Category Archives: Members’ Blogs

This is where members of BRX Bond Street post their ideas, views and news. It should be name plus one word description

4 days to go, 969 miles to cover!

Sherrards’ 64-year old CFO will be putting his body on the line from 5-13 September when he cycles 969 miles from Land’s End to John O’Groats over a period of just nine days. Andy Mills-Baker, who is Chief Financial Officer at Sherrards Solicitors, is riding as part of the Alliott Group international team of lawyers and accountants, and is raising money for local charity and cancer specialist hospice, Rennie Grove Hospice Care.

Andy Mills-Baker will be raising money for Rennie Grove Hospice Care as he cycles 969 miles in 9 days!

Andy Mills-Baker will be raising money for Rennie Grove Hospice Care as he cycles 969 miles in 9 days!

“Rennie Grove is a wonderful local charity. My nephew is currently being treated for Lymphoma, so this gives me extra motivation to get over the line on 13th September. I have managed 100 miles in a day in training, but repeating this for 9 days in succession is really going to challenge me mentally and physically. Though I have been training since February, I have had the odd crash in training, and two broken wheels. The first few days are full of hills and will be very tough on the old legs!”

At 64, Andy is one of the oldest riders in the event, but having climbed Mount Kilimanjaro four years ago, he’s confident he can meet the challenge head on.

The Deloitte Ride Across Britain cycle challenge starts this Friday and features some 700 riders from various countries. Andy’s efforts can be followed on his Twitter page (@amb49) or on this blog, and you can sponsor him on his Just Giving page.

For more information on Sherrards Solicitors’ services, please contact Paul Marmor on pdm@sherrards.com or visit www.sherrards.com.

How can companies avoid bad debt?

Bad debtors are the thorn in the side of every business. While, unfortunately, every business will face a bad debtor at some point, in our experience there are number of preventative steps you can take from the outset that will help put you in the best position possible when a bad debtor arises.

To avoid bad debtors, companies must be vigilant when taking on clients

Companies must be vigilant when taking on clients

1) Get information on who will be responsible for your fees from the outset

You should find out who you are dealing with. Are they:-
i) A limited company – who are the directors?
ii) A partnership – who are the partners?
iii) A sole trader?

You should obtain the full name of your client, together with their contact details, including a postal address and all other relevant contact information. Having this information at your fingertips is extremely beneficial should you have to pursue a debtor for payment.

2) Provide your terms and conditions

Terms and Conditions are important for a whole number of reasons, not least because within them you can stipulate what your payment terms are. For example, if you require payment of your invoices to be made within 14 days, then the terms should make reference to that. In the event payment is not made in accordance with your terms, you may wish to reserve your right to seek interest on the outstanding sum. This often acts as an incentive for payment to be made, with the debtor wishing to avoid their liability increasing.

3) Check your client’s financial position

There are a number of companies who offer credit check services. This is a very helpful tool to regularly monitor your client’s financial position. If they are in financial difficulties the earlier you know about that the better. This can avoid a situation whereby further invoices are being raised and going unpaid.

4) Have an effective credit control procedure
An effective system of chasing unpaid invoices is vital. Don’t be afraid to ask for payment. Regular chasing is a very successful way of ensuring your invoice gets paid, especially if you are dealing with a debtor who has a number of creditors. Make sure your voice is heard and not lost in the crowd!

If your business is struggling with bad debtors, we can help. Contact Paul Marmor of Sherrards for further information on pdm@sherrards.com or visit our website at www.sherrards.com.

Paul Marmor meets Alex Salmond and Secretary-General of the Commonwealth

I was privileged to be invited by the UK Government to the two-day Commonwealth Games Business Conference in Glasgow this week, in what has been a very impressive showcase for Scotland and the UK.  And imagine my delight when I discovered that I was the only lawyer in attendance – that’s definitely one to tell the grandchildren!

Head of International Services, Paul Marmor, with Alex Salmond

Scotland has never been so high profile, and there is a real buzz in the terrific city that is Glasgow – wonderful people, food and sights.

I was among a fine collection of business leaders and politicians, and was fortunate to hear some great speakers including the Prime Minister David Cameron, George Osborne, and Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, as well as meet in person Liberal Democrat MP Danny Alexander, First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond (see photo), and Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth (see photo).

Paul Marmor with Kamalesh Sharma, Secretary-General of the Commonwealth

Salmond emphasised the “human legacy” the Games will leave in Scotland, and how it will go way beyond the economic and sporting legacies. He also reported that 70% of contracts for the Games have gone to local Scottish businesses. It’s a great story for Scotland!

The PM commented that he would be using the Commonwealth networks to “boost trade and attract inward investment in the UK and in Scottish companies”.  I echo his thoughts – as a small country on the world stage, we must harness the value in ‘Brand UK’. Our future success and prosperity lies in the effective export of our specialist knowledge and skills base, and in working together with other countries to maximise trade across borders. The world loves British products and services, so we should ensure they are competitive, high quality and easy to access.

A broader, international view is exactly what we offer at Sherrards. We are not the UK’s largest firm of solicitors, but with the help of the UKTI, Law Society, and our membership of Alliott Group, we have developed a strong network of international contacts, and become a successful international law firm with real experts in sectors such as retail, franchising, recruitment and property.  Think international, think Sherrards!

For help with doing business in the UK or exporting overseas, please contact Head of International Services & Litigation, Paul Marmor.

Renovating, refurbishing or extending your home?

Make sure you have the right cover is in place.

If you’re one of the many thousands of people who are considering turning their homes into building sites as you undertake extensive, renovation, refurbishment or the extension of your home, you need to be aware that your existing home insurance policy is highly unlikely to provide you with the cover needed to protect what is probably your most valuable asset.

Where major building works are taking place, the delivery of plant, machinery and materials, hazardous processes involving the application of heat, the creation of debris and disruption and access to your property by an increased number of individuals, your home is extremely vulnerable.

However, where the structure and contents of your home are concerned then some insurers will simply withdraw cover completely, even where your current insurer agrees to continue cover it’s likely to be on a significantly reduced and highly restricted basis.

To complicate matters further, employing a professional team to plan, oversee and execute your project will bring with it a range of contractual obligations which you, as the homeowner, will need to address.

Architects tend to work with ‘off the shelf’ Joint Contracts Tribunal (JCT) contracts which offer a good template for dealing with all aspects of the works being carried out and the relationship between the builder and homeowner. So, under JCT contract conditions, you may be obliged to insure in ‘joint names’ with your chosen contractor, both in respect of the existing structure of your home and the works being undertaken.

In these circumstances your existing home insurer loses its right to pursue your contractor to recover the cost of any claim(s) they have to pay, even where the contractor has been negligent. For this reason insurers can be very reluctant to maintain insurance on a joint names basis and will reduce the extent of your cover, potentially putting you in breach of your obligations under the JCT contract.

At the same time, your existing insurer won’t normally cover the actual work being undertaken leaving your contractor to do this. Should your contractor arrange inadequate cover or, in the worst case scenario, not arrange cover at all then, should the worst happen, you will be left exposed. Equally, if the contractor breaches any of the policy conditions its cover might still not respond in the event of a claim.

Clearly, building sites can be dangerous places. If your builder injures a visitor you might think that it is its insurance that will pay. However, the injured visitor is likely to view you, the owner and instigator of the works, and hence the risk, as being responsible and claim against you.

Another risk is that there could be gaps between the policies and, in the event of a claim, two sets of insurers negotiating over what constitutes the existing structure of your home and what the contract works, is likely to complicate the position still further.

The answer is to take out the right cover for the job. At Green Park Insurance Services we can provide a single, unified cover that eliminates the risk of grey areas and cover overlaps and ensures your property and liability exposures are protected and that you have the cover you need against your contractual obligations too.

Our insurers policy have been designed to fit the requirements of standard JCT contracts – where required it can be written in joint names – providing a tailored, individually underwritten policy on what is termed an ‘All Risks’ basis (which includes theft, malicious and accidental damage and subsidence as standard).

If you’re planning to renovate, refurbish or extend your property, please contact Rachel Ewing on 07557970707 or email rachel.ewing@greenparkinsurance.co.uk.

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Deductions from Wages In Retail – Getting it Right

In the second of a series of retail law blog posts looking at legal matters of particular interest to the retail sector, our employment team focuses on making deductions from wages.

Workers in the retail sector are among the lowest paid in the country. In our last retail post, we looked at the National Minimum Wage in the retail sector and explained how certain deductions from wages might push the worker’s income to below that of the legal minimum.

The law on deductions from wages is quite stringent – retail employers need to ensure they get it right

Further, if deductions are made unlawfully, employers may find themselves faced with a costly Tribunal claim, which can have adverse effects both financially and in relation to the reputation of the business.

The law on deductions from wages is quite stringent. Get it wrong, and the employer may be liable to repay those deductions and be prevented from claiming them back from the worker. Below is an overview of the law in this area.

Why Deductions Might Be Made

Deductions might be made for various reasons, including:

  • Repayment of loans or advances of wages
  • Pension contributions
  • Overpaid holiday or salary payment
  • Payment for tools, uniforms etc.

Also, for many retail businesses, shortfalls in stock or cash (for example, in the tills) are a serious problem and can really affect profitability, particularly given that margins are often already tight. Employers frequently try to claw back these shortfalls from their workers by deducting the sums from their wages.

Getting It Right

To avoid falling foul of the law, employers should pay particular attention to the following:

  • Any deduction from wages must be authorised either by (1) statute; (2) the worker’s contract of employment or (3) a written agreement. Examples of deductions authorised by statute include tax and national insurance, or deductions made to comply with an attachment of earnings order made by a court. All other deductions must, effectively, be authorised by the worker – either under the contract of employment or in a written agreement.
  • It is good practice – and may, depending on the circumstances, be a legal requirement – to notify the worker in advance that (a) the deduction is going to be made (and the reason for it) and (b) how much will be deducted.
  • In circumstances when authorisation from the worker is required, it must be obtained from the worker before the deduction is made – it cannot be given retrospectively.
  • Care should be taken when including “deduction from wages” clauses in employment contracts. The clause must be specific enough to rely upon. A clause authorising the employer to deduct “any sums due to the employer from the employee for whatever purpose” will be unenforceable.
  • Even if there is authorisation in place, make sure that the deduction is, in fact, justified. Deducting £50 from a worker’s pay packet to reimburse the employer for £10 damage is unlikely to be justified.
  • Special rules apply to retail workers. Deductions can be made from the wages of workers in retail employment to compensate the employer for cash shortages or stock deficiencies. Some of the relevant restrictions are:

– “Retail employment” has a specific meaning but generally includes retail transactions with members of the public (i.e. the sale or supply of goods or services)
– Any deduction from the wages payable on any pay day must not exceed 1/10th of the gross amount of the wages payable on that day
– Any deduction must be made within 12 months of discovering the shortage or deficiency
– The deduction must still be authorised in accordance with the general principles outlined above. In addition, the employer must notify the worker in writing of the worker’s total liability before receiving or demanding any payment.
– Once the employment comes to an end, there is no limit on the amount that can be deducted from the final instalment of wages to cover cash shortages or stock deficiencies
– It is worthwhile, particularly for retail employers, getting a properly drafted contract (and, ideally, Employee Handbook) in place setting out the circumstances in which deductions can be made, and providing the necessary authorisation.

Many thousands of pounds are lost to employers each year because of inadequate employment documentation. Speak to a member of Sherrards’ Employment Team, led by Joanne Perry and Mark Fellows and based in St Albans, Hertfordshire, to understand how the team can help you get the necessary documentation and procedures in place.

For further information, please contact Paul Marmor on pdm@sherrards.com or see Sherrards’ website: www.sherrards.com

Retail Focus: Minimum Wage

If you work in the Retail sector take note, the Sherrards Employment Team have a series of blogs coming your way explaining all there is to know regarding employment law in the retail sector. First we focus on the National Minimum Wage.

Retail and Low Pay

In their 2014 Report, the Low Pay Commission revealed that 45% of minimum wage jobs were in hospitality and retail. Employers in the retail industry, therefore, are at greater risk of “getting it wrong” when it comes to calculating and paying the National Minimum Wage (NMW).

 retail

Of course, most employers do not intentionally breach their legal obligations but the rules surrounding the NMW can be quite complex, and it is easy to miss some of the nuances.

Below is an overview of some of the key points to consider when checking whether you are compliant with your NMW obligations.

The Minimum Wage

The current hourly minimum wage for adults aged over 21 is £6.31, which will increase to £6.50 on 1 October 2014. Younger employees, and those on apprenticeships, attract lesser hourly rates between £2.68 and £5.03.

Employers who fail to pay at least the minimum wage will be subjected to tough penalties and the current maximum fine for anyone failing to pay the NMW is £20,000. In the Queen’s Speech earlier this month, it was announced that the Government is proposing to increase this fine to £20,000 per employee (see our Blog).

HMRC can also “name and shame” companies which do not pay the minimum wage. Clearly, this could have a significant detrimental impact on an organisation’s reputation.

The Risk of “Getting it Wrong”

Payment of the minimum wage is not always straightforward. Some employers base their pay on a number of factors, not just set hourly rates for hours worked. Employees may be given additional benefits (including, for example, accommodation) and/or are part of commission schemes.

So, what are some of the key points that employers should be aware of when paying their employees?

  • The right to receive the NMW extends to “workers”, not just employees. It does not extend to genuinely self-employed individuals. Agency workers are entitled to the NMW, but genuine volunteers are not.
  • Not all payments/benefits given to the worker count towards the calculation of the NMW.

-Basic salary, incentive payments and bonuses count.

-Payments for loans, advances of wages and benefits in kind (e.g. meals, luncheon vouchers, company cars) do not.

-Tips, gratuities and service chargers cannot be taken into account.

– Accommodation may count, up to a maximum value.

  • Check what hours attract the NMW. Specific rules cover travel, training, on-call and standby time.
  • Make sure that working time and pay is properly recorded. Tribunals will presume that the worker has been paid a rate less than the NMW unless the employer can show otherwise – keeping records is therefore of vital importance. Employers must keep records sufficient to establish that workers have been paid at a rate at least equivalent to NMW, for a period of 3 years.
  • Keep a note of birthdays! It is surprising how many employers inadvertently breach their minimum wage obligations because they have failed to recognise the step change between different ages of workers. Retail employers often have a significant number of workers under 21, so this point is important.
  • Remember that, if workers are required to purchase items in order to carry out their work, e.g. uniforms, this sum will be deducted from the calculation of the NMW.
  • Be careful when making deductions from a worker’s pay. Even if the deduction is lawful, it may reduce pay to below NMW levels.

If your worker is “non-standard”, i.e. being paid a basic hourly rate of at least £6.31 for each hour worked, it may be worth going through a risk analysis to check that you are compliant with the NMW.

The law in this area is constantly developing, so if there are complicating factors (e.g. if the worker spends time on call or on standby), you would be well advised to speak to  Joanne Perry or Mark Fellows in St Albans, Hertfordshire, and London, to ensure that you are not breaching your legal obligations!

For further information, please contact Paul Marmor on pdm@sherrards.com or see Sherrards’ website: www.sherrards.com

Once bitten, twice shy? The case of Luis Suarez and the Bite

Luis Suarez is in trouble once again for an alleged offence involving biting. FIFA have just imposed a 4 month ban from football and suspended him from the next nine international matches, but what about his career with Liverpool?

Handily bypassing the question of whether Suarez is an employee of Liverpool, and whether they will actually want to get rid of their star striker, can employers dismiss their employees for acts done outside the course of their work?

The answer (as seems to always be the case in employment law) is that “it depends”!  The important factor is the link between the off-duty misconduct and the workplace.

In one case, a number of employees were dismissed for having a serious fight outside the workplace and after working hours. The result of the fight was “discord, fear and even perhaps terror” throughout the workplace. The resulting dismissal in this case was held to be fair. The view of the Employment Appeal Tribunal was that the incident was sufficiently close to the workplace to have an effect at work.

Similarly, in another case, an employee who had a fight with a colleague outside work following a long-running dispute about a woman was held to be fairly dismissed, despite the fact that the fight took place off-site and involved a domestic matter. The key issue was that the off-duty misconduct impacted upon the workplace (as the affected colleague no longer felt it safe to attend work). Consequently, the employer’s trust in the employee was completely broken.

However, not every dismissal in these circumstances would be fair. What is key is whether the behaviour would have a serious adverse impact upon the workplace, potentially damaging the employer’s reputation or seriously undermining the trust that the employer has in the employee.

So, where would this leave Suarez in the hypothetical situation above?

The Employee Handbook might be of relevance here. Does the disciplinary policy make it clear what conduct is or is not acceptable? In particular, does it say that off-duty misconduct might result in disciplinary action?

What is the employer’s view on the effect Suarez’s behaviour might have on his suitability to do his job and his relationship with the Club, his fellow players and other colleagues?

Arguably, given that his conduct took place doing the job he is employed to do, albeit not for the benefit of his employers, there may be a greater connection with his employment for the Club leading to a question over his suitability for the role. Given his profile, the Club might also consider its reputation, as well as the potential that he might do this again (perhaps leading to some form of personal injury claim, for which the Club may be vicariously liable). All of that being said, the Club will have to consider its stance given it was seen to ‘support’ Suarez in relation to the previous biting incident in 2013 whilst he was playing for them at the time. Does that fetter their ability to take disciplinary action this time?

Of course, all of this is hypothetical and merely serves to demonstrate some of the potential issues that arise when employers are considering dismissing for conduct outside the workplace. As with all these things, the individual circumstances are of prime importance and every case must be considered on its own facts. In the case of Suarez, it is undoubtedly significant that he is viewed as one of the best footballers in the world at the moment, which will dictate a hefty transfer fee, and that, rather than employment law, may well dictate how the Club deal with the matter.

If you are faced with an employee who commits an act of misconduct outside the workplace, for which you wish to impose a disciplinary sanction, then call our Employment Team, led by Mark Fellows and Joanne Perry, for advice and support on how to approach the situation.

For further information, please contact Paul Marmor on pdm@sherrards.com or see Sherrards’ website: www.sherrards.com

 

World Cup Fever – how can employers prepare?

Sherrards Solicitors’ Employment Law Team in London and St Albans is bracing itself for an influx of queries about employment issues arising from the forthcoming tournament. To help employers prepare, see below some key pointers:

  • Encourage staff to take pre-booked holiday if they want to watch the football. Make it clear that requests for leave are not guaranteed to be approved and will be considered on a “first come, first served” basis. Do not give priority to staff wanting to watch the football.
  • Make it clear to employees in advance that unplanned absences (e.g. sickness) during the tournament will be subject to closer scrutiny. Hold return to work meetings when employees come back, even if this has not been the normal practice before. Ensure your sickness absence policy is up to date.
  • Consider offering employees the opportunity to work flexibly around games, e.g. by allowing employees to work through their lunch breaks, or come into work early, then leave early in order to catch the games. Make it clear that any such arrangement will need to be pre-approved.
  • Be alert to the fact that not everybody will support the England team. Be sensitive to the fact that employees of other nationalities should be given the same treatment as employees supporting the England team.
  • Consider showing the football at the office, and even making it into an “event” that all employees are welcome to attend. Be aware that not everybody will want to be involved and you may wish to allow non-interested employees to simply take time out rather than watch the football.
  • Ensure you have an up-to-date alcohol policy and that employees are aware of their responsibilities regarding alcohol. Ensure that employees understand that overindulgence which impacts on work is unacceptable.
  • Revisit your company’s internet policy.  Set out your expectations to employees clearly. You may wish to state that reasonable internet browsing to check scores will be permitted, provided that it doesn’t interfere with the person’s work, but that watching full games is expressly prohibited. Alternatively, you may wish to adopt a “zero tolerance” approach and prohibit all non-work related browsing.

The World Cup can be an excellent opportunity to forge good relations with staff. Handled well, it can be a chance to encourage a real sense of goodwill and commitment from employees. However, employers should be alive to the potential pitfalls and take steps to avoid being the ones that lose out. Now is the time to revisit and update employment policies, and make sure that these are issued to staff.

Overall, the key elements for success are communication, clarity and consistency. With the right approach, employers and employees alike can enjoy a happy (and hopefully victorious!) World Cup.

Contact Sherrards’ employment solicitors to ensure your company’s employment policies are up to date! 

For more information on any of the above, or for a general review of your employment policies, please contact either Joanne Perry or Mark Fellows who jointly manage the Employment Law team at Sherrards Solicitors.

Sherrards’ Property Litigator Features in Hard-Hitting Channel 5 Documentary on Britain’s Debt Collectors

A lawyer at Sherrards Solicitors who specialises in property litigation, recently featured in ‘Can’t Pay? We’ll Take it Away’, a Channel 5 documentary that explores the everyday, often confrontational challenges faced by debtors, creditors and debt collectors.

Screenshot

The emotionally challenging story featured in the documentary screened on 10th March 2014 involved Mark Talbot, a chartered surveyor, residential landlord and long-standing client of Sherrards, and his last resort attempt to use High Court enforcement officers to try to recover his elderly parents’ flat in West London from tenants who had not paid the rent for five months. Furthermore, neighbours had raised concern about the odours coming from the property that were clear signs, proved correct on entry to the building, of considerable neglect and a serious hygiene issue.

“These cases are notoriously difficult, and of course you sympathise with everyone involved. However, my job as a solicitor is to ensure that the law is enforced and that my client achieves a satisfactory outcome.  In this case, we needed to help Mark to recover his family’s property,” comments Sean Moriarty (seen to the right of the image), a solicitor and property litigator at the London and St Albans firm.

“We always follow a process whereby the tenant is given time and every opportunity to respond before a repossession order is requested. On this occasion, letters, phone calls and a High Court order were all ignored by the tenants, and unfortunately we had no other option but to resort to the use of enforcement officers to try to recover the property. Although it wasn’t made clear in the documentary, I am seen on my phone trying to secure alternative accommodation for the couple involved. ”

Mark Talbot added: “What we found in the flat was a surprise to all of us in terms of the extent of disarray and the well-being of the couple occupying the flat. However, the debts and legal costs in this type of case mount up quickly and have to be shouldered by the landlords. What we have to endure is often overlooked. “

He adds: “I was very fortunate to have the Sherrards property litigation team on my side, particularly Sean Moriarty and Terry Fendt – they acted quickly to protect our interests and achieve a positive result that my whole family was delighted with.”

“Although debts and disputes are some of the least palatable aspects of the UK’s property sector, they are a reality that we have to face,” comments Terry Fendt, Head of Property at Sherrards.

“Matters such as these are often far from straightforward, but we have to be professional in our approach and we will always act quickly and follow the necessary steps to get the results our clients have instructed us to achieve.”

For further information about Sherrards please visit our website: www.sherrards.com

For further information on Sherrards’ Property Litigation services, please contact Paul Marmor or Sean Moriarty on +44 (0) 207 478 9010.