Monday, 27 April 2009

Maternity leave is no protection

Shropshire employees on maternity leave are not immune from redundancy cuts - that's the message from John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist.

"Many employers believe staff on maternity leave cannot be considered when it comes to job losses, but in fact, although women on maternity leave have the right to be offered suitable alternative work ahead of other staff selected for redundancy, they are not exempt from the process.”

John said many companies were facing tough decisions in difficult economic times, and redundancies were occurring in all kinds of industries. “If one of your employees has just gone off on maternity leave, which means she could be away for up to 12 months without making any contribution to your business – wouldn’t she be an ideal candidate for redundancy? It’s not the easy option that it may initially seem, but it’s not impossible.

“Women on maternity leave do have a special level of protection, so before taking the redundancy route, you must assess whether there is any ‘suitable alternative work’ available elsewhere in your company,” said John.

“It will need to be something similar to her current role so offering night shift work to a daytime employee would not be appropriate. If such work does exist, she takes priority over any other employees selected for redundancy, which in reality means she has an automatic right to the job. She’s then entitled to a four-week trial period to see if it suits her – at the end of this period, she can refuse the job and then be made redundant.”

But John said if there was no alternative work, employers should continue with the redundancy process – provided they go through the correct procedure, and have good grounds for selecting the employee, she can be made redundant. “As long as you’ve followed the process to the letter, the fact that she’s on maternity leave makes no difference. Keep notes of your reasons for selecting her, but make sure you don’t refer to her maternity leave as this will be considered discriminatory.”

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Alpha celebrates anniversary success

Our business protection scheme, which is the first of its kind in the UK, has beaten all targets in its first two years. The Alpha project has just reached its second anniversary, with interest still increasing on a daily basis.

It's a comprehensive 24-hour business support package with particular emphasis on employment and Human Resources support – the scheme also provides insurance protection against claims.

Senior Partner, Graham Davies, said: “We’re delighted to announce that every company who joined the scheme has renewed its membership, and interest is continuing to grow. Particularly in such difficult economic times, expert support and effective advice is proving to be extremely popular with all kinds of businesses, and through Alpha, we are delivering advice that makes a real difference.”

The all-in-one package offers face-to-face legal advice and assistance with HR policies and practices, and legal expenses insurance against fees, costs and tribunal awards. Companies also receive legal representation at any employment tribunal, legal updates, training workshops, and direct access to the entire Martin-Kaye Commercial Department, not just the employment team.

Alpha includes discounted legal services for each member business and their employees too – no matter which department they need help from – including conveyancing, wills, divorce and other personal issues.

For more information about the Alpha project, email or visit

Martin-Kaye clients have also been keen to praise the service:
“I am glad we switched our HR protection to Alpha. The advice we receive is practical and geared to our business and the on-site visits are invaluable. We also appreciate having access to the wider aspect of the Commercial Department of a well respected law firm.”
Pam Wilson, Pink Skips

“The level of service provided by the Alpha scheme is second to none, far more extensive than any other scheme that we have looked at. The discounts available for members of our staff is unique and provides added value for us.”
Stuart Shepherd - APT Solutions Ltd

In the driving seat for safety checks

Shropshire companies are responsible for the safety of all staff who drive on business – whether they’re using a company vehicle or not.

Graham Davies, our Senior Partner, said employers must take steps to ensure their staff were not at risk.

“Under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act, companies are now legally responsible for the health and safety of staff when they are behind the wheel on business, regardless of who owns the car. Any firm that fails to show a duty of care towards its employees can face prosecution if there’s an accident, and so can company directors and managers.”

He warned that setting out safety rules in the staff handbook was not enough – companies will have to demonstrate they are enforcing the policies and be able to produce appropriate evidence.

“Make sure your staff have the right insurance to use their own cars for business – this needs a simple amendment to their existing private insurance.You’ll also need to make sure that any car used for business is properly maintained – so take copies of MOTs and service histories, and keep a file for every vehicle as though it was a company car.

“And don’t forget to check the competence of the driver – just because you’ve seen their licence doesn’t mean they are safe. Ask all staff using a car in your business to agree to regular DVLA licence checks. These simple steps will go a long way to ensuring your company, and your staff, stay on the right side of the law.”

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Set realistic divorce goals

Divorcing couples need to be “more realistic” when it comes to negotiating their finances - that's the message from Nadia Davis, who leads our Family Team.

“There is no doubt that the current economic climate means people are looking for value-for-money divorce proceedings, avoiding potentially costly court hearings whenever possible.
The number of couples who want to go down the route of mediation or other non-courtroom alternatives is definitely on the increase.”

Nadia said if court proceedings were the only suitable option, couples should set their sights at a realistic level. “Don’t assume you will be able to secure the kind of settlement that we have seen previously in the more high profile divorce cases, particularly those involving footballers and celebrities.

“When the economy was stronger, those payouts were more achievable, but now, although it’s still important to make sure each person gets a fair share of the assets, the payouts are likely to be significantly lower.”

And Nadia warned couples that a long drawn out court case, with both sides arguing over the smallest point, would not be helpful either. “Obviously, in terms of costs, the longer the court proceedings go on, the more you will pay in legal fees, so the sooner both sides can agree a compromise the better.”

“The credit crunch is now really tightening its grip, and it’s clear that couples will need to fully appreciate the challenges this brings in terms of negotiating a divorce settlement. By being more realistic in terms of your expectations, you could find your case is resolved much more quickly and effectively.”

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Selling up to fund care costs

Elderly Shropshire homeowners who face the prospect of selling up to pay for their care must consider all the options.

Andrew Green, our Managing Partner, said more and more families were finding they had no alternative but to sell the family home to cover costs. “Research has shown that nationally more than 60,000 homeowners every year are being forced to sell their property to pay for their place in a care home.”

A strict means test system rules that anyone with savings or property worth more than £22,250 has to fund their own care payments. “This means that anyone who owns their own house or flat is obviously going to be over the financial limit, and local authorities have legal powers to make people in care homes sell their houses to meet the costs.

“Of course, the current economic crisis is making things even more difficult, particularly given the state of the property market with house prices at their lowest for many years. So even if homeowners do sell, they are unlikely to get the full value they would previously have expected for their property.”

Andrew said it was vital that families did not make rash decisions, and that they considered all the options available to them. “It may not be necessary in every case to sell the family home, particularly if you take legal advice early enough – you may be able to set up a family Trust, which can be tailor made to suit your family’s individual circumstances.

“Taking professional advice is important, because selling your home is a daunting prospect at such a stressful time, and it’s important to think carefully in order to protect your family’s future.”

Employers flock to hear advice

Over 100 business people from across Shropshire heard about radical new changes to grievance and disciplinary rules from a leading UK expert.

We organised the seminar at our offices at The Foundry, in Euston Way, Telford, with a guest presentation from Howard Paskin – a senior adviser at ACAS.
John Mehtam, our Employment Law Specialist, said the new rules on discipline, grievances and dismissals were due to come into force on April 6.

“We wanted to make sure local employers had the opportunity to find out exactly how the changes would affect their business, and we were overwhelmed with interested companies.
The event was a real coup for businesses in Telford and Shropshire as it was one of Howard’s few local presentations, and it was clear that employers were keen to find out everything they could in advance of the deadline.

“It’s important that employers are fully aware of their responsibilities too, because if they try to ignore the guidelines, any compensation awarded to an employee at a future tribunal could be increased by up to 25%.”

Any businesses who missed the seminar should contact our Employment Law Team on 0845 644 6376 or email for advice.

Pic: ACAS Adviser Howard Paskin (left) and John Mehtam, Employment Law Specialist at Martin-Kaye Solicitors