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What can employers learn from the Jeremy Clarkson 'fracas'?

April 16, 2015 by Mark Williams

Jeremy ClarksonIf reports are to be believed, it’s probably the highest price anyone has ever paid for a steak dinner. You probably already know the story (how could you have missed it?), but let's remind ourselves...

As reported by The Telegraph et al, on 4 March former Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson verbally abused and physically assaulted BBC producer Oisin Tymon. Why? Things turned nasty after Clarkson couldn't have a sirloin steak following a day’s filming. Indeed, no hot food was available at the Simonstone Hall Hotel in North Yorkshire, with the 55-year-old Doncaster-born presenter not reacting favourably to the offer of a cold platter.

According to The Telegraph, "during a 40-minute rant" Clarkson called Tymon "a lazy Irish ****" and threatened to get him sacked, before punching him. Witnesses allege a string of expletives during the fracas/mêlée (or "dust-up" as fellow Top Gear presenter James May quaintly called it), which reportedly left Tymon with a cut lip that required hospital treatment.

Rosé wine

According to the BBC's official report into the incident, the "physical attack lasted 30 seconds and was halted by the intervention of a witness". The Mail said the Top Gear "production team had been scheduled to take a helicopter to their next location after filming, and return to the hotel at 8pm. However, Clarkson kept the helicopter waiting for three hours while he sat in a pub drinking rosé wine, Channel 4 reported."

Eventually, because the hotel chef had gone home for the evening, its general manager prepared a £21.95 steak for Clarkson, "to calm him down", although the broadcaster would soon pay a far higher price. Clarkson himself called Danny Cohen, director of BBC television, to report the incident, and reportedly tried to apologise to Tymon many times via text, email and in person.

Racism controversy

On 10 March it was announced that Clarkson had been suspended from Top Gear (the rest of the hugely popular series has since been cancelled, despite furore from fans of the show and no lesser a figure than David Cameron, Clarkson constituency neighbour and friend, claiming his children would be "heartbroken if Top Gear was taken off air").

Clarkson's soon to expire BBC contract will not be renewed. He was already on a final warning, following claims he deliberately used a racist word during filming Top Gear’s Burma special in 2014. Amazingly, this came just months after calls for Clarkson’s sacking for allegedly using another racist word in an outtake leaked to the media. Outspoken Sun columnist Clarkson is well known for his un-PC remarks and opinions, of course, including once saying striking public sector workers should be "taken outside and executed in front of their families".

Key lessons

Clarkson is one of the world's most famous TV presenters, thanks to Top Gear's enormous global popularity (watched in 214 countries, it makes an estimated £50m a year for BBC Worldwide in overseas sales and £15m from events and Top Gear Magazine). He's reported to have earned "tens of millions of pounds from the global licensing of the Top Gear franchise". Many new lucrative opportunities will no doubt come Clarkson’s way and the BBC has said Top Gear will continue without him.

This latest unsavoury episode has made Clarkson even more of a 'Marmite' personality. He's loathed and liked with equal passion (more than a million people signed a petition calling for his reinstatement), but whatever his popularity and undoubted broadcasting talent, clearly his behaviour in March was totally unacceptable (which he accepts).

So, what lessons does it offer employers? Well, you need to have a robust disciplinary procedure. Your employees must understand what constitutes gross misconduct (this should be explained within your employment policies and possibly a workplace code of conduct) and know what action your business will take if they cross the line. Everyone should know that violence, abusive or racist language and all forms of unlawful discrimination have no place in your business. But sometimes even having all of the above won’t ensure acceptable behaviour, so, your should remind yourself how to lawfully terminate a employee’s contract. And on that bombshell…

Blog written by freelance editor, copywriter, journalist and Start Up Donut editor Mark Williams.

Photo: Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

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Is it me, or is it hot in here…?

April 09, 2015 by Liz Dawe

Is it just me, or is it hot in here…?{{}}Yes, it’s the standard self-deprecating line from menopausal women, but menopausal symptoms in real life are not much of a joke and can affect the working lives of the 3 million-plus women over 50 in the workplace.

While the symptoms of the menopause are very common, including hot flushes, irregular or heavy periods and interrupted sleep, very few workplaces have any policy on accommodating the needs of women during this phase of their lives.

Despite an employer’s general duty of care to staff, and legislation on treating both genders without discrimination, in practice the menopause is still a taboo subject and women may be reluctant to flag up their needs or difficulties or ask for adjustments to be made.

Simple strategies such as providing desk-top fans where the workplace temperature can’t be regulated or varied, access to cold drinking water, sufficient toilet breaks and facilities for changing clothes or even adapting uniforms, could make a significant difference to women’s experience of the workplace and, consequently, to their productivity.

The physical and psychological changes that many women experience around the menopause can have a significant impact on their mental health and self-esteem. For women and for employers, addressing these issues without blame or ridicule could help employers retain experienced staff and enable women to enter the next stage of their working lives with confidence.

A recent leaflet, produced by Unionlearn with the TUC, looks at the most common symptoms of the menopause, the Health and Safety implications for employers, and suggests ways to support staff affected.

In the name of equality and work-life balance we’ve made great strides recognising the needs of pregnant workers, parents and disabled employees. Maybe it’s time to look at the (usually transient) needs of another significant section of the workforce and shed another taboo.

More on this topic:

Loos, noise, heat and light … Six things you need to know about workplace rules

Why mediation is worth attempting for couples facing separation

February 19, 2015 by Guest contributor

Mediation{{}}Since the introduction of The Children and Families Act 2014 there has been a significant difference in how family dispute cases are handled, most notably the encouragement and use of mediation.

Because of legislative changes, a separating couple must now demonstrate that they have attempted mediation by attending a MIAM (a Mediation Information and Assessment Meeting) before further proceedings.

This method of settling family disputes relies on both parties mediating with the end goal of forming a joint understanding with issues in dispute.

The benefits of mediation

  • Mediation can prevent children from getting caught in the crossfire of messy divorce proceedings. Where possible, parents try to keep the stress of court proceedings away from their children, but invariably they can have an impact, for example, a child’s performance in school. Mediation can help to minimise this.
  • Mediation also allows you to reach a resolution with your partner instead of letting a court decide what should happen in the future.
  • Often mediation can be much quicker and less expensive than going to court.

When entrenched in court proceedings, parents may become too distracted by who is going to win and lose and may ultimately lose sight of what is in the best interests of the children.

Mediation offers a different approach 

Couples are asked to communicate with respect and understanding and come together to settle issues arising from their separation in a way that is in the best interests of the children (if children are involved).

Mediation provides a more informal setting to resolve disputes instead of the adversarial nature of court proceedings. Therefore, the key to successful mediation is successful communication that never loses sight of the children’s needs and best interests. This will always be facilitated by a mediator, who will maintain a neutral stance throughout.

Common mediation misconceptions

Mediation is never about trying to get a separating couple to try and get back together. Mediation acknowledges that the relationship has ended and that the process moving forward is about resolving unsolved issues such as child maintenance. 

Some couples believe that mediation is a mere tick-box exercise that has to be fulfilled before having to attend court. This is also not true. If mediation proves successful and both parties can reach an understanding, there may be no need to go to court.

There is also a common misconception that mediation cannot cover all aspects relating to a separation, such as settling financial issues or disputes over property. Again, this is not true. 

Mediation can settle property and financial issues or disputes relating to children. If such things can be resolved through mediation and an agreement found between both parties, this can be agreed in a Memorandum of Understanding.

Copyright © 2105 Alun Jones. Alun is director of Cardiff-based niche practice Alun Jones Family Law and after training with Resolution (formerly the Solicitors Family Law Association) he became a family lawyer mediator.

Further reading

Immigration law infographic

February 03, 2015 by Guest contributor

This useful infographic, from Taylor Rose Law, looks at an employer's responsibilities and liabilities around an employee's right to work.

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Missing persons: how the law has changed to help families

January 19, 2015 by Guest contributor

Missing persons: how the law has changed to help families{{}}In November last year, the National Crime Agency reported that someone is recorded as missing in the UK every two minutes. Its findings were based on research released by the National Crime Agency’s UK Missing Persons Bureau, which analysed statistics for the year 2012–2013.

This means that, on average, police forces in the UK are dealing with some 838 missing person reports every day. Although the vast majority of those reported missing are found safe and well, a small number (in the region of 3%) remain unfound.

Not knowing what has happened to a loved one is a distressing and traumatic experience. It also poses practical difficulties for those left behind in dealing with the missing person’s financial affairs.

Difficult questions may need to be addressed such as when a life insurance policy should be paid out and when a missing person’s marriage is deemed to have ended.

Previously the law in this respect was complex and piecemeal. However, the law has recently changed. The Presumption of Death Act 2013 (the “Act”) came into force on 1 October 2014 and seeks to assist families by creating a clear and simple process so they can deal practically with cases of missing loved ones who are sadly presumed to be dead.

A successful claim under the Act grants the applicant a declaration as to the legal status of the missing person, which then allows them to manage that person’s financial affairs.   

When does the Act apply?

The Act applies where a missing person:

  1. Is thought to have died; or
  2. Has not been known to be alive for a period of at least seven years.

In these scenarios any person can apply to the High Court for a declaration that the missing person is presumed dead. 

What are the requirements if an application is to succeed?

  1. Any person can make the application;
  2. The missing person must have treated England and Wales as their permanent home (or have lived and had a substantial connection there) on the day they were last known to be alive;
  3. The missing person must have been habitually resident in England and Wales throughout the period of one year ending with the day on which they were last known to be alive;
  4. If the application is made by the missing person’s spouse or civil partner it is sufficient if the applicant regards England and Wales as their permanent home on the day the application is made or the applicant has been habitually resident in England and Wales throughout the period of one year ending with the day of the application;
  5. The Court is unable to hear an application made by someone who is not a close family member unless the Court is of the view that the applicant has a sufficient interest in the outcome of the proceedings.

What is the outcome of a successful application?

If the Court is satisfied that the missing person is dead or has not been known to be alive for a period of at least seven years it must make a declaration. The declaration must set out the date and time of the missing person’s presumed death. 

What is the effect of a declaration of presumption of death?

  1. It concludes the date and time of the missing person’s presumed death;
  2. It is effective for all purposes e.g. the ending of a marriage or the acquisition of an interest in property;
  3. The Registrar General must maintain a Register of Presumed Deaths and the declaration will be recorded there. 

A step forward

The Act simplifies (for the missing person’s family or other interested party) the process of obtaining a declaration of presumed death. It allows one declaration to be obtained for all purposes and means that important practical arrangements in relation to the missing person’s affairs can be made. 

The Act is a certainly a good start, but there are still issues that it does not resolve. For example, in the seven-year period before an application can be made it would help if the Act implemented some form of guardianship scheme allowing a missing person’s affairs to be managed (with supervision) until such time as a declaration can be applied for and granted. It is hoped that the legislation will be further developed in this area in the not too distant future.

Copyright © 2015 Anna Sutcliffe, a specialist inheritance solicitor with Wright Hassall.

What must your business do to comply with the EU Consumer Rights Directive 2014?

January 13, 2015 by Guest contributor

What must your business do to comply with the EU Consumer Rights Directive 2014?{{}}New EU Consumer Rights Directives came into effect on the 13 June 2014, but many online retailers are still not compliant. So, how did the rules change?

Update terms & conditions for delivery and cancellation

  • Cancellation periods: Increased from seven to 14 days. If you don’t specify the cancellation period customers have a one-year return period automatically.
  • Refunds: Refunds must include the standard delivery charge. Buyers choosing more expensive delivery options are only entitled to a refund of standard postage.
  • Delivery dates: Orders must be delivered without undue delays within 30 days from date of purchase. Elongated delivery periods have to be clearly agreed to by the shopper upfront (ie hiding long delivery schedules in T&Cs isn't sufficient).

Online store compliance

  • T&C agreement: Getting a shopper’s agreement to your terms and conditions at the checkout, prior to order submission, is now mandatory. Insert a tick-box.
  • Opt-in boxes un-checked: Customers must give explicit permission to any optional extra charges or for signing-up to additional services or marketing communications.
  • Clear agreement to pay: Customers must be in no doubt that placing an order is an agreement to pay. Use strongly worded checkout buttons committing the buyer to pay such as, 'Pay Now', 'Pay for Order' or 'Secure Payment' in place of 'Place Order' or 'Buy Now'.
  • Card processing fees: Merchants may only pass on card processing surcharges equivalent to the charge they incur from their payment provider.
  • Full order breakdown: A complete record of everything they're agreeing to purchase must be issued to the customer in a 'durable medium', such as paper invoice or email receipt.
  • No hidden charges: All costs are to be clearly declared upfront prior to order placement. Hidden costs for taxes, shipping and surcharges in T&Cs aren't acceptable and the customer won't be obliged to pay any extra.
  • Simple returns procedure: A straightforward returns form, gathering only the information necessary to process the return, must be easily available to download from your website, or you need to offer an online form.
  • Customer service phone numbers: Customer care and support numbers must be charged at the standard network rate and not operated as premium rate numbers.

The checklist above covers the key issues of the new Directive that affect ecommerce traders, many of whom may unknowingly be at odds with this latest round of consumer rights changes. You can tweet me on @ShopIntegrator with any comments, or your own experiences with these new regulations.

Copyright © 2015 Simon Horton, founder of hosted shopping cart ecommerce plug-in ShopIntegrator.

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