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!