Wednesday, 17 December 2008

An unhappy Christmas?

Shropshire couples who find the festive season taking a toll on their relationship should not make any hasty decisions. Nadia Davis, who leads our Family Team, said legal practices regularly saw an increase in divorce cases following the stresses and strains of the Christmas break.

“Although for many people, one of the best parts of Christmas is spending time with family, for others, it’s a time of year which can be incredibly difficult. We’re all expected to spend time with relatives we may not see from one Christmas to the next, and it can be an extremely intense experience which leads to some relationships cracking under the pressure.”

But Nadia said it was important for families to think extremely carefully before taking drastic action which could bring serious consequences.

“If things get heated, take time out and diffuse the situation – walk away from arguments which threaten to escalate, and really consider whether things have broken down irretrievably.”

If a couple feels there is no alternative but to begin divorce proceedings, Nadia said keeping communication channels open with discussions and negotiations could make a huge difference.

“This kind of collaborative approach is particularly good when children are involved, and matters are resolved through a series of meetings. The couple commit to not going to court except to rubber stamp the deal when an agreement has been reached. At such a difficult time, it may seem like you’ll never be able to resolve your differences, but the collaborative approach has a high success rate, and could be well worth your patience in the longer-term.”

Ski safely on your festive break

Holidaymakers heading for the snow over the festive season should make sure they follow safety rules carefully.

Alison Carter, who leads our Personal Injury Team, said it was vital skiers took proper responsibility for their own safety. “The festive season is an extremely popular time for people to choose to escape to the slopes, but it’s important to remember that safety must always be paramount.”

Alison’s warning came after a court case which decided a French ski instructor should pay damages to a British client who was severely paralysed after crashing into a tree in the French Alps.

“The issue was whether the instructor should have permitted or encouraged the client to ski in the off piste area where the accident happened. But the judge also stressed that the skier was partly to blame, as he could not abdicate all responsibility – after all, the instructor may have suggested the area, but the skier chose to take part.

“And in his decision, the judge ruled that although the ski instructor was two thirds responsible for the accident, the client must also be held one third responsible, which will of course affect the damages he will receive. So don’t be afraid to voice your concerns, and don’t feel that you’ll be the odd one out – your safety is more important than following the crowd.”

Support for carers in the workplace

Shropshire people struggling to combine work with caring for disabled or elderly relatives can now expect more support from their employers. Around 2.5 million people in Britain are currently trying to maintain jobs and care for sick or disabled family members at the same time.

And John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said employers would now need to consider their situations more sympathetically.

“Following a recent tribunal ruling, employers will have to think more carefully about the way they respond to requests for flexible working from carers. The judgement said carers had the right to claim against their employer if they were discriminated against and refused flexible working.

“The tribunal decided that such a situation amounted to discrimination by association. And this paves the way for hundreds of claims by carers who say they have been discriminated against not because of their own disability, but because of their role in caring for another person.

“Anti-discrimination law is not restricted to disabled people only, and anyone caring for sick or disabled family members will now be entitled to the same treatment as any other staff. This is excellent news for a silent majority of people who have struggled for recognition for a very long time, and the decision will make a world of difference to many people and their families.”

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Homeowners must beware

Shropshire homeowners must not ignore the effect the credit crunch is having on their mortgages - that's the message from Paul Matthews, of PMK Mortgages, in Shrewsbury, who warns that such a difficult economic period could have major consequences.

“Thanks to the challenges these tough financial times have created, most of us are now worse off financially than we were 12 months ago. With so many businesses suffering, whether you’re a company director, a sole trader or an employee, your income could well have been affected. Such a difficult situation is the perfect time to review your mortgage to make sure you’re making the most of the products available, and to possibly reorganise your finances to reduce your monthly outgoings.”

But Paul said it was vital to seek professional help from independent advisors to ensure you had access to the entire mortgage market, rather than just products tied-in to individual lenders.

“The market is changing almost on a daily basis, and the best rate today will not necessarily be the best rate by next week. Mortgage advisors are required to keep up-to-date with all the changes, saving you valuable research time, and they will also find the deal that best suits your particular needs. They will also look at the bigger picture of your finances, helping you to undertake a full budget planning process, to identify areas where savings could be made.

“So don’t ignore these increasingly tough times – uncertainty is inevitable given the current financial climate, but reviewing your circumstances will let you know exactly where you stand, and could save you money.”

PMK Mortgages ( offers independent mortgage advice for a wide range of clients across the county and beyond.

Think carefully before securing other debts against your home. Your home may be repossessed if you do not keep up repayments on a mortgage or any other debt secured on it. PMK Mortgage Solutions LLP is an appointed representative of Mortgage Broking Services Limited, which is authorised and regulated by the Financial Services Authority FSA No: 306012. We also provide advice on non-regulated products which are not authorised by Mortgage Broking Services Limited.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Tina plays a double role

We have welcomed a new employment solicitor who brings a whole host of skills to our team. Tina Chander has joined our Employment Law department at our offices in Euston Way, Telford – but she’s also a qualified barrister.

“I am still qualified as a barrister, but I decided to study further and become dual-qualified as a solicitor as well.This was because I developed a keen interest in employment law, and I wanted to be able to use the skills I had to help employers with practical solutions and employee disputes.

“Joining Martin-Kaye is a great opportunity to use all my knowledge and experience for the benefit of companies in the Shropshire area and beyond, and I’m looking forward to working with such a progressive team,” said Tina, who has spent most of her life in Telford.

And it’s not only in practising law that Tina has an in-depth knowledge thanks to her Masters degree in Advanced Legal Practice – she also has degrees in law with psychology, and clinical criminology.

John Mehtam, who leads the Martin-Kaye Employment Law team, said: “
Tina is an invaluable addition to our practice thanks to the training she has received and the skills she has developed. We believe her knowledge will help us to build on the relationships we already have with our clients, and help to attract new companies who are looking for professional help when it comes to difficult employment issues.”

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Quiz honours memories of Rob

We've raised almost £600 with a charity quiz in memory of one of our partners who died suddenly earlier this year.

Held at our premises in Euston Way, the quiz was held in memory of Rob Hughes, and attracted 21 teams made up of family, friends and representatives from other local businesses.

Graham Davies said: "We wanted to do something to honour Rob's memory, and we decided a fun quiz with a Welsh theme to reflect his roots would be a great event. We're extremely grateful to all the companies who took part, and the evening was fun and entertaining, and raised vital cash for an excellent cause."

The money raised will now be donated to the Cardiac Unit at the Princess Royal Hospital, in Telford, where Rob was treated.

Pic: Putting their knowledge to the test are, from left, John Mehtam, Alison Carter and Graham Davies

Friday, 21 November 2008

Stephanie joins the team

We were so impressed with a trainee solicitor during a work placement that we've offered her a full time job. Stephanie Powers, of Wombourne, initially joined Martin-Kaye Solicitors as a paralegal in the domestic property department.

And then, after completing her law degree at Wolverhampton University, we offered her a training contract which has led to her new position.

“During my training with Martin-Kaye, I have worked in the domestic property, commercial property and personal injury departments, and my new role is as part of the Corporate Team. I’m really enjoying the job, which mainly involves corporate contract work, and drafting terms and conditions. There’s a great team here, and I’m looking forward to developing my skills further with the help of the experienced colleagues around me,” said Stephanie, who is now an Assistant Solicitor.

Stuart Haynes, who leads the Commercial Team, said: “We were incredibly impressed with Stephanie’s commitment and enthusiasm when she initially came to our firm. And her willingness to learn, coupled with her obvious ability to handle the challenging area of corporate work made her an excellent candidate for us.”

Pic: Stephanie Powers who has been appointed as an Assistant Solicitor in our Corporate Team

Friday, 31 October 2008

Protect your profits warning

Act quickly to protect your company profits if one of your customers runs into financial trouble - that's the warning from Stuart Haynes of our Commercial Team.

Growing numbers of firms are slipping into liquidation or administration as the credit crunch continues to bite, and Stuart said it was important to check out the nature of the customer’s financial troubles to maximise your chances of recovering the debt.

“If you are owed money, there is an important difference between a customer in liquidation, and one which has gone into administration. If the company’s contract contains something called a Retention Of Title clause, and it is in liquidation, then you might still be able to get your goods back.

“The first thing to do is check your paperwork to see if the ROT clause is there. If it is, contact the liquidator straight away. They often try to put creditors off by questioning the validity of your claim, but don’t give up.

“Once a company is in administration, its creditors can’t attack it. So this is potentially bad news because not only is your debt frozen, but you also can’t play the ROT card either. If you get a request to carry on trading with a company which is in administration, check how you are going to be paid.”

Stuart said: “In the current climate, it’s no surprise that company liquidations and administrations are on the increase. But it is important to realise that you do have rights if you are owed money by a business that gets into trouble. Keep detailed records of transactions, itemised lists of services, and all relevant invoices – you must be able to prove that the company received your contract before any kind of liquidation or administration deal was done.”

Tackle the bully in your workplace

Shropshire companies should take a hard line against bullying directors and senior managers – even though it has become tougher for workers to bring them to justice.

John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said the Court of Appeal had made it more difficult for staff to win a bullying claim with their latest ruling. “But employees still have plenty of options when it comes to bullying claims, so companies can’t sit back and do nothing in the hope that the issue will go away.

“It’s essential that you investigate all complaints thoroughly and interview everyone concerned, otherwise it is the company that will be on the receiving end of a claim, and not the person who is being held responsible.”

John said a test case two years ago found that an employee could claim bullying under the Protection from Harassment Act if they could prove incidents had happened on at least two occasions. But the Court of Appeal has since ruled that these incidents had to be “oppressive and unacceptable, amounting to criminal conduct”, rather than simply ill-tempered or inappropriate.

“Although this indicates that the courts are now taking a more robust approach in determining what is harassment in the workplace, there’s no room for complacency if allegations of bullying are made by staff,” said John.

“Have an anti-bullying policy in place and make sure all staff are aware of it. If allegations of bullying are proved to be true, take disciplinary action against those involved – whether they are directors or shop-floor staff.

“If a director is involved, make sure that your investigation is not viewed as a cover up just to protect a fellow member of the board. You must also ensure that the person who is investigating the case is at a sufficiently senior level in the company for their actions to be taken seriously.”

Check your paperwork

Company bosses considering selling their business must get their paperwork in order to ensure the sale goes smoothly.

Stuart Haynes, from our Commercial Team, said ongoing disciplinary procedures, and vague contract information, often slowed down the deal. “Sickness levels are also seen as a guide to the health and efficiency of the business – so review the level in your company and work on reducing it to make the company seem more attractive.”

“When business people look to sell up or retire, they usually want to leave the business in good shape, and make prospective buyers feel they are being given an accurate picture of the company’s staff.

“Any proposed sale of a business needs to comply with the Transfer of Undertakings Regulations. In everyday language, this refers to the need to provide specific information about employees. Start by getting your paperwork ready and ensuring all employment contracts are current – make sure all the related documents are in order too.

“You should also check to see if anyone has slipped through the net and isn’t on a proper contract for some reason. This may sound unlikely, but it is exactly this sort of issue that could delay the sale of the business.”

Stuart said it was vital to catalogue any grievances or tribunal claims, and ensure that any disciplinary hearings had been concluded.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

In honour of Rob Hughes

Tributes have been paid to one of our most well-known solicitors, Rob Hughes, who died suddenly at the age of 57.

He became a Partner at Martin-Kaye in 1987 where he developed a distinguished career, specialising in commercial property. His particular expertise was in dealing with the legal aspects of speculative property development. He was a key legal adviser on many projects across the UK, and had an enviable reputation in such a complex area of law.

Rob moved to Shropshire in 1979, and became a stalwart member of his local community in Little Wenlock. But his roots were firmly in South Wales where he was born. This was clear particularly in his enthusiasm for rugby. He organised many trips to rugby matches educating his colleagues in the culture and intricacies of the game!

Our Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said: "Rob was not just a business partner but a friend, and he made a great impression on my life. We enjoyed working together and our firm will not be the same without him. I understand some of the sporting traditions started by Rob will be continued by his two sons, which will ensure memories of such a great man will go on for many years to come."

Rob is survived by his wife Moira, and two sons Gareth and Owen.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Call Telford firm for back-up

Staff across England and Wales who fear they may be at risk from unfair decisions in the workplace now have a dedicated support team.

We have launched a new hotline specifically for worried workers who feel they have nowhere else to turn.
The Employment SOS line (0845 293 2729) and website have now been unveiled and will be run by John Rimmer and Lisa Bachelor.

"The hotline has been set up to offer advice and assistance with all types of problems an employee may encounter with their boss, and we can help workers from all over England and Wales," said John.

"We want to hear from people who fear they may have been unfairly dismissed or forced to resign, or who feel they have been a victim of sex, race, disability, religious or sexual orientation discrimination. Or maybe you’ve been a victim of harassment, or you’re about to be made redundant and don’t know what to do?

"Perhaps you need representation at an employment tribunal or you’re looking for advice on maternity or paternity rights – our hotline can help you decide if you have a case worth pursuing."

John said it was important though for staff to move quickly in order to make sure they did not lose their right to claim. "There are time limits, and if you are in any doubt, it’s best to speak to a solicitor as soon as possible after the incident or the dismissal. As a general rule, proceedings must be started within three months of the earliest instance that has triggered the claim."

Equity release may be the answer

We've launched a new service designed to help older people ease financial pressures by releasing equity in their homes.

Equishield has been created to guide people through the often complicated process, and it's important to take professional financial advice before taking the plunge.

Simon Wagner, from our Property Team, said: "Equity release has had some bad press in the past, and it is certainly not the answer for everyone. But innovative products are now coming to the marketplace which are helping to restore confidence."

Equity release is the process of unlocking equity in a home – either through a lifetime mortgage, where you receive a lump sum or regular income while interest grows; or through a home reversion scheme, where a company buys all or part of your home, and you receive the proceeds as a lump sum or regular income, or a combination of both.

"Our Equishield service has the added benefit that it not only helps people understand the legal process, risks and rewards of equity release, but that we can visit the client in their own home if they’d prefer," said Simon.

"More and more people are heading towards retirement living in a house they already own outright, yet finding they don’t have enough cash to live on, or to live the kind of lifestyle they would like. For an increasing number of them, equity release may have to be considered as an option to supplement their income or, given the current credit crunch, to consolidate debts – but this option should only be used as a last resort."

To find out more about the Equishield service, visit

Friday, 12 September 2008

UK first for Telford law firm

We're launching a unique telephone helpline that offers a listening ear for troubled company bosses.

The Helpline is specifically for people in business, in a bid to help them make the right decisions in the current turbulent economic climate. And the service is believed to be the first of its kind in the UK, thanks to its innovative structure and approach.

John Mehtam, our Employment Law specialist, will take the calls from worried companies, and offer free advice over the telephone and by email. “It’s impossible to ignore the headlines – every news bulletin is dominated by the doom and gloom of our turbulent economic climate. For any business, large or small, these are difficult times, and the future may seem daunting.

“But we wanted to develop a new service that could help companies steer their way through today’s increasingly difficult trading conditions.”

John said the aim of the Helpline – 0845 644 6383 – was to offer advice to businesses to help ensure they did not take decisions in the current climate that could cost them dearly. An information pack on dealing with redundancies will also be available.

"It’s absolutely crucial that bosses don’t risk their company’s future by making decisions alone without the appropriate advice, and we
can help businesses find their way through the minefield of legislation and avoid the pitfalls along the way.”

Employers who would like to find out more about the new service or receive the redundancy information pack should email

Pic: John Mehtam (left) and Graham Davies launch the new Helpline service

Don't despair with annual meetings

Companies dreading the prospect of yet another annual general meeting may have the chance to ditch them altogether.

Graham Davies, our Senior Partner, said thanks to the Companies Act 2006, the meetings could be a thing of the past for some firms.

“The previous opt-out system, where a company needed to pass a resolution to do away with the need for an AGM, has been replaced by an opt-in system. Now, a private limited company only needs to hold an AGM if it wants to, or if it has to – either because its articles say so, or because ten per cent of its shareholders demand one.”

But Graham warned that bosses should always check their company’s articles to make sure they were not acting illegally.

“The problem is what happens to all the business issues that would usually have been dealt with at the meeting, such as approval of accounts, and the retirement of directors by rotation.”

Graham said since October 2007, companies were no longer required to put their accounts before the members at an AGM. “There is still an obligation though to send them to all your company’s shareholders.”

He said companies could of course retain their AGM as it was a good opportunity to bring everyone together. “If you do plan to continue holding annual meetings, you must be aware that the rules have now changed.”

Everyone must be given 14 days’ notice of the meeting (previously it was 21 days), and any resolutions proposed will be ordinary or special (extraordinary and elective resolutions no longer exist).

“For some companies, the AGM will continue to be a useful chance to review the business and its performance – for others, if the circumstances are right, it may well now be a thing of the past.”

Comforting words on offer

Company bosses who are asked to give a guarantee that a supplier is above board could consider offering a few words of “comfort” instead.

Stuart Haynes, who leads our Commercial Team, said some companies may feel uncomfortable giving guarantees about a supplier to a third party.

“An alternative approach would be to offer a comfort letter, which does just as its name suggests. It provides comfort to a third party, usually a bank or another supplier, about the company’s financial standing and its ability to honour any proposed contracts.

“But the bonus is, that unlike a guarantee, if things go wrong later on, it should mean there is no comeback against your company or any of your directors. The whole point of this kind of letter though is that you don’t cause difficulties for yourself or your company by mistakenly creating a contract.”

He said that to be legally binding, a contract needed four elements: offer and acceptance, consideration (usually money in return for goods/services), and an intention to enter legal relations.

“But if one of these elements is missing, the letter only creates a moral obligation, rather than a formal contract.”

Stuart said it was important to make it clear that the information was not intended to be of legal effect, and to avoid giving any binding undertakings or making any promises.

Friendly advice at a cost

Friendly advice could cost you dearly if another company follows your suggestions.

Stuart Haynes, who leads our Commercial Team, said company bosses were often approached for advice by business colleagues.

“But such an informal arrangement could have serious consequences and you could even find that you are now considered to be a ‘shadow’ director. This situation occurs where someone who’s in the background and is not listed as a formal director, but has real influence over the actions the company takes.”

Stuart said the role was set out in the Companies Act 2006, and was described as someone whose directions and instructions the directors of a company were accustomed to following.

“The actual decision on whether you are a shadow director or not depends on how much the board takes and follows your advice when it comes to making key decisions. Your influence has to be over the entire board, or at least the majority of directors, and there has to be a history of influence, rather than just occasional advice.”

Stuart said problems would arise if the company you’re advising found itself in trouble either financially or otherwise.

“You could be treated as an official director, who must comply with the new duties that a typical board must follow – all of this sounds like a lot of responsibility when you were only offering to help out by sharing your knowledge.”

He said there were also many examples of shadow directors becoming personally liable for paying creditors when the company had gone bust.

“The best approach if you want to avoid being classified as a shadow director is to make sure that you only give advice to a minority of the board. Make it clear in writing that you’re not giving them a direction or instruction, but just a suggestion that they should consider for themselves."

Firms must face the music

Companies who allow staff to listen to music in the workplace should make sure they are not breaking the rules.

Our Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said the Performing Rights Society had stepped up its campaign to demand more fees from businesses who played music at work.

“They have issued a series of letters telling companies they are breaking the law if they don’t have permission to play music on site, and encouraging them to pay for a licence. But if no music is being played, or won’t be from now on, send them a letter which should close the matter for the next year.

“Don’t send a cheque if you don’t need a licence, and make sure the relevant staff in your company know they should not just automatically respond by paying the fee if it’s not necessary.”

“Homeworkers are exempt from the rules, so remote or teleworkers do not need a licence provided for them even if they use a room specifically for work. But this exemption only applies if they are on their own, and don’t see any colleagues or customers on the premises.”

“Even if your staff bring in their own radio, if it’s on your premises, it’s the premises that will need the licence and not the individual member of staff. You could of course allow staff to listen to music on their own portable equipment, via headphones, and this would be exempt from the law as it would be considered that the music is not being ‘performed’ publicly.

“But of course, for operational or health and safety reasons, this may not be appropriate, so take care with the solutions you choose.”

Monday, 18 August 2008

Our team beats the clock

Our Commercial Team has been praised for its role in a major deal that was completed in just two weeks.

We handled all the legal aspects of the reorganisation and demerger of land and property sales company, Davis Meade, and the sale of its estate agency arm.

Stuart Haynes, who leads our Commercial Team, said we worked with Davis Meade, corporate advisers The Business Company of Shrewsbury, banks and the purchaser’s solicitors to meet the tight deadline.

“It was vital that everyone worked closely together on this complex transaction to ensure that the deal was completed within the required timescale. With so many different parties involved, partnership was the key to its success.”

And the work carried out by our team has been hailed as an integral part of the process.

Mark Harris, from The Business Company, said: “Martin-Kaye delivered a service which was second-to-none, and certainly equal to any service delivered by any of the city-based firms, in fact it was in many ways better.”

Philip Meade, of Davis Meade Limited, said: “Martin-Kaye showed outstanding organisational qualities and great commitment to us achieving our objectives. There is no doubt that in the final days, their support was key in making the transaction happen.”

Promotion for Chris

Chris Detheridge has been named as a new associate as part of our firm's ongoing programme of development.

He leads the Commercial Litigation Team at our offices in Euston Way, and is extremely proud of his new role.

“I’m very honoured to have been given this opportunity to play a more in-depth part in the structure and forward-planning of the practice. Leading the Commercial LitigationTeam is a great challenge, but one I’m thoroughly enjoying, and now to be given the chance to become an Associate is really a huge achievement of which I’m very proud.”

Chris qualified as a solicitor in 1999, training locally in Shropshire, before spending several years working for a large practice in the East of England on commercial litigation work. He joined Martin-Kaye in 2004, and is a member of the dispute resolution team and also a member of the Professional Negligence Lawyers Association.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Banking on business success

Businesses from all over Shropshire are benefiting from specialist advice, thanks to a local bank.

The Commercial Banking team at The Royal Bank of Scotland, in Shrewsbury, is supporting a series of seminars which aim to help companies tackle Human Resources and employment law issues.

We've been running the HR and Employment Law in Practice (HELP) forums which have proved extremely successful, and they are now in their second year.

Brian Seadon, Senior Manager, Commercial Banking, at RBS, said: “In today’s difficult economic climate, we are keen to help our customers ensure their companies remain successful.

“We are very pleased to support the HELP forums, which give companies the opportunity to receive effective professional advice that really can make a difference to their business.

“By following the advice the Martin-Kaye team offers, businesses can ensure they operate in line with the latest regulations, avoiding possible pitfalls, and so increase their chances of remaining profitable.

“We now have over 40 companies who regularly attend the advice sessions, and their continued success is evidence that we are providing a service that meets a real need in the local business community.”

Pic: At the latest HELP forum are, from left, John Mehtam (Employment Law Specialist at Martin-Kaye), Adele Robinshaw (RBS), Brian Seadon (RBS) and Graham Davies (Martin-Kaye Senior Partner)

Partnerships at Martin-Kaye

We've awarded partnerships to two of our solicitors - John Mehtam, our Employment Law specialist, and Sarah Heath, who leads our Commercial Property team.

Managing Partner, Andrew Green, said: “Both John and Sarah have been instrumental in developing their departments and in forming key plans for a successful future.

“We are very pleased to offer them the opportunity to become partners in the firm, and we’re sure their commitment and dynamic approach will be invaluable in helping Martin-Kaye Solicitors to continue to grow.”

John was previously a senior employment lawyer with a national law practice in Birmingham, and has over 15 years’ experience in the field advising local and national clients, ranging from small businesses to national plcs.

Sarah joined the company from a leading practice in the West Midlands. She is experienced in dealing with high value property deals, particularly for regional and national property developers, and portfolio management.

During her time with Martin-Kaye, Sarah has acted on behalf of developers and investors in several multi-million pound transactions, including a £20 million transaction for a large developer client.

Pic: John Mehtam and Sarah Heath who have been named as the new partners at Martin-Kaye Solicitors

Monday, 30 June 2008

New role for Mohammed

We have a new face in our commercial team - Mohammed Ahsan who has spent the last three years working in our Personal Injury Department.

Now, he’s been promoted to a new role to handle a wide variety of dispute resolution issues.

Mohammed completed his law degree at Wolverhampton University, and joined Martin-Kaye Solicitors in 2002, initially as a legal assistant. He was instrumental in helping to set up the firm’s Housing Disrepair team, and once his training was completed, he qualified as a solicitor in 2005.

In his new role, Mohammed will deal with all kinds of disputes including: computer and IT issues; construction and building disputes; contracts; copyright and design; and debt collection, distribution and agency disputes.

“I’ll also be working on insolvency cases, franchise agreements, and emergency injunctions, so there are many areas where I’ll be able to use and develop my existing skills.”

Pic: Martin-Kaye’s Mohammed Ahsan who takes up a new role in the Commercial Team

Protect your secrets carefully

Can company bosses prevent a member of staff from taking “confidential” information with them when they resign? Not necessarily, says John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist.

“Information which you may regard as being classified, is often in the public domain, and if that turns out to be the case, there may be nothing you can do to stop former members of staff taking the information with them.

“As a general rule, in order for something to be confidential and owned exclusively by the company, it either has to be a trade secret, or something that you’ve been given in confidence which isn’t public knowledge.

“But even this isn’t a cast-iron guarantee, since the courts have recognised that all employees accumulate a certain amount of knowledge about the company which they’re entitled to take with them and use in their next job.”

John said there were a number of steps which companies could take to protect themselves.

“If you want something to remain confidential, make sure it’s clearly marked as such, and that its importance is flagged up with any employee who has access to it. Also, make sure that the contracts of senior employees and directors include restrictive covenants spelling out the position regarding the use of sensitive data.”

Take care with charity events

Shropshire companies planning out-of-office fundraising events are being urged to make sure they don’t fall foul of the law.

“Even though it’s a non-business activity carried out in non-business time, both employment and health and safety legislation will apply,” said Graham Davies, our Senior Partner.

“This means that the company is under an obligation to take reasonable care of any employees who are going to participate, including directors. And if one of your employees causes an accident which results in someone else getting hurt, then the company will be held liable.”

Graham urged Shropshire companies to weigh up the risks of any planned activities, such as sponsored walks, bike rides or other activity-based fundraisers, against the potential benefits.

Companies should also ensure that their insurance policies covered non-work activities, or take out additional cover for specific events.

“Something else the company must do in order to avoid potential problems is to check out any equipment staff may plan to use, to ensure it complies with the Health and Safety at Work Act.

“Although this might seem like overkill, both the company and its directors can’t be too careful when it comes to the health and safety of its employees. Directors can be sued personally if their negligence has caused an injury.”

Chris takes first award

We've launched our very own award to recognise staff commitment and dedication.

The Employee of the Quarter Award has been introduced as a “thank you” to employees who go the extra mile. And the first winner is Chris Mills, our Assistant Systems Manager who joined the company in 2005.

Managing Partner, Andrew Green, said: “We felt it was important to recognise staff who really stand out, and Chris is a prime example of the very best kind of employee that we have here at Martin-Kaye."

To mark his award, Chris received £100 worth of Debenhams vouchers, an extra day’s holiday, and an engraved paperweight.

Pic: Managing Partner Andrew Green (left) presents the Employee of the Quarter Award to Chris Mills

Have you been left out?

Arguments over the will after the death of a loved one are on the increase, and we are tackling the issue by launching a new website designed to help people who feel they have missed out.

We've launched and have already been inundated with enquiries from all over the UK.

Chris Detheridge, from our Commercial Team, said: “The number of disputes over wills is partly due to the framework of today’s modern family – there are more second marriages, more step children and more same sex relationships than ever before. And the complicated structure of our lives can often lead to people feeling they have not received everything they were entitled to, once a loved one dies.”

Chris said after an increased level of enquiries about the possibility of contesting wills, the team decided to research the market further.

“And our research showed there was a real growth in this area of business, so we acquired the domain name – – and created the service and website.”

There are strict time limits for claims to be dealt with, so anyone who feels they have not received their fair share of an estate must seek professional advice at the very earliest opportunity.

Pic: Mohammed Ahsan and Chris Detheridge, from the Dispute Resolution Team, launch the contest-a-will website

Parking ticket paper chase

Parking fines issued by private landowners in Shropshire may not be worth the paper they are written on, a county solicitor has warned.

Graham Davies, our Senior Partner, said strict new regulations made it almost impossible to force drivers to pay.

“It is a myth to claim that if you park on private land, there’s nothing the owner can do about it. It is in fact perfectly legal to charge someone for parking on private premises. But if a driver rips up the ticket and refuses to pay, it’s not always easy for the landowner to do anything about it.”

“Private landowners can issue tickets, provided drivers are made sufficiently clear of the risks of not paying. But the good news for the drivers of the vehicles is that, unless landowners are members of an accredited trade association, the DVLA won’t release your personal details, so it should be safe to ignore.”

Graham said: “Even if signage on the land appears to prove your guilt, the landowner will have big problems taking things any further if they can’t gain access to your personal details."

And he said it was difficult for a private landowner to meet the standards required, since they had to maintain sufficient liability insurance, and follow strict ticketing guidelines.

“If you receive a ticket, contact the DVLA to see if they have the authority to reveal your details. If they haven’t, ignore the ticket . . . there’s nothing more that can be done.”

Don't sign your life away

Debt collection agencies have fresh powers to take action against directors for their company’s unpaid bills. That's the warning from Chris Detheridge, from our Commercial Team, who said it was no longer safe to assume that a director was immune from being personally liable.

He highlighted a Court of Appeal case last year which found that directors can be held personally responsible for a debt, if it can be proved they entered into a contract knowing the company could not pay its way.

“This case makes it clear that it’s very dangerous for you to sign something, whether it's a lease or a contract, when you either don’t believe that the company can honour its obligations or you don’t actually know.

“As a director, if you allow this to take place, or even if you turn a blind eye to it, you can become personally liable for the company’s debts.”

He said debt collection agencies were on particularly strong ground if the company’s paperwork was lacking. “You must ensure that the company’s full details appear on all letters, cheques, order forms, website and in any electronic communication.

“If this doesn’t happen, then the directors can become personally liable for any contracts. That’s the dangerous side – but the flipside is that if one of your debtors hasn’t played it by the book, their case is weakened too.”

Chris said debt collection agencies now had the law on their side in an increasing number of instances.

“Always make sure you exercise caution whenever you enter into an obligation on behalf of the company, and don’t lay it on too thick in order to clinch the deal. If you get it wrong, its impact on you, personally, could be serious, and very costly.”

Monday, 23 June 2008

Don't assume you're off the hook

Directors could find themselves personally liable if there’s an issue over their company’s rented premises.

Sarah Heath, our Commercial Property Specialist, said directors must be aware that just because they rented their business premises, they were not safe from any problems that may arise.

“You may have assumed that as you rent the premises, if there are any issues that come up with the landlord, then they’d be the company’s problem. But even though the lease will probably be in the company’s name, as a director you cannot sit back and assume you have no responsibilities.

“As part of the tenancy agreement, you may have given a personal guarantee to the landlord, and this is the reason you should be careful. This means that if there are any difficulties with the lease, including unpaid rent, or a failure to complete agreed repairs, your landlord can pursue you personally for the money.”

Sarah said if, as a director, you had given a personal guarantee, the best approach was to try to resolve any issues through negotiation with your landlord.

“The chances are that you will probably have a full repairing lease – this means the company has to ensure the whole of the premises are maintained and repaired, not the landlord. And if anyone has an accident as a result of the state and condition of the premises, they could look to the company for compensation.

“But if the accident was as a result of a health and safety issue, directors could find themselves personally facing a prosecution.”

Sarah said companies should ensure at least one member of the board was responsible for health and safety issues. They should also look after the company’s obligations in terms of the repair and maintenance of the property.

“And don’t neglect your responsibilities under the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations 2002 either, as you may once again face personal prosecution if you don’t manage the risks properly.”

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

Who's looking after you?

Company directors are well aware of their responsibilities when it comes to health and safety issues in the workplace - but may be ignoring the risks they face themselves.

Our Employment Law Specialist, John Mehtam, said: “Directors of small and medium-sized companies all over the UK are subjecting themselves to health risks from the stressful situations they face every day.

“With the constant stream of changing legislation, and the increasing pressures from the troubled economy, it’s no wonder that directors are finding things difficult. In fact, research has shown that 40 per cent of owner/managers and directors of SMEs are working over the EU maximum limit of 48 hours a week."

John said the Working Time Directive limited the amount of hours people should work during a typical week, with staff required to sign an opt-out form if they were likely to exceed the 48-hour limit.

“But who is keeping an eye on the directors’ hours? And you may even find that working excessive hours is actually counter-productive – are you really working as efficiently as you could be?”

John said owner/managers and directors should take a step back, and start to consider their own working conditions.

“Start by getting a comprehensive medical, paid for by the company. This will not only be tax deductible, which is obviously welcome news, but it will also give you a clear picture of the state of your health. If the results show you are damaging your health, then you’re also damaging the health of your business, so take action as soon as you can.”

Are you breaking the law?

Your company could be breaking the law when it comes to selling over the Internet.

Graham Davies, from our Commercial Team, said research had shown that up to two thirds of companies selling online could be breaching the rules. The websites were checked in relation to the Consumer Protection (Distance Selling) Regulations 2000 and the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002.

“The vast majority of the websites surveyed appeared to impose conditions that deterred customers from using their cancellation rights, and 15 per cent did not point out to customers that they had the right to cancel an order within seven days. And another 31 per cent failed to refund the full cost if an item was returned.”

Graham said it was vital for companies to include details of their cancellation and refunds procedure on their website. “Include this information in a terms and conditions section, and to protect your company still further, make sure customers can’t proceed to the checkout until they’ve accepted these terms.

“Make sure you clearly spell out your pricing structure, particularly when it comes to any additional charges that may be incurred, and do this well before the customer gets to the payment stage of the site.”

Graham said many companies also failed to include a full physical contact address on their website, as well as an email address (not just a web form) so customers could contact the supplier.

“The Companies Act 2006 says not only must you include your full physical address, but also your company number and where the company is registered on all your literature, which includes your website.

“If you consistently fail to include clear information on cancellation rights, refunds and extra charges in the main body of your website, you could face legal action – so take steps to protect your company and your customers.”

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Staff lay-offs on the increase

Staff lay-offs may seem like a relic of the 1970s and 80s, but in today’s tough business world, they could be set for a comeback. It's already clear that 2008 is proving to be an extremely difficult year for local companies, and our Employment Law Specialist, John Mehtam, said businesses should beware.

“Many businesses are in the unenviable position of looking for cost savings, and the payroll may seem like the most obvious place to start. So do you have to make people redundant, or can you simply lay-off your staff until things improve?”

John said a redundancy was a permanent solution to the problem, where the need for the work the employee was doing has ended, and an easier option may be to lay off several members of staff, which was a more temporary move.

Another option is to ask your staff to work fewer hours in a week than usual, and then they're considered to be on short time. “But of course it’s not that simple, because you can only lay someone off or put them on short time working if you have the right to do so in their employment contract.

“Even if you don’t have the contractual right to lay anyone off, it may be worth asking your staff to agree to it. You could explain that if they’re laid off for a few days, you’re far more likely to be able to keep them on in the longer term.

“This can be a risky strategy though, and you must make sure you get the employee’s written consent. These are short-term measures, but they could help to ease your company through the difficult times.”

Take asbestos seriously

Shropshire companies are being warned to take the threat of asbestos seriously on their premises, after the number of prosecutions under the Control of Asbestos at Work Regulations more than tripled last year.

Chris Detheridge, from our Commercial Team, said: "The regulations apply to just about every business, not just factories that manufacture asbestos, and the Health and Safety Executive is now taking a tough approach to any breach in the rules.”

“Start by taking reasonable steps to find out if there’s asbestos in the building, and if so, how much, where it is, and what state it’s in. You should also make and keep up-to-date a record of the position and condition of the asbestos, and carry out a risk assessment.

“Prepare a plan on how to handle any risks, and put it into action. Regularly review and monitor the plan, and make sure anyone who’s likely to work near the asbestos or disturb it is fully informed of its location and condition.”

“Directors could also find themselves personally liable for any breach under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, which could mean a prosecution and a difficult court case.”

Companies need to ask a qualified asbestos surveyor to carry out an inspection, and if it’s found on the premises, a licensed contractor must take it away.

Second job risk for staff

Staff who take on a second job to earn extra cash could be putting your business at risk.

John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said employers must be vigilant in order to maintain safety standards in the workplace.

“The tell-tale signs are that perhaps the employee is looking tired and failing to perform as well as usual during the working day. This is particularly serious if your staff are operating heavy machinery as you need to protect your other employees.”

John said once an employer was certain that a member of staff had a second job, action must be taken, because otherwise the employer could be held liable if an accident did happen.

“If you don't have guidelines in place, take a view on what you want your policy to say. Many employers do allow second jobs, as long as staff ask permission first, and as long as they’re not working for a competitor.”

Under the Working Time Regulations, staff cannot work for more than 48 hours per week unless they’ve signed an opt-out agreement, so a second job could have a serious impact on the number of hours they’re clocking up.

“If you suspect someone is working for another company, it’s vital that you get them to sign an opt-out or as their employer, you could be breaking the law.”

Treat health and safety with care

Company directors must make sure they understand health and safety rules, or face tough consequences.

Stuart Haynes, from our Commercial Team, said every director should have a “working knowledge” of their company’s health and safety provision.

“You should know where the risk assessments are kept, and you should have read and understood the ones that are most relevant to your line of business. For instance, if you deal with chemicals, obviously you should know how the principal risks are managed.”

If your directors don't know where the risk assessments are kept, or if their knowledge is patchy, any visit from a health and safety inspector could prove extremely uncomfortable. Getting to grips with the information should not just be a one-off effort either, as health and safety legislation is constantly changing.

“One option is to add health and safety to the agenda of your board or management meetings, though it should probably already be on there anyway. You could also nominate one person to send out regular reports – by email would be fine – to the directors and relevant managers.

“Try to keep the directors’ report to a single sheet of A4, and avoid using jargon or abbreviations to avoid any confusion. You should also include details of anything that has, or is likely to, cost your business money such as potential claims, accidents, or contact from insurance companies.

“And include any legal or procedural changes – if you’ve updated a risk assessment, attach a copy of the latest version, highlighting the new sections.”

Friday, 11 April 2008

And there's more...

They're back! By popular demand! We're launching a second series of our ground-breaking advice forums in Shrewsbury.

We initially ran interactive HR and Employment Law in Practice (HELP) forums in Telford, and businesses in Shrewsbury were so impressed that they asked for their own programme of events.

Now, after an unprecedented response from local companies, we are launching a second series of seminars in the county town, beginning on Tuesday, April 22, at The Lord Hill Hotel, in Shrewsbury.

The format will be as before, in conjunction with the Royal Bank of Scotland, but the meetings will now take place quarterly.

It really is very rare for events like this to prove so popular with local businesses, and with an average of 40 businesses attending each session, the feedback questionnaires showed an overwhelming demand for more. So now we’re back with a whole new range of topics, many of which have been specifically requested by our delegates.

The aim of the events is to keep employers up-to-date with current law and regulations, and to help them find the answers to tricky employment issues.

The forum, which runs from 8am to 10am, also provides employers and HR professionals with an opportunity to exchange ideas and to discuss trends. At each event, delegates receive a presentation dealing with the latest employment issues together with practical examples, followed by a question and answer session.

For companies who are struggling to find their way through the complicated minefield of Employment Law, and anyone who is finding it difficult to keep up with the ever-changing rules and regulations, these forums are a huge opportunity.

Why not ask us for more details of how to get involved? Places are limited so you'll need to act quickly!

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Go the extra mile

Shropshire employers must take more notice of staff mileage claims to avoid tax difficulties.

Our Employment Law Specialist, John Mehtam, said with such a busy working environment, employers may be tempted to sign the claims without checking them too thoroughly.

“But this is a risky strategy, and could lead to really serious consequences in terms of tax if you don’t follow the rules. Check that the mileage your staff are claiming for is allowable – this covers travel to business meetings, conferences and temporary places of work. But any travel with a personal element, including travel to and from work, will not qualify."

John said the Taxman had approved mileage allowances for employees using their own vehicles for business travel – the flat rate for cars is 40p per mile for the first 10,000 miles in a tax year, and 25p per mile after that. There are separate rates for company vehicles and motorcycles.

All claims should be in writing including records of each journey and its purpose, such as client/supplier name, start point, destination, date and miles travelled.

“If you don’t follow the rules, the employee will be required to pay tax on any excess mileage payments. And the Taxman will assess your company on the sum total of the overpayments too, so you will be charged interest as well. Any false mileage claims will require the staff involved to pay tax on any excess, and this would also be a disciplinary matter."

Beware of the blog

Bosses must beware of the risks of using internet blogs to promote their company - that's the message from our Employment Law Specialist, John Mehtam.

Corporate blogs can be invaluable in helping to increase publicity, but there are risks and pitfalls with this type of approach, and it's important that employers understand what they're letting themselves in for.

"You need to consider carefully who will write the blog - are you, as a director, going to take it on, or are you going to let your staff have their say?

"If you're writing it yourself, you must be honest, because if you oversell your business, the blog could backfire. The same goes for your employees, so beware of giving them the opportunity to say what they like or you could face serious problems."

John said if you did let your staff loose on the blog, it was vital to make sure they didn't use it to harass each other online, as all employers had a duty of care to protect their employees against bullying in the workplace.

"You should also monitor the blog carefully to make sure the employees don't say anything derogatory about your competitors, or you could face a libel case and as a director, you will be held personally liable.

"Making the most of the latest technology to promote your business is an excellent idea, but you need to take care to avoid the pitfalls such an opportunity creates."

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

Switch it off for energy savings

Shropshire companies could cut their energy costs by up to 90 per cent if they simply switch off their office equipment.

Our Senior Partner Graham Davies said companies must consider their energy policies if they were to make a real difference to their energy bills. "Office equipment accounts for around 20% of a company’s total energy consumption, but in today’s challenging economy, there are ways to cut costs."

Like most companies, we are committed to reducing the impact our business has on the environment, and to making sure we are not incurring unnecessary costs.

"Our research has shown that the most basic way to save money is to turn off our office equipment, because in commercial offices like ours, this makes up nearly a quarter of the total energy bill. The energy consumed by computers and laser printers can be reduced by 75% per year if they are switched off at night, at weekends and during holidays."

Graham said if computer monitors were also switched off when they were not in use, and utilised the standby mode, a company could even cut its energy consumption by 90% each year.

"The guidelines also show that the costs increase by about eight per cent for every degree the temperature of your workplace rises, so it’s important to try to keep the office thermostat at a constant level. We try to keep doors and windows closed and free from draughts, and suggest our staff turn the heating down rather than opening windows if it gets too hot. And if our workplace is empty at weekends or over the holidays, we reduce the heating to a minimum or even turn it off altogether.

"We encourage employees to think about the energy that is being used in all areas of our business, and we closely monitor our fuel bills so that we can share with our staff the difference their efforts are making."

Offer employees a fresh start

Shropshire employers facing a round of tough redundancies should consider offering staff alternative jobs instead.
John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said an alternative position may be the answer companies were looking for.

"In today’s increasingly competitive marketplace, some employers may well find they face tough decisions, with the harsh reality being that they have no option but to make some of their workers redundant. But have you considered all the options – could you minimise the impact of your difficult position by finding alternative roles for those staff within your organisation instead?"

John said though that this approach may seem to be the perfect solution, but employers needed to make sure they stayed on the right side of the Employment Rights Act 1996 when it came to managing the process.

"The Employment Appeal Tribunal has also set out new guidelines to explain how you should manage the offer of an alternative job and there are definitely pitfalls you need to avoid."

He said employers should offer the person a trial period in the new potential job, usually four weeks. "Communicate clearly to the employees involved how the trial period for an alternative job will operate, right from the start. Ensure they know that if they want to turn down the new job, they must do it within the four week period, otherwise they could forfeit their right to a statutory redundancy payment.

"Make sure too that any proposed alternative employment is actually suitable for the employee. Offering them a job which you know will be beyond their skills or totally out of their remit could put you at risk of an unfair dismissal claim."

There's more to it than you think...

Converting an existing business to a limited company may not be as simple as it sounds - that's the message from Stuart Haynes in our Commercial Team.

"There’s more to it than just adding the word ‘limited’ to your letterheads. Under The Companies Act 1985, every company must display its name outside any premises it trades from. And it must also have the full company name on all letterheads, notices, cheques and orders, together with its place of registration, its company registration number and its registered office.

"And new rules introduced in January 2007 mean this criteria now applies to websites, emails and promotional material too."

Stuart said it was vital for all limited companies to check their literature before using it, or face tough consequences.
"Not only is it a criminal offence to get the details wrong, and your directors could be fined, but if the limited company name is incorrect on cheques and company orders, the directors can also be held personally liable to honour them.

"As the limited company will be seen as a new organisation, you are also likely to need your landlord’s consent before you can continue operating from your existing premises and trade officially under the new name. This should be a formality, but you can’t ignore the rules, as you could otherwise be in breach of covenant and lose the lease altogether.

"And as it’s a new company (even though the business has been around for some time), the landlord will probably want your directors to personally guarantee the lease – he may even want a rent deposit paid in advance."

Stuart said suppliers and customers may well not even notice the difference in your status, but officially you need their consent for your new company to take over existing contracts.

"To solve this issue, send them a copy of an existing contract attached to an agreement that confirms the new company will take over the responsibility for any obligations featured in the original contract."

Friday, 29 February 2008

Top quality ratings for Martin-Kaye

We're officially celebrating after being successfully re-accredited for two of the toughest quality standards in the business world.

Our firm faced an in-depth three-day review at our offices where more than 30 partners and staff were interviewed, and now we've been officially recognised as an Investor in People for another three years, and been re-accredited with the Law Society’s Lexcel Practice Management standard.

Managing Partner, Andrew Green, said: “We’re delighted to have successfully retained our status in both programmes, and it’s testimony to the hard work and dedication our staff put in on a daily basis.”

The assessors from the West Midlands Quality Centre who visited us were impressed with the company’s culture of “openness, support, advice and encouragement”. They said this culture, coupled with sound communication channels, had a significant impact on the firm’s work towards both quality standards.

“There is no doubt that everyone in the firm, led by the partners, is committed to providing an exceptional level of client care, and that the disciplines required to maintain Lexcel accreditation are perceived as a benefit rather than a hindrance.

“Sound supervision and matter running procedures are helping to reduce or contain potential risks to the firm, and the Partners have clear strategies for further expansion of the business. There continues to be a very strong culture of support and advice among all staff and the new office premises provide an excellent working environment. Many interviewees described the culture in the firm as ‘relaxed and friendly whilst being professional’.”

The assessors also praised Martin-Kaye for their commitment to continuously updating the ICT capability of the firm, to maximise efficiencies and client care, and for the opportunities given to staff to involve them in the development of the practice.

In good hands?

If you're an employer leaving your staff in charge while you're away from the office, you must protect yourself.

Stuart Haynes, from our Commercial Team, said: “Directors have responsibilities not only to the company, their employees and shareholders, but in law too. And if you’re leaving someone else in charge in your absence, you must set clear boundaries for what they can and cannot do, otherwise it will be you who is personally liable for any mistakes.”

He said it was vital to make sure all the necessary paperwork was in place before the employer left the office – risk assessments, a health and safety policy, up-to-date accident records, and liability insurance.

“And before you leave, make sure there are explicit instructions as to what employees can and cannot do but beware, in most cases you will not be able to recover any losses the company has suffered. Explain to the staff in charge that no orders above a certain level or of a particular type can be placed in your absence, and put this in writing.

“You should also try to avoid leaving too many key responsibilities to just one person, aim to spread the risks by sharing them out. The best advice is to set clear boundaries before you leave, and that way everyone will know exactly where they stand, and you can enjoy your break without worrying about what you’ll find when you get back.”

Thursday, 31 January 2008

Time for a change?

Couples who live together but are not married should beware because the law does not recognise a “common law” marriage, according to Nadia Davis, who leads our Family Team.

But Nadia said attitudes towards marriage across the UK were constantly changing, and with legislation under review, maybe it was time for the law to change.

“Currently, just over half the UK population still thinks that common law marriage exists in law. In fact, according to this year's British Social Attitudes survey which was published just last week, 51% of those surveyed believed that cohabiting couples were protected by 'common law marriage', when this is just not the case.”

In the survey, people were asked specifically how they felt about cohabiting couples and the legal implications they faced.

“Altogether, 89% said that a cohabiting partner should be entitled to financial provision on separation if the relationship had been a long-term one, included children and had involved prioritising one partner's career over another. And 38% thought that a cohabiting partner should have a right to financial provision if the relationship only lasted two years and involved no children.

“These figures clearly show that people do not feel there is a need
to prolong the deep legal distinctions that are currently made between married and unmarried cohabiting families. With the current legislation under review by The Law Commission, maybe now is the time to redraw the rules when it comes to unmarried couples,” said Nadia.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Protect your business

Shropshire employers who take on illegal workers could face a prison sentence or massive fines. The message is delivered in a new campaign launched by the Government this week to promote new rules which will take effect in February.

John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said it was vital that companies took notice of the legislation. “For every illegal worker you negligently hire, you could be fined up to £10,000 or face up to two years in prison, so this really is a serious situation.

“And any employers who are found to be breaking the law could lose the right to recruit from outside the European Union altogether,” said John.

“Employers who condone illegal working attract illegal migrants, which means they can pay them less money and so undercut the wages that would be paid to legitimate employees.

“It’s important that Shropshire companies familiarise themselves with the changes, and seek professional advice if they are unsure of the procedures they should follow to make sure they don’t employ illegal workers.”

The Border and Immigration Agency undertakes regular enforcement operations against illegal working in the UK, and in 2006, they carried out over 5,200 raids, removing more than 22,000 people from the UK.

Sign of the times

Shropshire bosses must ensure they display their company names clearly or face court action. Chris Detheridge, from our Commercial Team, said the Companies (Trading Disclosures) Regulations 2008 brought important changes to the rules.

“”They affect companies registered in any part of the UK, and it’s vital that Shropshire businesses know where they stand.”

Chris said the regulations meant a company’s registered name must be clearly visible at any location where the business was carried out, as well as on company documents and websites. “The exception would be if the company location is primarily used for living accommodation because someone works from home.”

But Chris said it wasn’t enough for the company to display its name on a small discreet sign. “Wherever the name is displayed, it needs to be in letters which can be easily read by the naked eye, not on a tiny sign which no-one will spot.”

The new regulations replace the rules previously introduced by the Companies Act 1985, and the Business Names Act 1985, and it’s crucial that Shropshire businesses make sure they know what is involved.

Modern technology brings concerns

Modern technology in the workplace is a vital tool, but should never be used to take shortcuts - that's the message from our Employment Law Specialist, John Mehtam.

"In today’s competitive marketplace, no business would be able to survive without the very latest technology.
But there have been a number of cases where its use has just been a step too far.

“From the workers who were sacked with a phone message, to the employee who texted his employer to say he would be off sick, there are many cases which illustrate how modern technology can be exploited for all the wrong reasons.”

John said an employment tribunal had decided the employees from an engineering firm who were sacked by telephone had been unfairly dismissed, missing out on wages, holiday pay, pension contributions and redundancy pay. “Some of the workers did not receive the telephone message and turned up for work as usual the next day, where they were turned away, which is just unacceptable.” The staff affected by the case have now won compensation and are waiting to hear how much the will receive.

“In the case of the employee who sent text messages to his employer to say he would be off work, he was actually sacked. This was because the company said he failed to follow procedures for reporting sickness or absence – but an employment tribunal decided he had been unfairly dismissed, and said a drop of common sense should have been applied to sort out the situation.

“But this case just shows that practices such as text messaging which are now so commonplace for the large majority of the population can cause real difficulties in the world of business.

“The best approach is to use modern technology to help make your business effective and competitive, but don’t use it to take shortcuts that could cause confusion and misunderstandings.”