Thursday, 31 March 2016

References can be a nightmare

Employers should think very carefully before they agree to provide a reference for a former employee as any mistakes could prove costly.

John Mehtam is the employment law specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, and he said a reference request was most likely to be for a new employer or maybe a financial situation like a mortgage application.

“It’s important to be aware of the differences though between a corporate reference and a personal one. Your business will be legally responsible for the contents of a corporate reference because it is provided on its behalf.

“So you must ensure you have a clear policy on which employees or levels of management can give a corporate reference, whether it should be verbal or written, and what should be included.”

John said a personal reference may refer to work undertaken for the business but must not be given on behalf of the business.

“There’s always a danger that a personal reference could be taken to be a corporate reference, so make sure it’s not provided on headed paper and does not include the referee’s job title.”

John added that there was no legal obligation on a business to provide a reference and so the business was entitled to refuse to provide one.

“But your company policy on references must be consistent or you could be accused of discrimination. Your business is not allowed to discriminate on the basis of age, disability, gender, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation.

“So having a clear policy in place about the circumstances in which references will be given will help in defending any allegations of discriminatory treatment. If you do agree to give a reference, the business must be able to justify and support any comments made and show that it honestly holds the views that are stated.

“Your business cannot be successfully sued for defamation for the contents of a reference (even if they are untrue), as long as your business believed the information in the reference was correct at the time it was provided, and that you gave the reference without malice.

“But your business could be sued for breach of contract if you don not give a reference when your business had previously agreed to provide one.”

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Legal experts take top award

Lawyers from a Telford firm are proving they can compete with some of the most high profile legal teams in the UK after winning a prestigious award.

Commercial litigation experts from Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, have been named in the 2016 Dispute Resolution Awards as the best for SME Contract Disputes.

Run by Acquisition International Magazine, the awards were created to showcase the very best lawyers and professional advisers across the country.

And it’s not the first time they have recognised the Telford practice.

Andrew Oranjuik who leads the commercial litigation team at Martin-Kaye said: “We’re very proud to have received this latest award, and it is confirmation once again that we really do punch above our weight when it comes to the competition.

“It also shows that the very best legal advice is available outside the major cities in the UK thanks to practices like Martin-Kaye.”

The company has previously been awarded the Excellence in Contract Focused Commercial Litigation title, and the Midlands Litigators of the Year award.

“Our specialist commercial litigation team already has an excellent reputation for its effective, straight-talking advice, and to be recognised yet again on the national stage is sure to raise our profile even further,” said Andrew.

“It’s particularly pleasing as we are one of the very few law firms outside the major cities to develop a specialist team like this, and our commitment to the sector is obviously paying off.”

Martin-Kaye’s commercial litigators deal with a wide range of claims including partnership and shareholder disputes, disputes over intellectual property, professional negligence, and disputes in property, contract, construction and IT cases.

The Dispute Resolution Awards highlight the work carried out by the main players in this fiercely competitive area. They use an exhaustive process of reviews and in-house research to reward the most respected litigators, arbitrators and mediators across the business world. All kinds of firms are nominated from the smallest niche practices to the largest corporations.

Pic: Celebrating their latest award win are, from left, Mohammed Ahsan, Graham Davies, Andrew Oranjuik and Jason Round at Martin-Kaye

Monday, 14 March 2016

Companies receive harsh wake-up call

Companies could be more liable than ever for the behaviour of their employees following a landmark legal ruling, a Shropshire employment law expert has warned.

The Supreme Court found that supermarket chain Morrisons was liable for the actions of a worker who punched and kicked a man on one of its petrol station forecourts.

And John Mehtam, the employment law specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said: “This is a wake-up call to all employers. It means that companies will find it much more difficult to avoid legally binding liability for the actions of their staff during working hours.”

According to court documents, Amjid Khan was working at a Morrisons petrol station in Birmingham in 2008 when he punched and kicked Ahmed Mohamud. Mr Mohamud died six years later of an illness not related to the incident, and his family continued his legal fight.

Morrisons had sacked Mr Khan and agreed to pay damages, but the Supreme Court has now overturned a previous Court of Appeal ruling and decided that the supermarket group is liable for Mr Khan's actions.

Mr Mehtam said the case hinged on the definition of ‘vicarious liability’ - where someone is held responsible for the actions or omissions of another person. In the workplace, an employer can be liable for the acts or omissions of its employees, provided it can be shown that they took place in the course of their employment.

He said: “There is no doubt that this ruling will make it easier for successful claims of this kind against companies – even if the actions of staff were neither sanctioned, nor supported, by their managers. It does not amount to a change in the law, but is most certainly a change in the way that ‘vicarious liability’ cases will be interpreted by the courts.”

Mr Mehtam added: “Previously, it was thought that an employer would only be liable for an assault if it took place while carrying out a task which was part of their working contract. That has all changed. Now, employers can clearly be held liable for any form of criminal act carried out by their staff – whether they are directly linked to their job, or not.”

Monday, 7 March 2016

Religious festivals are not a given right

Companies are perfectly within their rights to deny workers extended periods of annual leave which they claim are for ‘religious reasons’, a Shropshire employment lawyer has warned.

Lubna Laheria’s comments follow the findings of a landmark tribunal case involving a London Underground worker who claimed his religious beliefs required him to return to his home in Sardinia each year for up to five weeks.

Lubna, who is part of the employment team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said the case would serve as a useful guide for any employers faced with a member of staff asking for a long period of time off for specific reasons.

“The tribunal ruled that blocks of leave of up two weeks were perfectly ordinary and should only be declined by an employer in the event of a very pressing business need. It said that blocks of leave of three weeks were not particularly rare, but merited discussion between the worker and the line-manager because of the potential to create greater business difficulties and clashes with the wishes of other team members.

“And it pointed out that blocks of leave for three weeks or more would usually be granted only for rare events such as marriage, or supporting family members through planned medical procedures.”

She added: “The tribunal made it clear that there is a distinction between something which is a requirement of a person’s religion, and something which is tied into family arrangements.

“Employers have to ensure that they are treating all of their staff fairly. People with religious beliefs are not the only members of staff who will have family commitments during the summer months. One of the most important tasks of any manager is to ensure that they treat all their staff fairly, and do not show favouritism.

“Employers do not have to give workers time off for religious observance, but should try to accommodate them whenever possible, within reason. Clearly, the law has decided that it is not ‘reasonable’ to expect this to extend to a right to five weeks of extended leave each and every summer.”