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What can you do when tube workers strike businesses a blow?

August 24, 2015 by Fiona Prior

What can you do when tube workers strike businesses a blow?{{}}London Underground is holding last ditch negotiations with unions in an effort to avoid two 24-hour tube strikes planned for this week.

The strikes are over pay and working shifts as the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, and London Underground attempt to bring a 24-hour service to London's underground system.

If the tube strikes go ahead, it will mean yet another wave of disruption for businesses since the 24-hour service was announced back in September 2014. The Federation of Small Businesses estimates that the strikes in February cost businesses up to £600 million, with cancelled meetings and staff absences accounting for a large proportion of the losses.

So what are your rights when strikes hit? Do you still have to pay employees who don't make it in to work?

As an employer, you are not automatically obliged to pay your employees if they can’t work.

Much will depend on your contracts of employment and any policies that you may have to cover absences.

These may set out how much effort you expect employees to make in order to get to work in the event of strikes, bad weather or other events. Can they walk, cycle or drive to work if they normally take the tube?

Your policy may also set out whether they will be paid if they cannot make it in to work, or whether they are expected to take unpaid leave or holiday. Having a clear policy avoids misunderstandings and disputes and so can save you money.

With advance notice, it may be possible for some workers to carry out their duties remotely or from home. You could allow employees to alter the place or times of work, perhaps starting and finishing early to avoid the traffic or queues for buses, making up hours at another time. This option could allow your business to keep functioning.

When making such arrangements, you must make sure you do not discriminate against any of your workers. Furthermore, if employees decide to work from another location, you must make sure that health and safety obligations are met and that the location and equipment are suitable for the work being done.

You should also consider whether it is unsafe or too difficult for employees to come to work. Expecting an employee to come in to work unreasonably could amount to grounds for a grievance claim, so caution is advised. Firing someone for not turning up could land you in hot water – unless there is a pattern of absence to back your decision up.

Generally speaking, if there’s travel disruption employers can ask staff to take paid holiday (annual leave) if they give notice that is at least double the length of time they want employees to take in annual leave. So for one day’s annual leave it would be two days notice.

That said, it's worth using your discretion and consider paying your employees as a gesture of goodwill – after all, it isn’t their fault if they can't make it in and keeping your staff happy is good business practice.

Whatever you decide, you should make it to clear what you expect. For example, that employees should make every effort to make it in to work; that they should communicate with you if it is not possible; and informing employees whether they will be paid if they don't show up or whether the absence will be taken from their holiday allowance.

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How to turn around a struggling company

August 18, 2015 by Guest contributor

How to turnaround a struggling company{{}}A company administration process can help assist a company that is looking for legal protection while they restructure their business with the hope of being able to trade forward.

If a company is struggling with insolvency and has taken the step to receive professional advice and obtain an independent business review, then a company administration procedure can help support the company while it is restructured.

Every company can benefit from an independent business review, because it can help to identify areas that can be altered to help stabilise a company's cash flow. Cash flow is such an integral part of a business that if issues start to crop up, seeking professional advice at an early stage will help to increase the options available to the company.

If the cash flow forecast of a business looks insolvent, ignoring it will not help find a solution. Directors will need to be proactive in seeking advice on how to improve and find a solution to this problem.

Some of the areas that an independent business review will look at include:

  • The current trading and financial position of the business.
  • Profit and cash flow projections.
  • Current business and financial strategies that are in place.
  • The current management structure within the business.

A company administration process will not be suitable for all businesses suffering from insolvency. However, it is advisable that a company director contacts an insolvency practitioner during the early stages of insolvency to have business rescue options available to them.

Copyright © 2015 FA Simms & Partners. You can read the original version of this article here.

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Why don't you have an LPA?

July 27, 2015 by Rory MccGwire

Why don't you have an LPA?{{}}Hardly a week goes by without dementia being mentioned on the radio and in the press. We live longer and longer, at great cost to the NHS, but we have barely begun to understand how we might combat dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

So it is good news that the Government has taken steps to make a lasting power of attorney (LPA) easier to set up. Since 1 July, the forms have been made simpler, so too has the application process.

Put simply, an LPA gives someone else the power to make certain decisions on your behalf, if you are no longer able to do so.

So, if you are lying unconscious after a traffic accident, an LPA could give your adult son or daughter the legal authority to make decisions about your healthcare. It could also allow him or her to pay your bills using the money in your bank account until you recover. The key point is that, using an LPA, you can choose in advance which trusted person is given the legal right to make these decisions.

It's interesting to note that most people seem happy to write a will, in case they die unexpectedly, perhaps from a sudden heart attack. But fewer people set up an LPA, in case they do not die but are nevertheless incapacitated, perhaps by a stroke. Perhaps the latter is more frightening to contemplate and to plan for.

It makes sense to set up an LPA when writing your will. Both documents make life much easier for your family.

So come on UK media. Let's make life a little easier for our aging UK population. Make more people aware of LPAs and how important they can turn out to be.

  • Written by that well-known legal guru, rugby coach and man around town Rory 'LPA' MccGwire.

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How to avoid a workplace meltdown

July 01, 2015 by Fiona Prior

How to avoid a workplace meltdownThe Met Office has announced that today has officially been the hottest day of the year. And temperatures have not been this high for at least ten years.

The prospect of a week-long heatwave is great when you are off work and you can lounge in the sunshine. But squeezing into an overcrowded bus or tube, or sitting in stationary traffic, when you are already hot and bothered is a sure fire way to get you hot under the collar before the day has even started.

The Met Office and Public Health England have warned that the current spell of hot weather could be harmful to some vulnerable people and Network Rail have announced that there will be speed restrictions on some lines due to the risk of buckled tracks and line-side fires.

This could have a real impact on your workers if they use public transport to get to work. So what can you do to minimise the impact of the heatwave on your staff?

  • Warn staff about the risks posed by this weather. Whilst we all enjoy the sunshine, it can cause serious health problems. Staff should wear suitable clothing, use sunscreen if they work outside, and keep themselves suitably hydrated. Workers should avoid the peak hours of sunshine when the UV factor is at its highest.
  • Advise those with Asthma or other serious health problems to take suitable precautions.
  • Prepare for thundery weather – the Met Office has warned of sudden, heavy downpours that could cause localised flooding.
  • Consider allowing staff to alter their working hours temporarily. Perhaps they could start and finish work a bit earlier to avoid crowded and overheated buses and trains.
  • Take into account the possible delays caused by 'go slow' restrictions on the trains and tubes. Remind employees to allow extra time to get to and from home or business meetings and be ready to be flexible on start times if employees use public transport to get to work.
  • Get company vehicles serviced to ensure that air conditioning, windows and sun roofs work properly.
  • Make sure staff stay properly hydrated. Provide cold drinks to help staff stay cool.
  • Allow extra or longer breaks so that employees can cool down in a shady place.
  • Open windows and close curtains or blinds to help keep your offices or premises cool.
  • Site desks away from direct sunlight to avoid heat and glare.
  • Hire fans or air conditioning equipment to keep the heat under control. Although there aren't maximum or minimum legal working temperatures, you should aim to keep the workspace comfortable, ie at a 'reasonable' temperature. What is comfortable will depend largely on what your employees are doing, with lower temperatures recommended if your employees are doing strenuous work.
  • Insulate any hot pipes or equipment – such as computer servers – which can add to the heat.
  • Turn off any equipment that you do not need.
  • Relax your dress code, if you have one. It is still possible to present a smart appearance without the need for a suit and tie.
  • Allow staff to work from home if your IT or systems make it possible.
  • Consider using the good weather to your advantage. Heatwaves like this are a rarity – the last time we had these temperatures was back in 1996. You could plan an impromptu company picnic after work, a few drinks in a local beer garden to thank staff for their hard work or a game of rounders in a nearby park as a team building exercise.

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An extreme way to handle divorce or separation?

June 29, 2015 by Rory MccGwire

An extreme way to handle divorce or separation?{{}}A video featuring an apparently disgruntled husband acting out revenge on his ex-girlfriend has gone viral on YouTube.

Viewed more than six million times, the video, which was made in Germany, shows a man called Martin taking out his power tools to cut the couple’s shared belongings in half and then putting them up for sale on eBay.

The decimated objects included a computer, a TV, a phone, a bed, a teddy bear and even a car. The opening words say: "Thank you for 12 'beautiful' years Laura! You've really earned half, greetings to my successor."

The truth behind the spoof

But this video is not what it seems. It turns out that it is a spoof. The stunt is the work of Deutsche Anwaltauskunft, an information portal for the German Bar Association.

After the video hit the headlines, the group confessed all on its website and said: “The idea behind it was to humorously point to a problem that is not only relevant in Germany: too few married couples take precautions for the case of a possible separation - for example with a marriage contract. The event of divorce then often ends in bitter fights under which not only cars and furniture suffer but especially the affected couples and their children."

This spoof had us all fooled because it hits the nail on the head. How can you neatly divide two joined lives into two equal halves? The answer is that you can’t – especially when there are children involved.

Can you avoid acrimony?

This video also rightly highlights the fact that so many separations end acrimoniously. Things often start out OK in a separation, but without very skilled mediation, far too many couples end up in a bitter dispute.

Divorce professionals often say that if both parties feel equally hard done by, then the mediator or the court has done a good job. In other words, that’s as fair as it is likely to get.

Interestingly, this spoof features an unmarried couple. Few people are aware of the lack of legal rights for unmarried partners. Women in long-term relationships can be at the biggest disadvantage. They have often sacrificed their careers to bring up children but once their kids are no longer minors, they are not entitled to spousal maintenance.

New divorce centres

Divorce proceedings are about to change, however. It’s a small step, but from July the Government is opening 11 divorce centres to take most of the 120,000 divorces a year out of the courts.

From a legal perspective, it won’t be any easier to get a divorce than it is now, as the actual grounds for a divorce are unchanged. And any financial matters will be still be reviewed by a district judge, while complex matters will still go to the central family court. But let’s hope that the divorce centres greatly improve the administrative process.

Less time to spend on paperwork and more on YouTube?

Copyright © 2015 Rory MccGwire, chief executive of Atom Content Marketing, publishers of Law Donut.

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How contract law could have prevented the pro gay marriage wedding cake row

May 22, 2015 by Guest contributor

How contract law could have prevented the pro gay marriage wedding cake rowYou may have heard the news. In a landmark decision concerning a case about freedom of expression, court rules Christian cake-makers should not have refused to bake cake with pro gay marriage theme. So it's all about liberty, justice and human rights?

Well, yes, and it plays well at the legal media box office. Everyone loves a good old discussion about justice, laws behind laws, jurisprudence. And some just love a gossipy controversy that involves two competing 'interest groups'. The judge cited 'discrimination' law in his summing up; the cake shop owned by a Christian family had discriminated against a customer for their beliefs.

But notice that the judge made a distinction: "You are conducting a business for profit". Business = objective = cannot/should not discriminate on any ground outside of the business. The laws that we have should, in theory, be about objective resolution of disputes or avoidance of dispute altogether. The law is science, not art. It's not about sociological observation or nebulous crusades for what is 'right'.

And as such, the matter could therefore arguably have been both resolved and explained via simple contract law. No need for any mention of gay rights or Christian agenda; we all have rights in contract law as both consumers and providers of goods or services.

It's worth noting that while the 'gay cake case' is reported as a piece of UK news, the matter was heard in the Northern Ireland courts. That's not quite the same legal system as England and Wales, but the core principles of contract law remain concrete and unchanging, whatever the territory, technology or idiom.

A contract starts with the invitation to treat. In this case, cake shop window displays offers or its website does the same (ecommerce is flexible and problematic and the seller should make clear in its terms and conditions what it defines as an 'offer').

An offer is then made by a customer ('please bake me a cake with big gay rights motif'). Offer gets accepted by cake shop when it confirms it will bake the cake. Money is paid; services and/or goods expected. The end. Money is paid; services/goods provided. It's a formal, binding arrangement, but one with enough stages to give both parties adequate time to understand the ramifications of the agreement and withdraw if need be.

Those processes are defined in landmark cases, the facts of which are cited and repeated by armies of law students. They are fun cases and easily learned. Just for starters see: Carlill v Carbolic Smoke Company and Harvey v Facey (1893); also Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain v Boots (1953) and Fisher v Bell (1961).

The precise application of these principles is changing in the internet era. Note the famous Argos example back in 1999, when the retailer accidentally advertised Sony TVs for sale online for just £3 (the price should have been £299.99). The lucky buyers who clicked to purchase ended up getting a TV for a ridiculously low knock-down price.

Argos learned its lesson in ecommerce, harnessing old school contract law. To protect itself against a repeat of such events, its terms and conditions worked in a clause alerting customers to the fact that potential pricing errors could occur and in that case it would inform you as soon as possible, giving you the option to cancel. No more accidental bargain prices from Argos.

You have rights as a consumer or as a business providing goods/services. You also have to meet expectations and obligations to match terms and conditions both implied/pervasive (from statute/case law precedent) and explicit (from specific contracts). The law is not designed to protect or promote a particular interest group. It is there to ensure that common rights are upheld as citizens, consumers, businesspeople and so on. We should be able to follow an objective procedure and have assurances that actions can be taken if implied standards are not met.

There are expectations that any person should have met within a contract, if they have entered into one. That was perhaps the real issue here, at least potentially. Perhaps it just doesn't make for controversial headlines or fit the current legal zeitgeist? But contract law's principles are objective, clear and effective – whatever your religious or sexual persuasion.

Copyright © 2015 James Murphy, a graduate of New College, Oxford and the University of Law. He is a contributing editor at www.movieviral.com and www.whatisuniverse.com.

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