Monday, 27 August 2007

Bosses must check warnings

Company bosses across Shropshire are being warned to double-check written warnings given to staff before they fire anyone.

John Mehtam, Employment Law Specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said relying on warnings which may be out-of-date could lead to real problems.

“You may have reached the stage where you know your employee isn’t right for the job – you’ve given them numerous written warnings and believe it’s time to let them go.

“But even though you believe they’ve reached the point of no return, you still have to follow the correct procedures before you can dismiss them without fearing a tribunal claim. Even if the employee has a history of similar behaviour, you cannot just sack them immediately.”

John said companies should check the employee’s contract, and as a minimum take the following steps:

*Tell the employee in advance that you are planning a hearing about the issues, and invite them to a meeting
*Inform them of your decision
*Give them the right to appeal

“But after the meeting, even if it’s clear that the employee cannot continue in their position, and if they’ve been given a final written warning for doing the same thing before, don’t just assume you can take drastic action.”

John said employers should check the worker’s file, as generally warnings were valid for a maximum of 12 months.

“If it has expired, even by just a few days, you cannot rely on it, as the dismissal will be seen to be unfair.
“Don’t assume either that you can just make all warnings last forever as the advice is that they should only last for 12 months – although you can reserve the right to extend final written warnings for serious cases.

“To make sure you don’t get caught out, date each warning and ensure the duration is clearly recorded – then you should regularly check your employees’ files and throw out any that have expired.

“As well as helping you to avoid mistakes, this will also ensure you do not breach the Data Protection Act.”

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Moves to improve rental standards

A Shropshire solicitor has welcomed plans calling for tougher regulation of the rented property sector.
Nita Patel, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, Telford, said the Law Commission was investigating after they found a large amount of privately rented property was in a poor condition and was poorly managed.

“They have published a consultation document which looks at ways in which the private rented sector could be regulated more effectively, in the hope that landlords will take more responsibility for setting higher standards.

“The sector currently has a poor image, with people believing standards in such properties are low, and so it’s vital that things are improved if rented property is to fill the gaps in the increasingly difficult housing market.”

Nita said in many areas, local authorities were working with private landlords to offer a range of services, and codes of good practice had been set up.
“But the difficulty comes because the majority of private landlords do not belong to such schemes, and so enforcement is almost impossible.”

Nita said the consultation document suggests a partnership approach is the only way forward – this way the industry can take responsibility for ensuring the key standards, which are already set out in legislation, are met.

“The hope is that all private landlords will either join a local authority accreditation scheme; become a member of one of the associations of private landlords; or let their premises through an accredited letting agent.

“Changes such as this will help to ensure tenants are protected and that they are offered properties which are habitable and well-managed.”

Under the new proposals, which are out for consultation until October, the Government would also give a central organisation powers to approve industry schemes and to ensure they worked effectively.
The plans would too, as a last resort, be able to prevent a landlord or agent not signed up to one of the approved schemes from letting residential property.

Monday, 20 August 2007

Lawyers advice to directors

Company directors whose role involves giving professional advice should not assume their company will carry the can if they make a mistake

Stuart Haynes, of Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Euston Way, Telford, said: “Many directors believe they are protected from legal action directed at them as individuals, and indeed, this can be one of the main benefits of forming a company rather than acting independently.

“This is all well and good, and for the majority of incidents, it is usually the company, and not the individual who would face the consequences.”

But Stuart said there were circumstances where a director could find they were facing direct personal action.

“You could find yourself personally at risk if you’ve effectively created a one-to-one relationship with your client, and led them to believe that you’ve taken personal responsibility for their case.

“To avoid this happening, make it clear to all clients that you are acting on behalf of the company. You should sign your letters ‘for and on behalf of the company’, and avoid giving the impression that you’re acting in person on the project.”

Stuart said an added precaution was to take out Directors and Officers insurance, to cover individuals for any direct claims made against them.

“If you work for the company, it’s likely you’ll be an employee as well as a director, so make sure there’s a professional indemnity policy in place which covers you, and that it includes ‘run off’ cover.

“Then even if a claim is made after the policy has ended, there’s a period of additional time, usually up to several years, that the policy will still cover you for.”

Stuart said directors advising other businesses rather than private individuals could also limit their risk by having a written contract drawn up that contained an exclusion clause.

“As long as the clause is within reason, it could be an excellent way to protect yourself against the risks you may face.”

Helping staff to keep their cool

Shropshire employers must ensure they protect their staff from overheating in the workplace, a local solicitor has warned.

John Mehtam is the Employment Law Specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, and he said companies must help their workforce to keep their cool.

“Obviously this summer’s unpredictable weather has been difficult, but if things do warm up, it’s important to ensure your staff are well looked after.”

John said currently there was no maximum working temperature listed in the UK for office or industrial workers.

“The Health and Safety Executive and TUC recommend a maximum working temperature of not more than 30 degrees Celsius – but the World Health Organisation recommends a maximum of 24 degrees.

“This conflict makes setting a level difficult, but it’s important to apply common sense and ensure that temperatures are ‘reasonable’ or you may find you are failing to comply with the Health and Safety at Work Act.”

John suggested employers should carry out a risk assessment in the workplace and measure the temperatures their staff were working in.

“Supply plenty of water, and if the summer weather does eventually kick in, allow staff to take longer or more frequent breaks, particularly in manufacturing industries.
“Be flexible with start and finish times, to allow staff to work at cooler times of the day, and provide refreshments. Make sure you supply workplace thermometers, as this is a legal requirement, and bring in electric fans and air conditioning equipment if required.

“Allow staff to rotate their duties too, so that they are not constantly carrying out tasks in the hottest part of the building, or which are the most physically demanding on a hot day.

“By tackling these issues sensibly, you can help create a more acceptable working environment and so avoid staff taking time off work through illness caused by excessive temperatures.

“You must provide a safe workplace for your staff, and this includes ensuring they are comfortable at all times.”

Monday, 13 August 2007

Warning over web addresses

Shropshire companies planning a new website must protect themselves and their web address or they could face serious business problems.

Stuart Haynes, of the Commercial Team at Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said many firms with existing websites may well find they don’t actually own their own domain name.

“Having a good web presence is a key element in business, but putting together a website is not as easy as it sounds, so most people employ specialists to design it and sort out the domain name.

“But this can be a dangerous move, and if you’re planning to commission a new site, it’s vital you protect yourself from the very start of the process.”

Stuart said the most important point was to make sure your company “owns” the domain name. “This doesn’t mean you have to register it yourself, your web developer or web host can still do this for you, but you just have to know how the process works."

There are three contacts named when a domain is registered: the Registrant (legal owner of the site and the registered address); the Administrative Contact (person who administers the site); and the Technical Contact (person who deals with any technical problems with the domain).

“To ensure you remain in control, you need to be named as the Registrant and the Administrative Contact – only the position of Technical Contact should be left to the web host or developer, otherwise they will still be able to change the record,” said Stuart.

And he said leaving ownership to the web company could prove disastrous for your business.

“If you have a disagreement with your web company, they could take your site down, causing untold damage to your business not only through lost trade while the site is down, but also because it would have to be re-built with a different name.

“The same issue could arise if you change the agency you are using, because you could well find the name remains the property of the previous design firm.”

Stuart said for companies who were unsure whether they owned their own domain name, it was important to seek professional advice and take action as soon as possible.

“If you don’t own or administer the website, you can ask the web designer to transfer ownership to you, but if they refuse, there are steps you can take to get the records changed.

“The best approach is to specify in the initial contract that you will be the Registrant and Administrative Contact for the new domain name, as that way you’ll be in control from the very outset.”