Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Employers face real changes

Employers should prepare for some major changes in workplace rules now that the new Government is in place - that's the warning from John Mehtam, our Employment Law specialist.

“The creation of a Coalition Government meant that initially we were in the strange position of having a new government without knowing what their actual policies were. Now following the Queen’s Speech, and with the emergency budget due on June 22, things are becoming clearer, and the message is that things are going to change.”

John said the workplace would be particularly affected by the new government’s plans. “We could well see a new system of flexible parental leave, with parents sharing maternity and paternity leave for up to 18 months, which will have a huge impact on local companies. And if the Liberal Democrat proposal to extend fathers’ rights to take time off for ante-natal appointments is also introduced, the impact could be even greater.”

John said there was likely to be new protection for “whistle blowers”, in particular NHS staff who raise concerns about patient safety.

“The Government is planning to introduce an annual limit on the number of economic migrants who come into the UK from outside the EU, which is good news for the local workforce. This means only migrants who bring the most value to the economy or who have specific skills will be allowed to enter the country, and so valuable jobs will be protected for UK workers.”

And John also welcomed the news that the current employment tribunal system is to be overhauled. “There are suggestions that higher deposits will be required and that costs will be increased to prevent weak claims going forward, and to encourage mediation instead.

“This is an exciting time for businesses, as the new government is considering some brave and thought-provoking proposals – but it’s clear that the changes will need to be carefully managed as the economy continues its fragile recovery.”

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Slave labour warning for employers

Employers who turn a blind eye to "slave labour" working conditions could face tough prison sentences.

Claire Williams, from our Alpha team, said the new Coroners and Justice Act which came into force in April, had introduced a new offence.

"The offence prevents employers from holding anyone in ‘slavery’, by using threats or deception to force them to work.
"And it’s a very serious offence, as any employer who is found to have knowingly ignored such a working environment could face up to 14 years in prison."

Claire said the new offence was introduced largely to protect vulnerable workers, such as migrants who may have little understanding of English or employment law.

"So if an employer threatened an employee with violence, or made threats to report the worker to the authorities, or made threats against the worker’s family, they could face severe consequences. The rules are a welcome introduction to employment law, but in today’s society, you would have expected that this kind of behaviour should have been outlawed decades ago.

"In reality, most employers will not be affected by the changes, as they will be already complying with existing employment law and treating their employees with the appropriate respect. But there is obviously still a need for this type of legislation, so its introduction can only be good news."

Claire said in line with the European Convention on Human Rights, there are exceptions for labour that may be necessary to protect public safety and other people’s rights. These include work done while someone is legally detained; military service; emergencies or life threatening situations; and work or service that forms part of everyone’s civic obligations.

Martin-Kaye’s Alpha Team offers all-inclusive employment law and human resources advice that can be tailored to suit the needs of each individual business.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Don't be rash over ash

Shropshire employers are being urged to take a “reasonable” approach when it comes to staff who may be stranded abroad.

Lynsey Woolley, from our Alpha Team, said thousands of people had been affected in the last few weeks by the volcanic eruption in Iceland.

“The disruption caused by the ash cloud caused havoc with flights coming in and out of the UK, and this week’s problems in Scotland and Northern Ireland have shown the crisis may not yet be over. So it’s important that employers prepare themselves for the possibility that we may yet see more flights grounded, causing even greater difficulties for staff who are travelling abroad – particularly in the run-up to the main holiday season.

“The basic legal position is that an employee who is ready and willing to work is entitled to be paid, unless their contract says differently. So employees who may be stranded at home or abroad because of travel problems are considered not able or ready to offer their services, and so don’t have the right to payment.

“And if there is nothing in the employee’s contract, anyone who doesn’t turn up for work because of travel disruption has no right to be paid either, even if the disruption is not their fault.”

Lynsey said some employers were considering asking their staff to take the time they were stranded as enforced holiday, or may decide to dock their pay.

“But of course, this could cause real hostility, and employers should consider staff morale before they go ahead – although doing nothing at all could equally affect the morale of staff who have been left to cover for your absent employee.

“You may feel that travel problems are still comparatively rare events, or short-lived, and that it’s not worth introducing a formal policy because of the negative effect it will bring. Why not explore instead how they may be able to continue their duties while they’re abroad – by email, over the internet, or telephone access in an overseas office?

“By maintaining regular contact with your staff and making sure you have documentary evidence of their transport difficulties, you can ensure that no-one takes advantage of the situation.”