Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Alpha celebrates a 10-year milestone

Legal experts at a Telford firm are celebrating 10 successful years of an initiative that’s reaching clients right across the UK.

The team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, initially launched their ALPHA service – a bespoke employment law and human resources package – after months of intensive research and surveys involving all kinds of businesses.

Senior partner, Graham Davies, said: “We wanted to measure how satisfied local firms were with their HR advisors, as companies were telling us they were becoming increasingly frustrated with the services they were receiving.

“And our survey work showed the support was patchy at best, with the so-called advice delivered over the phone by ‘consultants’. They also felt the advice was tailored to meet insurance company requirements and wasn’t robust enough – they found they were tied into restrictive deals for three to five years too.

“We knew we could do much better than that and identified a real gap in the market, so we spent a year putting together the ALPHA service which is now celebrating its tenth anniversary.” www.alpha-hr.co.uk 

Mr Davies said the firm had been continually surprised by the ongoing success of the service which was still growing today.

“From a standing start, hundreds of businesses have signed up to become members, with many here in Shropshire, but an increasing number from further afield and we now have clients from all over the UK. It’s even more satisfying to see that many clients who have been with us from the start of Alpha sign up year on year for an ongoing service as they’ve been so impressed with the support we deliver.”

The ALPHA service is led by John Mehtam, who is Martin-Kaye’s employment law specialist, and he is supported by a team of qualified lawyers who deliver the most appropriate advice in each situation.

“Not only do we provide employment law advice, we provide employment law solutions, and we’re not afraid to make tough and difficult decisions when required,” said Mr Mehtam.

“We work closely with each business to achieve the very best results for their individual circumstances, and we can offer a wide range of support – from a relatively inexpensive package, to setting up a sophisticated virtual HR team, and all without the lengthy tie-in agreements.”

Mr Mehtam said ALPHA members also had the option to take up advice from the wider range of commercial services provided by Martin-Kaye including corporate advice, litigation, and commercial property services.

Pic: Graham Davies, Emma Palmer, and John Mehtam celebrate the 10th anniversary of the ALPHA scheme at Martin-Kaye Solicitors


Friday, 9 June 2017

New nationwide service helps retirement plans

Homeowners looking to boost their finances in readiness for their retirement can now find professional and effective advice right here in Shropshire.

Experts at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, have launched their own nationwide service – www.equishield.co.uk – to offer advice on equity release to help property owners raise much-needed capital.

Simon Wagner is a Partner at Martin-Kaye and has been instrumental in creating and setting up the new service.

“Many ‘baby boomers’ who are now approaching retirement are finding their pension plans are not what they had hoped for. But they are at the time in their lives where they will also probably have a significant amount of equity in their home which can be released to provide additional cash and income.

“Equity release has deservedly had some bad press in the past, but the introduction of a code of conduct – combined with more competitive interest rates and innovative mortgage products – has made it a far more attractive, mainstream product which is growing increasingly popular.

“We have worked with carefully-selected regional firms of solicitors to create a new national network – every firm has agreed to subscribe to the new code of conduct, and they all have vast experience and knowledge of this specialised subject.”

Mr Wagner said: “Retirement should be something to look forward to, but more and more people are retiring with debts they are struggling to repay, or a pension that won’t allow them to maintain their living standards.

“If all other options have been exhausted, equity release can help homeowners to reduce their monthly outgoings by taking out a loan against their property – they then have the option to repay the interest or allow it to roll up and only be repaid when the house is sold.

"But equity release is not the answer for everyone, and homeowners need to be sure it’s right for their individual circumstances – that’s where our Equishield service comes in.”

Mr Wagner said equity release was a specialised area and anyone considering taking this option should seek professional financial advice and independent legal support.

“Through Equishield, we have specialists here at Martin-Kaye who deal purely with equity release cases, so our clients can be assured they will always be seen by an in-house expert and their claim will not be passed on to an agency or sub-contracted out.

“Making the decision to free up finances from the value of your home is a big decision that should not be taken lightly as property owners will need to consider how it will affect the estate they leave behind. But with the right support and expert knowledge, it can be a real solution to making retirement a little more comfortable.”

Pic: Simon Wagner launches the new Equishield service at Martin-Kaye Solicitors


Thursday, 8 June 2017

Call for divorcing parents to take a new approach

Divorcing parents are being urged to put their children first to help them adapt to a new-look family structure.

Nadia Davis is the family law partner at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, Telford, and she is a qualified collaborative lawyer – a legal expert taking a different approach to divorce.

“Previous cases have shown that children do better when their parents are able to remain emotionally strong and supportive during divorce cases. And parents who co-parent in a respectful manner help their children to cope better with this stressful time in a family’s life.”

Ms Davis said the collaborative divorce process encouraged couples and their solicitors to sign an agreement so show they were committed to finding the best solutions through negotiation, rather than through court proceedings.

The agreement prevents the lawyers involved from representing their client in court if the collaborative process breaks down, so everyone is absolutely committed to making it work.

“In a divorce that’s full of conflict, children become increasingly anxious, and the stress can actually lead to depression or troubled behaviour. And taking each other to court can make the process worse, rather than reducing the conflict.

“It’s the same for parents who stay in a turbulent marriage for the sake of the children – you could be creating more stress for the children than if you had a healthy divorce. To help children deal with a dramatic life transition, it’s important that they feel supported and emotionally secure through the difficult times.”

Ms Davis said the collaborative approach gave families the chance to instigate a kinder, gentler and healthier divorce which would be less complicated for everyone involved.

“And because the collaborative process is not driven by a timetable imposed by a court, the whole situation can be built around each family’s individual timetable and priorities. Sometimes only a handful of meeting may be required to resolve the case, so it’s often a much quicker route to take.

“At such a troubling time, it’s understandable that emotions are running high, but as parents, if you can take a sensible and conciliatory tone in your negotiations, your children will benefit all the more.”

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Voting rights are not automatic

Employees don’t have an automatic right to take time out of their working day to vote in the General Election.

That’s the warning from George Heron at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, who said employees should ensure they make the most of the extended opening hours at local polling stations – from 7am to 10pm.

“With such long opening hours, it’s highly unlikely that staff will be unable to attend at some point during the day – so there really is no need for them to be disrupting their working hours.

“And even if they can’t fit in a trip to the polling station outside of work, options such as postal voting or voting by proxy mean an employee would be on shaky ground if they tried to claim their employer was depriving them of their voting rights just by asking them to do their job.”

Mr Heron said if an employee really was struggling to get to the polls, there was nothing to stop an employer coming to an agreement with their staff.

“You may decide to allow them to start their working day slightly later, or they could simply take unpaid time off while they cast their vote. As long as you are consistent, there should be no issues – but you must not allow one employee to take time off to vote and then block another.

“Employers should also be wary of imposing last-minute overtime on staff who may have planned to vote at the end of their shift.”

Mr Heron said though that where trade union elections were concerned, shop stewards and staff representatives had a right to reasonable time off for union duties and activities, but any such time off could be unpaid.

“It’s vital that employers are consistent with how they treat their staff on Election Day, but employees also have to take personal responsibility to ensure they find the time to exercise their democratic right.

“Businesses need to know they can continue to operate normally on the day, without worrying about their operation being short-staffed at crucial times.

“With a turnout of around 60% predicted, around six in ten staff from any one workplace will want to vote, so the polls are open for such a long time to make sure everyone has the opportunity to take part, no matter how busy their day is.”

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.”

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Regular rest breaks are a must

Employers must ensure staff are given the opportunity to take regular rest breaks throughout the working day – even if workers choose not to use them.

John Mehtam leads the employment law team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, and he said the onus was firmly on employers to make sure staff had chance for a break.

“Under the Working Time Regulations, an employee who works more than six hours is entitled to an uninterrupted rest break of at least 20 minutes. The break can be either paid or unpaid, but must be taken during the working day and not at the beginning or end of it by way of a later start or earlier finish – even if this would be more convenient for the company and/or the employee.”

Mr Mehtam said a tribunal hearing had ruled that employers should provide their staff with a statutory rest break, regardless of whether or not the employee requested one.

“But even though as an employer you must allow for a rest break, it’s up to the employee whether they actually use it or not. And if they choose to work through their break, staff can’t demand extra payment either.”

If the working day exceeds 12 hours, the statutory requirement is still only for one 20-minute rest break.

“There are though additional health and safety considerations that will need to be taken into account for longer shifts like this, and you’ll need to look at each employee’s circumstances when deciding what rest breaks may be appropriate.

“It’s vital that you ensure your company’s working arrangements allow employees to take the rest breaks they are entitled to, otherwise you will be contravening their statutory rights and you could face serious consequences.”

Mr Mehtam said information on working conditions was a key part of the support offered by Martin-Kaye’s Alpha team, which has wide-ranging experience in providing practical and effective advice on human resources and employment law issues.

“We can help employers negotiate the minefield of employment law and deal with situations as they arise in the workplace, helping companies to avoid the more common pitfalls.”
 

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Howzat for employment law advice!

Lawyers from a Midlands firm are set to take their highly-rated employment advice seminar to Birmingham for the very first time.

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

Taking place on Thursday March 16th, from 6pm to 8pm, the event is designed to help businesses navigate through the increasingly-complicated minefield of employment law, and to help them avoid the most common pitfalls.

Employment Law Specialist, John Mehtam, will lead the presentation, and said the decision to take the seminar to Birmingham 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.

“It’s the first time we’ve organised a seminar like this in this area, although our presentations have already proved extremely successful in Shropshire, Wales, and the West Midlands.”

Mr Mehtam will share his advice for employers about how to tackle some of the most common workplace and HR issues and, more importantly, how to avoid them 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. We set the record straight and help employers to learn from the mistakes others have made, helping them to tackle employment law issues in the right way and helping them to understand how to avoid falling into the most common traps.”

He 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.”

The seminar will cover a variety of tricky areas including sickness absence, dismissals and poor employee performance.

To book a place contact June Noto on 01952 272222 or email junenoto@martinkaye.co.uk

Tuesday, 31 January 2017

Sexist dress codes need to go

Employers who enforce sexist dress codes could face tougher punishment according to a local solicitor.

John Mehtam, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors in Telford, said the Government was reviewing a report put together by the Women and Equalities Commission and the Petitions Commission.

“It all started with a parliamentary petition set up by receptionist Nicola Thorp which aimed to make it illegal for companies to force employees to wear high heels to work.

“She had been sent home from a job placement after being told it was her agency’s ‘grooming policy’ for women to wear two-to-four inch heels, and her petition received more than 150,000 signatures.”

Mr Mehtam said the Government was now considering the report and if it followed the recommendations set out in the document, employers could face stricter punishment and larger fines.

“The report is calling for more effective remedies such as financial penalties for employers who breach the law, and it could mean tribunals make a much tougher stance.”

The report includes medical evidence from the College of Podiatry suggesting that women who have to wear high heels for long periods of time could suffer long-term health difficulties.

“A web forum was also set up to gather evidence from women who had been forced to adhere to certain dress codes, and many said they had to wear high heels as part of a workplace policy in the retail, hospitality, airline or corporate industries,” said Mr Mehtam.

“But with the cost of employment tribunals rising, many women can’t afford to challenge these sexist policies, and so the practice has continued for much longer than it should have. Now that this report has been completed, it’s clear that employers need to act responsibly and take the findings into consideration.

“The best approach would be to stay one step ahead of the process and update your corporate dress code policies as soon as possible to reflect your commitment to protecting the health and safety of your employees.

“It seems very strange that in 2017 bosses still expect female employees to wear painful, inappropriate shoes and uniforms, and this report and the public response to the petition are a clear indication that it’s time for change.”