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