by the ash cloud caused havoc with flights coming in and out of the UK, and this week’s problems in Scotland and Northern Ireland have shown the crisis may not yet be over. So it’s important that employers prepare themselves for the possibility that we may yet see more flights grounded, causing even greater difficulties for staff who are travelling abroad – particularly in the run-up to the main holiday season.

“The basic legal position is that an employee who is ready and willing to work is entitled to be paid, unless their contract says differently. So employees who may be stranded at home or abroad because of travel problems are considered not able or ready to offer their services, and so don’t have the right to payment.

“And if there is nothing in the employee’s contract, anyone who doesn’t turn up for work because of travel disruption has no right to be paid either, even if the disruption is not their fault.”

Lynsey said some employers were considering asking their staff to take the time they were stranded as enforced holiday, or may decide to dock their pay.

“But of course, this could cause real hostility, and employers should consider staff morale before they go ahead – although doing nothing at all could equally affect the morale of staff who have been left to cover for your absent employee.

“You may feel that travel problems are still comparatively rare events, or short-lived, and that it’s not worth introducing a formal policy because of the negative effect it will bring. Why not explore instead how they may be able to continue their duties while they’re abroad – by email, over the internet, or telephone access in an overseas office?

“By maintaining regular contact with your staff and making sure you have documentary evidence of their transport difficulties, you can ensure that no-one takes advantage of the situation.”


Monday, 19 April 2010

Fit or sick? You can make the difference

Shropshire employees who need to visit their doctor will now be given “fit” notes rather than “sick” notes.

And Tina Chander, from our Employment Law team, has welcomed the move as a great step forward in helping businesses to run more smoothly.

"The rules on sick notes changed earlier this month - previously when an employee was ill or injured, their doctor would issue a sicknote which would be commonly used by employers as evidence to calculate sick pay. But now, doctors have the option to certify that a patient may be fit for work, as long as certain steps are taken to help them adjust.”

Tina said the new scheme should allow employees to return to work sooner than they would have previously, and so prevent them from staying off work for long periods of time, which of course interrupts business.

“If a doctor uses the fit note option, they will give advice about the effects of the patient’s condition, and suggest the kind of adjustments or adaptations an employer could make to help ease their return. While employers don’t have to act on the doctor’s advice, the fit note may help employers to speed up the employee’s return to work and reduce unnecessary sickness absence.

“If an employer cannot make the changes necessary to give their staff member additional support, then for sick pay purposes, they should consider the doctor’s note as if it had declared the employee was unfit for work and begin the payments from that point onwards.”

Tina said the company’s obligations to make reasonable adjustments to staff working conditions under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 would not change.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Pack products with care

Shropshire manufacturers are being advised to ensure they don’t fall foul of environmental legislation surrounding packaging of their products.

“The Government is keen to promote how keen it is on green issues, but it doesn’t make quite so much noise about how much money it makes out of its environmental laws,” said Telford lawyer Graham Davies.

Graham, who is our Senior Partner, said: “Its favourite money maker – the speed camera of the environmental world – is a piece of legislation known as the Producer Responsibility Obligations (Packaging Waste) Regulations.

“The Environment Agency is actively searching for businesses which are not registered with PROR, or another packaging compliance scheme. And when it does prosecute, it goes for as much money as possible.”

The regulations, described by Graham as “really just a paper exercise”, apply to larger firms handling over 50 tonnes of packaging. They challenge businesses to provide evidence of paying for the recovery and recycling of a specified proportion of packaging waste including wood, aluminium, steel, cardboard and plastic.

Graham said two of the most recent businesses to be prosecuted for non-compliance had been fined £54,000 and £62,248, and landed with thousands of pounds in legal costs.

“Both firms stated that they did not know the regulations applied to them, but clearly the court did not deem this as a defence. The Environment Agency now has teams which monitor businesses, and any business that the inspectors feel PROR apply to, but which hasn’t taken steps towards compliance, will receive a letter.

“If you are unfortunate enough to get one of these letters, don’t ignore it. It means you’ve already been caught – failure to meet with the Agency’s demands will only make things worse.”

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Secrets revealed online

Social networking websites are helping Shropshire employers to research potential employees before they meet them.

John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said: “The social networking phenomenon is everywhere, with more and more people choosing to sign up every day. And now, as well as social benefits, employers are turning to these sites to check out potential recruits.

“In fact, one in four employers who screened candidates through social networking pages uncovered potential problems they were then able to avoid.”

John said all employers traditionally paid great attention to paper CVs when looking for new staff, and carefully prepared questions in advance to discover just what each person had to offer. “But how do you know that the details they have provided are accurate? Social networking sites give you the perfect opportunity to verify their claims.”

He said the most popular site was Facebook, but many professionals were now turning to LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com), which has more than 55 million members worldwide.

“It gives members the chance to stay in touch, and they can also use it to locate contacts in their own industries and other sectors. Most people list detailed information including their qualifications and career history, and unless someone has restricted who can view their profile, it’s simple to find them through the search facility on the home page.”

John said searching most sites was free and should take just minutes – then if something does show up, you can either ask the candidate to clarify it or reconsider hiring them.

“Careful research can save you difficulties in the long run, and equally it’s important to remember that if you’re using social networking sites yourself, take care with what you post or your competitors could find out more than you’d bargained for.”

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Take a break - now!

Shropshire employees who spend their working day in front of a computer must take regular screen breaks – but do they really need software to tell them that?

Tina Chander, from our Employment Team, said some companies had resorted to installing software that prompted staff to take a break.

“Difficult as it may be to believe, screen breaks are specifically mentioned in health and safety legislation, and in the official guidance produced by the Health and Safety Executive. The rules say employers must plan their staff’s workload so there are periodic breaks from the computer or changes in activity. But if this doesn’t happen naturally, employers must step in and take deliberate action.

“Some computer software companies have tapped into this market developing packages where a message appears on the screen, or some even cause the computer to freeze. But it really is a case of using common sense, and in the vast majority of computer-based jobs, screen breaks will occur naturally,” said Tina.

She said employees would probably also find it irritating if they were in the middle of writing an important report, only to be told by their computer they should take a break.

“Employers should not be fooled into thinking they have a legal duty to buy this kind of software. Instead of paying out on this unnecessary expense, company bosses should ensure that managers know they must prompt staff to be sensible and take regular breaks. There’s no legal justification to buy screen break software, and the only thing it will achieve is to interrupt productivity and annoy your staff.”

Monday, 8 March 2010

Law firm backs charity run

Staff from Martin-Kaye Solicitors have backed an intrepid marathon runner’s efforts to raise cash for charity.

Catherine Finn-Bellingham, from Chirk, is running this year’s London Marathon in April, and will be raising funds for Spinal Research.
Her niece, Lynsey Kilvert, is one of our Senior Legal Assistants and we have been holding charity events to help boost Catherine’s cash total.

Lynsey said: “We have raised over £200 by organising a dress down day, a cake sale, and holding at quiz at the Hare and Hounds, in Oakengates.
We wanted to support Catherine’s challenge, and I’m extremely proud of her for the dedication she’s shown in preparing for the marathon. It’s not the first time she’s put herself to the test though, as she also ran the Great North Run for the same charity last year.”

Catherine chose to raise funds for Spinal Research as she has had back problems herself in the past, and also has friends and relatives who have been affected in a similar way.


Pic: Catherine Finn-Bellingham (left) receives the cheque from Lynsey Kilvert, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors

Friday, 19 February 2010

Warning on staff injuries

Shropshire employers whose staff are injured on a client’s premises must take care as they could be held responsible.

Alison Carter, who leads our Personal Injury team, said even though the accident may have happened away from their usual workplace, the employer could still face a claim.

“When you send an employee to a client’s premises, responsibility for their health and safety rests between you as their company director, and the client. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, employers are responsible for safeguarding the health, safety and welfare of their staff while they are at work – just because an incident may have happened off site does not matter.”

Alison said the client though also had some responsibility to anyone who may be on their premises, even if they were not an employee. “The Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 says the client must ensure visitors to their premises are safe during their time on site, and don’t let them try to shirk their duties by passing them on to you as the person’s employer.”

She said the client must protect people against any obvious risks, such as ensuring there were no torn carpets or that there was sufficient lighting.

“If your staff regularly have to visit clients’ homes, ask them to complete a home visit checklist themselves – this will identify if there are any potential risks which you can then raise with the client. And if the worst does happen, and a member of your staff is injured, notify your insurers immediately, but don’t admit liability for their accident.

“Not only could you invalidate your insurance cover, but it’s likely the insurers will want to hear the client’s side of the story too before they make a decision on what happens next.”

Check builders' credentials

Shropshire companies planning building work at their premises must check their contractor’s safety records first.

That’s the warning from Graham Davies, our Senior Partner, who said the rules on health and safety for major building works had now changed. “Under the new rules, it’s now your responsibility as the client to check the credentials of any builders you plan to use, before you sign a contract.”

Graham said the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 meant that the Health and Safety Executive had to be notified in advance of any projects scheduled to last longer then 30 working days, or that involved 500 person days of work.

“Until the new rules were introduced, you could appoint a contractor to manage the work who would be responsible for ensuring any sub-contractors complied with health and safety legislation. If there were any problems, the contractor would be liable for their actions, but now the Health and Safety Executive would be likely to hold you, or your company responsible instead.”

Graham said if your building work qualified as a project that the HSE needed to know about in advance, it was a good idea to take advice on how to meet the health and safety requirements.

“Start by appointing a CDM co-ordinator to advise and assist, and a main contractor to plan, manage and co-ordinate the work. You will also need to use a qualified designer to make sure the work will be suitable and safe. The financial costs of meeting CDM requirements can be significant, so try to plan building projects so they stay within the 30-day limit to save your company money and to reduce the stress involved.”

Friday, 12 February 2010

Top ten pitfalls unveiled

Employers from across Shropshire will get the chance to hear a run down of the top ten pitfalls to avoid thanks to two local companies.

At Martin-Kaye Solicitors, we've joined forces with Turner Peachey Accountants to host an advice forum with a difference. The event will be held on Tuesday, February 23, at our offices at The Foundry, in Euston Way, and it’s the first time our two firms have worked together.

Our Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said: “This is an exciting opportunity for local employers to hear about the ten most topical issues on Shropshire’s business agenda. And we’re very pleased to be working so closely with Turner Peachey, who will bring an accountant’s perspective on the subjects we cover.”

Graham said the “top ten” had been chosen by Martin-Kaye’s Alpha team, who deal with a wide range of businesses to help them tackle employment issues.

“The team has reviewed the matters they have dealt with over the last 12 months, and they will now present the issues that employers should be looking out for, and how to avoid the pitfalls. Representatives from the Turner Peachey team will then explain the financial and tax implications of the situations that may arise.”

Graham said there had been an excellent response from employers so far, with many signing up weeks in advance for the event. There are still some places available at the free seminar, and interested employers should contact June Noto on 01952 272222 or visit www.martinkaye.co.uk and click on the Alpha logo to find out more.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Phones warning for bosses

Shropshire staff who are caught using a hand-held mobile phone while driving could cause trouble for their employer too. Tina Chander, from our Employment Law Team, said company bosses should set out strict rules on the use of mobile phones and other gadgets.

“Regulations prohibit drivers from using any hand-held mobile phone or similar device while driving, including while a vehicle is stationary in traffic. But you could also find that in theory, as a company director, you could be held responsible if you allow an employee to use a mobile phone while they’re at the wheel on company business.

“This could lead to a fine and/or penalty points on your own licence as a result, although the situation has not yet been tested in the courts.” Tina said this was because the regulations also make it an offence to “cause or permit” a driver to use their phone.

“Simply providing your employees with a hands-free kit and telling them to use it would probably not be enough to avoid the problem. Unless it has been set up for full voice activation, it will probably still be classed as a hand-held device.”

She said that if staff did not have access to such equipment, companies must make it clear that they must not use any hand-held devices while driving – and a mobile phone and gadget policy should be drawn up.

“Suggest your staff let their mobile divert to answerphone while they are travelling and that they return the calls later. And make sure your own officer workers never phone colleagues when they know they will be driving. It’s better for anyone who is on the road to phone the office between journeys to check for any messages.”

Tina said the rules not only covered sending or receiving mobile phone calls, but also text messages, access to the internet or email, and even checking images on a satellite navigation system.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

What's in a name?

Phoenix companies rising from the ashes of firms which have gone bust are on the increase in today’s tough economic climate. But our Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said starting again may not be so simple.

“Given the recession, there’s been a real increase in the number of companies who go bust one day and then reappear the next, carrying on with the same business and directors. There’s no problem with this as long as you stay within the rules, but the law is tough on anyone who fails to follow the procedures correctly.”

Graham said it was a criminal and civil offence for a director of an insolvent company to reuse its name, or something similar to the same name, within five years. “This rule applies to anyone who was a director of the company during the 12 months prior to it failing. Usually only the civil action will be taken, but this in itself can still bring tough financial penalties.”

In a civil action, a director could face an unlimited fine and be held personally liable for all the relevant debts of the company that traded under the prohibited name.

“But subject to conditions, a director may legitimately be able to reuse the company name,” said Graham. “You can only do this if you have permission from the court; if the successor company has been trading under the prohibited name for 12 months before the old company goes into liquidation; or if the new company acquires all or most of the business of the failed company from a liquidator.

“The best advice would be that if you’re a director of a company that’s gone into liquidation and you want to use a similar name for your new venture, ask the liquidator of the original company for guidance. It’s understandable that you may want to start a new business as soon as possible, but starting a phoenix company certainly isn’t plan sailing, and you must proceed with caution.”