News that many families in Britain pay more for childcare than they do for their mortgage won't come as a surprise to many working families. It has long been accepted by most women that if they want to go back to work after having children, at least for the first few years, the majority of their salary will, in all likelihood, be spent on childcare. Unfortunately the affect of this is to put off a lot of talented women from returning to work, especially if they have more than one child - at a cost to both business and the economy.
So what can businesses do to help? By recognising the value of experienced staff and offering more flexible working hours, employers can help ease the burden and financial worry that may prevent parents, usually mothers, from returning to work. Offering job-share schemes, part-time working - for example during school hours - and working from home are all options that can help parents successfully juggle work and childcare in a more cost-effective way.
The time and costs to business associated with recruiting new staff are just one of the incentives for trying to retain valued employees. Offering a more flexible way of working and having an understanding attitude towards working parents is also likely to increase your staff loyalty. And loyal employees who feel their skills and experience are being recognised and rewarded may be more willing to go the extra mile, when needed.
Read more on flexible working
While business owners might be comfortable dealing with their day-to-day finances, having to deal with the financial affairs of a deceased loved one can be a more daunting prospect. There is a growing trend for ‘DIY lawyers’ to deal with all or part of estate administration, either with no help or professional advice on key issues.
From January to March 2013, Ministry of Justice statistics reveal that there were some 86,000 grants of probate made on personal application, compared to almost 157,000 made on a solicitor’s application.
Perhaps the main reason for the increase in ‘DIY’ is the huge amount of free information available online. But, of course, not everything published online is accurate or up to date. Another problem is information only briefly covers main probate topics, not individual situations, which has resulted in some executors committing fraud unwittingly.
A common reason why people want to handle affairs themselves is to save money, of course, since in many cases matters appear fairly straightforward. While this is possible in some circumstances, handling an estate as an executor or administrator comes with huge responsibility – and lacking experience can have disastrous consequences.
Much research is required and tasks are often not as simple as they may first appear. For example, valuations may be required for probate and inheritance tax; IHT forms must be completed regardless of whether tax is payable; monies may need to be collected, outstanding debts settled and the transfer or sale of land, property or shares may need to be made. It may be necessary to trace the deceased’s pensions and bank accounts, and gain access to their dormant bank accounts to close them down to distribute those assets. A lay executor would not necessarily have the required knowledge.
There are also many complicating factors that a trained lawyer would look out for, such as joint assets and unfinalised tax. Additionally, people’s financial affairs are often highly disorganised, even when their death is not sudden. Paperwork is often handled incorrectly by well-meaning ‘DIY-ers’, resulting in assets being discovered after probate has been granted or overlooked completely, which can result in delay and loss of money. If executors do not carry out appropriate searches properly, they may be held personally liable by beneficiaries of the estate.
Another complicating factor comes from the sharp increase in will-related litigation. Late last year The Independent reported a staggering 700% increase over the past five years of cases commenced in the High Court involving a challenge to a will’s provision. It has been speculated that this is partly because of the recession, coupled with a fall in asset value in recent years, causing disputes among relatives when a legacy is less than hoped for.
A further complicating factor is the growing complexity of family arrangements – another minefield for the DIY lawyer – with an increase in remarriages and stepfamilies. Under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, family members who were not provided for in a will can make a claim (eg if they were formerly married to the deceased or a cohabitee for at least two years preceding the death).
The death of a relative can be a highly emotional time for relatives. Lawyers can give objective and impartial advice, also helping to mediate through difficulties. Lawyers also know the pitfalls, making litigation (and therefore unnecessary costs and delays) less likely.
Using a lawyer is quicker than doing it yourself. While lay executors may find themselves having to jump through hoops to get important information, for example, the deceased’s bank balance. Banks tend to respond to lawyers quickly and without any fuss.
While taking on an estate might appear simple, the process can be a minefield, which is why it’s better to involve a trained lawyer who can offer the required knowledge and experience to ensure that the deceased’s estate is administered as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Blog provided by Breens Solicitors.
You might have read the rather sad statistic that 42% of marriages in England and Wales end in divorce. This in spite of the fact that most couples, we assume, enter into marriage full of optimism for a happy-ever-afterwards.
But are we finally outgrowing the fairytale as we increasingly marry later in life, or enter into second marriages, with assets, property, businesses and children as part of the package?
The cost of divorce can feel like another sting at an already stressful time. Legal aid has been withdrawn for divorce and separation cases other than in exceptional circumstances (eg domestic abuse or forced marriages). Couples are now being heavily encouraged to use the cheaper and more collaborative option of mediation to sort out the basics of dividing assets and agreeing on shared parenting arrangements and child support. But in a complicated financial situation with large assets or business interests, resolving everything together with the help of a mediator may be a step too far.
This is where pre-nuptial agreements could turn out to be a worthwhile investment, drawn up at the outset of a marriage when both parties are warmly disposed towards each other and more likely to agree on what is ‘fair’. Predictions currently are that only those with substantial assets would want to take advantage of this new law, if passed, but once we’ve lost our collective aversion to the unromantic view of ‘pre-nups’ we could see a much greater uptake.
Small business owners, in particular, might want to protect their company from any subsequent division. After years of investing time, energy and money into a business prior to marriage, keeping it intact and protecting a future livelihood could save time, money and heartache later in the courts if things do eventually go wrong.
The Law Commission says that currently "There is evidence of regional inconsistencies in how the courts approach awards for needs which creates unpredictability. And while the law is largely well-understood by family lawyers, it is not clear to the general public who are increasingly dealing with the consequences of marital breakdown without legal assistance."
Its proposal includes the need for both parties to have had legal advice before being able to sign a binding pre-nuptial agreement so this isn’t a move to keep lawyers out of the process but rather to bring them in at the outset.
It will be interesting to see how many law firms start promoting pre-nuptial advice if this proposal becomes law, and whether the uptake will encourage the sort of initial ‘fixed-fee’ consultations which are currently offered by many firms to individuals considering divorce.
Who knows? In the end, an agreement made prior to marriage may lead to less bitterness and fall-out in the aftermath of marital breakdown. Happy-ever-after, perhaps, just not together.
Up until 2008, an individual had to be identified as its ‘lead controller’ before a business could be found responsible for a person’s injury or death. This meant that many SMEs, where directors take an active role in running the company, could be prosecuted, but it made it much harder for larger firms to be found guilty, because no one individual is defined as ‘in charge’.
Since the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 came into effect in April 2008, companies and organisations can be found guilty of corporate manslaughter as a result of serious failures in health and safety management that lead to fatality.
Although an individual working for a large company might not be able to be prosecuted, the company itself can be heavily fined. Criminal fines issued by a Court can’t be insured against, which means if your company is found guilty of negligence that causes injury or death to someone, your company will have to pay the fine.
As well as having to pay a hefty fine, Courts can also name and shame the company at fault, which forces companies to publish details of the offence, the conviction and the penalties received. This type of publicity could be much more damaging than a one-off fine, particularly when it comes to small firms, which are unlikely to have the money to pay for legal and professional PR support.
You are responsible not only for the health and safety of your employees, but also customers, suppliers and members of the general public who visit your premises.
Obviously, the easiest way to protect your business (and anyone who works at or visits your premises) is to ensure your health and safety policy is up to date and watertight.
As a minimum, consider the following points:
Blog supplied by Ralph Clark, associate solicitor and health and safety law expert at Sheffield-based Accident Solicitors Direct.
A settlement agreement (previously called a compromise agreement) is a legally binding confidential agreement between an employer and employee. A severance payment is typically given in return for their agreement not to pursue any employment tribunal or civil courts claims arising from their employment or its termination. A settlement agreement can provide additional protection for employers, including reaffirming post-termination restrictions and duties of confidentiality, while preventing employees from bad-mouthing their ex-employer.
For example, when faced with an employee with work performance or misconduct issues and the employer is concerned about instigating formal performance or disciplinary procedures. They might not be confident they will achieve the required improvement within a reasonable period. In other circumstances too, settlement agreements are useful because they offer employers a quick and clean method of terminating someone’s employment without having to undertake a long and difficult redundancy, disciplinary or capability process, which usually involves substantial management time.
In certain circumstances, there is substantial risk. For example, if you offer a settlement agreement without having raised concerns about the employee’s work performance or conduct previously. You may try to claim that discussions and related documents are “off the record” or “without prejudice”, but you are not entitled to treat them as such. If the employee refuses, they may argue the relationship of trust and confidence between you has been irretrievably eroded, and use discussions and any related documents as evidence in a claim for constructive dismissal and/or discrimination (if appropriate).
The ACAS guidance on settlement agreements sets out inappropriate behaviour when employers offer a settlement Agreement that would entitle an employee to refer to conversations and submit documents as part of an employment tribunal claim.
There is no prescribed sum, it will depend on why the employer wants to terminate, the terms in the employee’s contract and any potential claims they may have against you. You’re effectively compensating them for not filing an employment tribunal claim, as well as terminating their employment. At the same time, you, the employer, needs to ensure that all contractual entitlements (eg notice or payment in lieu, holiday entitlement, etc) are taken care of. Given the legal implications, it’s wise to seek professional legal advice before making such an offer. For added peace of mind, the settlement agreement should also be professionally drafted.
For ex gratia payments, usually between 14 and 21 days of the agreement being signed, but employers may want to pay salary, accrued holiday and bonuses or commission through the payroll on the usual payroll date.
It’s in the employer’s interests for the employee to sign the agreement. For this reason, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the employer contributes £250-£500 plus VAT towards the employee’s legal fees in having to seek independent advice. In other cases, employers might not offer any contribution, for example, where there are strong grounds to dismiss the employee if they won’t sign the agreement.
There is a risk they may use the settlement agreement and conversations about it as evidence in bringing a grievance, while resigning and claiming constructive dismissal and discrimination.
Blog supplied by Julian Cox, Partner and head of the employment law team at London-based commercial law firm Fletcher Day.
Valentine’s Day is upon us (it’s on Friday Feb 14 in case you didn’t know) and it’s a time when love is (supposed to be) in the air and all around.
That can include the workplace too, of course, with many of us meeting our future ‘significant others’ at work. Examples of well-known couples who met at work include Barack and Michelle Obama, Bill and Melinda Gates, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Rupert Murdoch and Wendi Deng, Jude Law and Sienna Miller.
While some couples that meet at work go on to marry and/or live happily ever after together, many workplace romances are short lived and some end in tears. And when they go wrong, relationships can quickly sour and this can have serious consequences for employers.
Jo Eccles, business adviser at the Forum of Private Business says having a clear policy that sets out your business’s stance on relationships between employees can prevent “nasty fall-out” later on.
According to Eccles: “Depending on which survey you read, the number of people who’ve been involved in workplace liaisons is anywhere between 30% and 70%. There is no law against office romances, and while an employer might not like them, it doesn't mean they can legally stop them. However, employers have the right to expect their employees to behave in a professional manner while at work and all parties should bear in mind that romantic liaisons may create conflicts of interest.”
These, she says, can affect “the trust and confidence of colleagues in relation to a conflict of interest, fair treatment or their own ability to discuss issues openly with, for example, their line manager. Then there is the perception of the other employees, clients or customers in relation to professionalism and fairness of the business and its employees, or conflicting loyalties and breaches of confidentiality.”
Eccles says that while some businesses have rules that do not allow employees working in the same department to enter into romantic relationships with each other, “many employers find the best approach is to put in place a policy that deals with relationships in the workplace”.
This includes defining what a close personal relationship is, as well as requiring that personal relationships between staff must be disclosed to a line manager, “to flag up any potential conflict of interest”. She says alterations to procedure may also be required, such as changes to supervision, shift or work patterns, while employees need to know what to do if a personal relationship with a colleague breaks down.