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.”