So many people have been caught out and found themselves stranded as airlines are grounded. Who gets paid? Who doesn’t? What happens when staff can’t get to work through no fault of their own?
Who is entitled to be paid and for what?
The UK has a remarkably flexible labour market, and the answer depends on what type of contract you have got with your staff. There is no general right for employees who don’t turn up for work to be paid, and if they are stranded and can’t get to work, you may not be obliged to pay them. Many employers do pay more than they are required to, but it is important to know when you are choosing to pay more, and when you have to pay.
Hourly paid workers
People who are paid by the hour are not automatically entitled to be paid for their absence.
Employees can ask you to allow them to take the day(s) as paid leave. You are not obliged to authorise paid leave retrospectively, but if you do so, make sure the holiday records are kept properly up to date. You cannot decide retrospectively to make this a day’s leave without the employee’s consent.
There is an historic tradition in the UK (fading fast) that distinguishes between staff on annual or monthly salaries, and those on an hourly rate – the old “white collar-blue collar” divide. Traditionally salaried staff are not paid by the hour, do not receive overtime when they work more hours, nor receive a deduction when they work less.
These staff are viewed as being paid for service, rather than for the particular work performed. This group of individuals is generally entitled to pay unless the contract provides otherwise. You should check your contracts carefully. This applies even if no work is actually performed or where the employee is prevented from working due to factors beyond their control, as long as the employee remains ready and willing to serve the employer. Ready and willing would normally mean making an effort to get to work where it is safe to do so. Local staff who could have made it in would not be automatically entitled to pay if they did not turn up.
Many organisations no longer feel comfortable about having a two-tier contract system, and increasingly have one single-status contract that applies to all. So it’s possible your hourly paid staff may be in the same contractual position as salaried staff. A lot depends on what your contracts say.
Annual hours and flexi-hours contracts
Check the terms of your contracts – it may be that time not worked does not count for payment, and missed work will have to be performed at another time.
How long can this go on for?
No-one knows how long the delays will last. In employment law, this situation is known as “temporary frustration of contract” – when through no fault of employer or employee the contract cannot be performed.
During this period the contract is ‘on ice’ with no work being performed and no money being paid (unless the contract is set up in a particular way – see above).
Employers with time-sensitive work to be performed may find themselves needing to get in other staff or contractors to do the work. Call us if you are not sure if you need to pay your existing staff as well.
Are people going to be dismissed for absence?
Most employers are not going to dismiss people for a problem that is not their fault. However, some employers may feel they have no alternative but to “accept the frustration” of contract if this goes on too long. “Accepting the frustration” means that the employer accepts that the contract has come to an end.
The law of “frustration” says that if the underlying basis of the contract no longer exists, the contract comes to an end. This is not technically a dismissal, though it has a similar effect. Staff with less than a year’s service will find there is not a lot they can do about this, unless their dismissal is related to some form of unlawful discrimination.
Employers will think long and hard before doing this, but for some organisations with deadlines there may be little choice but to find replacements.
Those who were wise enough to set up contracts that did not commit them to pay when no work is done will not have to consider accepting frustration at this point, but those with different contracts may, if this goes on, find themselves with little choice.
If you don’t know if you have to pay people who are stranded – send your contracts to us for a quick free review. – email to email@example.com or fax them to us.
Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy. Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website : www.irenicon.co.uk. You can follow Annabel on twitter – http://twitter.com/AnnabelKaye
An employee whose job is to promote his employer’s business on Twitter has handed in his notice to go to a competitor. Most of his followers on Twitter are clients or suppliers of the business, or good prospects. Do their details belong to the employee, so he can take them to his new job, or do they belong to the employer, so he can’t?
This is an issue facing an employer friend of mine. There is nothing specific in his employee’s contract of employment stopping the employee (let’s call him Alan) from using or disclosing his employer’s information, but my friend is arguing that the details are his ‘trade secrets’ – confidential information that would be likely to cause real or significant damage to him if they became publicly known. If he is right, Alan cannot use them because ex-employees are under an automatic and implied legal duty to keep their former employer’s trade secrets confidential, whatever their contract says.
But Alan is arguing three points. First, he is saying that the Twitter profile – and everything on it – is his personal profile, not his employer’s profile, so my friend has no right to the details on it.
Second, he is saying that the details aren’t trade secrets, they are just ‘confidential information’ – information that my friend would not want rivals to find out. ‘Confidential information’ is wider than ‘trade secrets’. Current employees are under an automatic, implied duty not to use or disclose confidential information. But ex-employees can use or disclose confidential information unless it is also a trade secret, or unless they have a contract of employment that specifically says they must.
Third, Alan is saying my friend authorised him to build up his followers on Twitter – where anyone signed up to Twitter (including competitors) can see them – so my friend has authorised their disclosure. This means they are no longer trade secrets or confidential information.
My friend disagrees on all three counts. Who wins?
Confidential information – court backs employer
A recent court case helps my friend. An employer encouraged employee X to invite business contacts to join X’s network on a business networking website. X then left to set up a competing business, and started using those contact details. X’s former employer objected on grounds that the details were the employer’s confidential information, and there was an employment contract between them that prevented X from using confidential information after he left. X argued that the contact details stopped being ‘confidential information’ when they became available on the site. They were not therefore covered by the terms in his contract of employment.
X lost the case. One reason was that the judge found that the employer’s authority to Y to use such sites had been limited to using them in the performance of his duties as an employee.
As a result, X was ordered to disclose the contacts’ details to his former employer, and also all documents showing his use of the contacts, and business obtained from them since he had left.
However, if the employer had not put a limit on X’s use of such sites (for example, had allowed the employee to use the site for non-work purposes too), or there had not been a specific contract clause protecting confidential information, the decision may have gone the other way.
So it’s important that there are contract terms and/or staff policies that:
Confidential information v trade secrets
This leaves my friend with two problems. First, Alan’s employment contract does not specifically stop him from using or disclosing ‘confidential information. So if my friend cannot show the details on the Twitter profile are ‘trade secrets’, he may find they are not protected.
Worse, it turns out that Alan was, quite innocently, also using the Twitter profile to post personal, non-work items on it too. So, given the court case we looked at earlier, it looks like my friend has two problems … hmm, time for legal advice.
UK shoppers spent £38 billion over the Internet last year, almost 10 per cent of their total retail spend for the year. That’s double the European average, according to a recent report by the Centre for Retail Research.
But if you think that suggests the nation’s consumers are a savvy, confident bunch you might be wrong. Earlier in March, a government survey also revealed that:
What are we to make of these findings? First, let’s clear up the key difference between distance-selling and bricks-and-mortar customer rights – the cooling-off period – because it’s one that vexes retailers as well as customers. Then we can look at how businesses should deal with customer confusion – and the benefits that can bring to sales.
Clearing up the cooling-off provision
When a customer buys online, they get a seven working-day window during which they can cancel the contract for any reason, including just changing their mind. Broadly speaking, this cooling-off period starts on the day the customer receives their goods, or, for services, the day the contract is concluded.
The rules aren’t quite that simple, though. Various admin details and types of goods can affect, or end, the customer’s rights to a full cancellation and refund. For example:
Building trust out of confusion
Many retailers’ response to customers’ lack of knowledge about their cooling-off rights will be something along the lines of “Thank God for small mercies”.
It’s tough times out there and if customers aren’t cancelling orders, then so much the better. At the end of the day, online retailers are required to comply with distance-selling rules, not to provide educational bulletins for customers on them.
True enough. But there’s a bigger picture here.
Surveys show that customers are still wary about shopping online. Trust remains at a premium. So there’s competitive advantage to be found by businesses that outperform their peers at generating it.
Being upfront and accommodating about your rules and procedures about cancellations are an important part of building online trust. Customers want to know you’re not going to suck them into a black hole of non-existent customer service if it turns out they change their mind about a purchase.
Look at Amazon, the self-styled “world’s most customer-centric company”. They bend over backwards to inform customers of their rights and to make cancellation as easy as possible. In doing so, they’ve achieved something close to profit alchemy – turning customers’ lack of knowledge into a way of generating the trust that online businesses crave.
Not for Amazon the dubious benefit of having confused customers hang on to a few items that might otherwise have been returned as cancellations. Instead, they’ve bet on trust and are selling products by the shedload that might otherwise never have been ordered.
2010 has come round pretty fast, and business owners are getting ready to deal with workers’ requests for time off to watch World Cup matches on TV - or even go to South Africa. Can you remember all the legal rules about holidays?
The bottom line is that workers are entitled to 28 days’ paid holiday each year (a pro-rata proportion for part-timers and temps), and entitlement starts from day one of their employment. But job contracts and policies may allow your staff to carry holiday forward in some circumstances, and new case law says sick workers have the right to carry holiday forward in some circumstances, so some employees may be entitled to more than 28 days.
Contracts or policies can limit when employees can take holiday – provided they have taken their 28 days by the end of the holiday year. For example, employers may be able to insist they take part of their holiday on bank holidays and/or during an annual summer close-down, and stop them from taking holiday during peak periods or when the firm would otherwise be short-staffed – proper, objective grounds. Think about emailing employees to remind them when you can refuse holiday requests. Some employers also set limits on how long each holiday can be - for example, that no holiday can last more than a fortnight.
Contracts or policies may set out how much notice employees must give you of their holiday plans. If not, the notice an employee gives has to be twice as long as the holiday they are asking for. So two days’ holiday requires four days’ notice.
If an employer refuses proposed holiday dates they have to do so in writing, and the length of notice of the refusal must be at least as long as the holiday requested – for example, at least two weeks before the worker’s holiday is due to start if refusing a two-week holiday.
Employers often have a system for determining priority if there are holiday clashes or if they’d otherwise be left short-staffed. This needs to be fair and non- discriminatory system, which can be as simple as ‘first come, first served’. Favouring employees with longer service could discriminate against younger employees who have not had time to build up service, and may also be sex discrimination because (on average) women have shorter periods of service than men.
That’s holidays sorted – but how do you stop workers just calling in sick on their country’s match days - a particular problem with this World Cup because South Africa and the UK are on similar time zones, so matches will be on during the working day? Answers on a World Cup ticket please!