Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Clamping vehicles could cost you dearly

Companies who resort to clamping vehicles illegally parked on their land could face court action and a fine - that's the warning from our senior partner, Graham Davies.

"Company parking spaces are an extremely precious asset, whether they're for directors, staff or probably more importantly, your customers. So when drivers choose to clog up your spaces when they have no intention of visiting your business, it's annoying and inconvenient."

Graham said many firms had resorted to using a clamping company as a deterrent, which had proved particularly successful.

"But as a direct result of some clampers operating in an over-zealous manner and clamping everything in sight, the Government has decided to introduce a new law - the Protection of Freedoms Bill.

"This will make it an offence to clamp vehicles, even if they are illegally parked on your company's land, and your directors will face a fine if you're found guilty of operating such a policy."

Graham said the new rules also made it an offence to block a vehicle in by parking behind it, so companies would have to consider other options to stop unwanted visitors using their parking spaces.

"If it's possible, fit a barrier - this could be a simple lockable pillar or a more sophisticated automatic arm. This is an excellent option as if someone sneaks into your car park while the barrier isn't in place, the new rules mean you can close the barrier and stop the vehicle leaving.

"Of course you will then still have the problem of the unwanted vehicle on your land, but it should act as a good deterrent to stop them parking there again."

If you display the appropriate notices, you can also set charges for parking without your consent, even if you don't have a barrier system.

"And if the driver escapes without paying, the new rules make the vehicle's keeper responsible so you can get their details from the DVLA and send them the bill - take a photo of the illegally parked vehicle too in case your claim is disputed."

Monday, 11 April 2011

Are you prepared to take a risk?

Changes to employment tribunal rules will make the system fairer - but Shropshire employers will need to be prepared to take a risk.

That's the message from Tina Chander, a solicitor in our employment team, who warned that the suggested new guidelines were a mixture of good and bad news.

"The current rules are weighted firmly in favour of the employee and claims that have no merit are often allowed to go forward as tribunals are reluctant to strike them out early in the process. And as the cost of defending a claim can rarely be recovered, it's often cheaper for an employer to pay out rather than go ahead.

"But the proposed changes will essentially make the employment tribunal system fairer, and the aim is to reduce the number of claims and unfair charges for employers.

"It's vital though that employers go into the system with their eyes open, as they will face the risk of an extra fine if they lose their tribunal case. The penalty could range between £100 and £5000, and would be on top of the compensation they will have to pay to the employee.

"So although the new rules would restore some balance to the system, employers will have to assess whether the risk of an additional fine is worth taking."

Last year there were over 235,000 employment tribunal cases across the UK, and the proposed new rules are designed to reduce this figure - consultation on the proposals will end later this month.

Tackle poor performers - no matter who they are

Shropshire employers must tackle staff who are under-performing - even if the culprit is a senior team member.

John Mehtam, who is our employment law specialist, said it was not just junior employees who could be guilty of failing to make the grade.

"Senior staff can perform poorly, and their actions can cost your company even more dearly than a junior member of the team who may not be working as hard as they should be.

"Your company cannot afford to employ anyone who is not pulling their weight, but most employers tend to focus on the poor performance of junior staff, when in fact it can also be a problem with managers and even fellow directors."

John said employers who suspected someone was performing below par should try to identify the root cause of the problem before taking any action.

"Don't rush into anything, because although the person's underperformance could be down to a lack of experience or the failure to delegate tasks effectively, it could also be due to other factors in the workplace. It could even be down to something they (and you) are unaware of altogether, such as a clash of personalities in their team."

John suggests employers should initially meet with the team member and informally raise their concerns.

"If you can identify issues, put in writing what improvements you want to see going forward and when you expect them to be made, and set a review date for a few weeks' time. But if things don't improve, you should consider disciplinary action if appropriate because managers are supposed to 'manage' and if they don't, you will be justified in taking the next step.

"You must make sure though that you've provided all the necessary support, including extra training, before you follow a disciplinary route, as otherwise your decision could be undermined."