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Workplace ‘Banter’ vs Workplace Bullying

A recent case in York Crown Court heard four employees bullied a teenage apprentice colleague for a period of nine months.

The victim (who is a regular church-goer) allegedly underwent months of bullying, which included being tied to a chair with duct tape and a dummy being forced in his mouth, being ‘wedgied’ which caused cuts and bruises and was tied to a handmade crucifix, drawn on and burnt by his fellow colleagues.

The colleagues, who are currently on trial for assault, dismissed these claims and stated that they were just a series of workplace pranks.

The defendants in the case deny putting the employee in fear of violence by harassment and racially aggravated assault by beating.

Austin Newman (prosecution) stated in court that “the prosecution contend it was sustained bullying of a young man in the workplace. From an early stage, he was subject to acts of bullying that went beyond anything that could be described as banter or high jinks in the workplace”

Newman carried on to explain the first incident “one night during the week, the group would tend to go out socialising and drinking – that night was usually Thursday night. On this occasion the victim did not accompany his colleagues and he went to bed. He was woken by a colleague who was above him with a deodorant can in one hand and a cigarette lighter in another. The colleague discharged the spray that narrowly missed the victims head because he had the presence of mind to pull the duvet over his head. Afterwards another colleague was seen stamping out the smoke from the duvet.” It was understood that pictures of the incident were taken on a mobile phone.

The second incident, described as the following “the colleagues returned to their digs where the victim was asleep. Whilst he was asleep a colleague took a permanent marker and drew a number of symbols, both religious and phallic, over the victims face.”

The last incident which happened, was when the victim was attacked by his colleagues in January 2015. It was described as “the colleagues forced the complainant onto a cross fashioned out of two lengths of wood and put him onto a square of plasterboard. He was tied down to the plasterboard by duct tape. He was suspended a metre above the ground in a way that resembled a crucifixion.”

This case is yet to be concluded.

Susie Munro from Xpert HR has said that although this is a criminal case, the victim could also claim for harassment related to religion or belief. Questions could also rise of the employer’s liability for these extreme examples of bullying.

Let us know what you think. Is the employer liable for letting this happen? Do you have the right system in place for an employee to approach someone if they are being bullied?

For any support with workplace bullying, contact us on 01909 512 120 or email phillipa@loftusstowe.com

Are you due a tax rebate?

Thousands of employees are missing out on tax relief each year. Fill in our simple online form now, to see if we are able to recover any tax you have overpaid!

Did you know you can claim back tax relief for business expenses you have paid during the last 4 tax years, regardless of your profession?

If you would like to make a claim, telephone 01909 512 120 and we will fill in our online form on your behalf.

Alternatively, visit http://employeetaxrelief.co.uk/ where we will get back to you within two working days.

Staff Handbook incorporated with Contract of Employment – What’s the Risk?

Some employers make the choice of incorporating their staff handbook, as part of their employee’s employment contract. The employment contract is a signed document, which sets out the agreed terms set out between the employer and the employee – this cannot be changed without agreement by both parties. Whereas the staff handbook is a document which explains the employer’s policies and practices – this document can be changed without the employees’ consent.

Part or all of the staff handbook can form part of the contract of employment, if a policy is suitable to incorporate into it.

In a recent case of Department for Transport v Sparks and others, the Court of Appeal upheld a decision that the High Court made, that provisions included in a staff handbook regarding managing staff absence that was incorporated into the contracts, couldn’t be changed unilaterally. This means that the changes that the employer made, couldn’t be imposed on their employees, without their prior consent.

In the case, it was seen that S and others had different agencies they used for Department for Transport and each agency then had their own staff handbook. The Department for Transport then wanted to make changes to the absence management policy, due to it being different in each of the handbooks. The handbook was split into two sections, the first section stated that the policies were incorporated into the employment contract. The second section includes procedures and guidance, were not part of the contract.

The handbook was unclear, that when the contents of it is changed, the employment contracts potentially could change too. It did explain that they would consult with the employees before making any changes, but even if the parities didn’t agree on the changes, they would be imposed anyway and vary the contract terms – but, only if the changes were not detrimental.

In 2012, the Department for Transport informed their trade unions that they would be implementing a new absence management policy – this was after failed consultations. S and others then took this to the High Court for a declaration preventing the Department for Transfer from doing so.

The Department for Transport argued that the changes were not detrimental and they were aiming to ensure employees absence was supportively managed. The High Court accepted that the changes were done in good mind, but argued that workers would see the new provisions were to their detriment.

Overall the High Court held that the change in absence management policy were going to be incorporated into employees contracts and it was going to introduce a lower trigger point for sanctions, which made it detrimental to employees.

This decision was appealed but the Court of Appeal dismissed their appeal.

So, what does this mean to you?

If incorporating the staff handbook into the employment contract, it must be clear which parts of the handbook form part of the contract and subsequently, vary their contract terms. The easiest thing to do? Clearly state that the staff handbook will not form part of the contract of employment.

If you want to know more, contact us on 01909 512 120 or email phillipa@loftusstowe.com

Why successful companies have a deep appreciation of Marketing and why you should too.

McDonalds may already be one of the most recognised brands in the world, but they nevertheless spend billions of pounds every year on their marketing efforts.

On the other side of the spectrum, startups and micro-businesses view marketing as a matter of survival, not theory: their business will disappear if they don’t invest in it.

Between those two extremes, however, an interesting thing often happens: companies forget about marketing. Once a company gets past a few million pounds in revenue, it’s tempting to let things slide. Some of these companies stop marketing altogether.

“Business is growing and everyone’s staying busy”, they think, so why bother with the expense and hassle?

We’ll tell you why.

Marketing is food, not medicine

Some companies regard marketing as medicine to be taken when something is wrong. (“Not enough customers? Take some marketing and call me in the morning.”)

This is completely wrong-headed thinking, and it’s one of the reasons so many otherwise successful businesses wind up failing.

They get used to feeling busy…until they realize it’s too late to start what they should have been doing all along.

Marketing is food. It’s the regular, sustained nourishment that gets your business where you want it—and keeps it there. You need it throughout the day, every day.

Successful companies never stop marketing

Here are four common-sense reasons why the most successful:

  1. Ongoing marketing prevents “reputation rot”: Surveys and regular contact help keep your reputation good in the eyes of the client.
  2. Ongoing marketing shapes your customer base: Telling your clients what other services you do and also asking what they want helps to keep you one step ahead of the competition.
  3. Ongoing marketing gives you lots of options: Having more business through effective marketing means you can chose who you do business with.
  4. Ongoing marketing secures your company’s future: The single most important reason for engaging in active, ongoing marketing is simply that it secures your company’s future

Marketing creates business. You may have lots going on right now, but will it still be there in six months? A year? Three years?

Savvy business owners don’t leave their future up to chance; they’re planting seeds now they can harvest next season.

If your company currently has lots of work, happy customers, and a busy staff, then you’ve successfully achieved a key milestone in the life of a business: viability. This isn’t the end of your journey, though, but the beginning — and marketing will be your constant companion at every step you take from here on out.

Loftus Stowe is able to offer you help in this area with the inclusion of an experienced Marketing Consultant, Lindsey Newman-Wood who is helping clients grow and thrive through the development of practical marketing strategies and plans and on-going marketing, all with a focus on return on investment.

Call us on 01909 512 120 to book a free 30 minute audit of your current marketing!

 

Childcare Vouchers and Maternity Leave

Did you know that The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has really messed things up from employees who receive childcare vouchers while on maternity leave?

Why?

Well, EAT has decided that childcare vouchers provided to employees through a salary sacrifice agreement should be classed as remuneration.

This means that employers do not have to continue to provide them for employees on maternity leave.

For employers who wish to rely on the above to change their current policies, we should warn you to proceed with caution.

As you are well aware, employees on maternity leave are entitled to retain all the usual terms of their contract of employment.

This then means that all benefits which are not remuneration must be continued during the employee’s maternity leave.

Up until now these childcare voucher, which are provided through a salary sacrifice, have been treated as a non-cash benefit to employees.

Even through a tax perspective, these childcare vouchers are seen as benefits rather than actual earnings.

Therefore HMRC is advising that employers should continue to provide the said vouchers to employees who are on maternity leave as a benefit,

Where childcare vouchers are provided as part of such said schemes, it provides tax and national insurance contributions savings as compared to employees simply paying for childcare from their normal salary.

The savings in employers’ NICs made through employers operating these schemes are efficient enough to fund the childcare vouchers of an employee who is in receipt of SMP only.

These changes have caused confusion when it comes to childcare vouches and maternity leave.

Within one recent case (where an employee stopped these vouchers while an employee was on maternity leave) the judge ruled that the HMRC guidance was not determinative, the EAT ruled that childcare vouchers should be classed as remuneration.

What did this mean?

This meant that in fact the employer was well within their right not to continue to provide the benefit of the vouchers to the employee on maternity leave.

Why?

EATs reason for this was that the salary sacrifice arrangement was simply a diversion of an employee’s   salary to purchase childcare vouchers in a tax efficient way.

Please note, acknowledgements have been made that EAT might not have considered all of the relevant law, when reaching their conclusions, and should be treated with caution.

The judgement ignore the fact that salary sacrifice involves a contractual reduction to employee’s salary in return for the benefit.

It is important to remember that these vouchers are a non-cash benefit that cannot be regarded as a remuneration, and therefore should continue to be provided during maternity leave.

Where an employee has sacrificed salary in return for childcare vouchers, the SMP and contractual maternity pay will be calculated on the reduced salary, and the judgement simply does not consider this.

This means that such employees will still have maternity pay calculated on the basis of their reduced salary but will no longer be entitled to the childcare vouchers during maternity leave, the very reason they reduced their salary in the first place.

Therefore it would be risky for employers to rely on this authority as the basis to stop providing these childcare vouchers for employees on maternity leave.

Finally, it is worth noting that the government plans to implement tax-free childcare system from 2017, which may well change things yet again.

 

Protecting Clients data should now be your number one priority!

So, this month the 11 million documents stolen from Mossack Fonseca has hit the headlines as being one of the largest known leaks of data.

While this cyber-attack is really one of a kind, it really is not the first time these sort of things have happened within organisations recently, and it certainly will not be the last.

This case really does need to be a wakeup call for all business owners who withhold personal client data, and entice them to review their firm’s cybersecurity systems.

For those in industries where the amount of personal date held on behalf of their clients is high, then it’s time to make good use of the recent case and tighten the security systems.

It has been highlighted that a lot of organisations’ cybersecurity processes are based largely on trust with their staff.

But unfortunately when dealing with human elements; as we all know, trust is very often abused.

According to recent research it is suggested that 55% of all cybercrime is committed by insiders of the business.

It has been suggested that these few staff, former staff and contractors are likely to take advantage of relaxed security procedures.

According to another source a study last year showed that over 50% of the respondents who took part in a survey, felt that it would be very difficult to identify if their ex-employees still had access via their accounts to resources on their networks.

Even more worrying 55% of these thought the same about ex-contractors still having access to their networks.

These are significantly high figures, considering that the individuals in question have the three things needed to commit cybercrime; Means, Motive and Opportunity.

Therefore maintaining cyber defences based around trust will no longer be sufficient, it is time for you to up your game or risk losing your clients data.

Don’t risk being subject to breaching your clients confidentiality or data protection.

If you suspect any breach of data protection, especially a cyber-attack, by staff or former employees please don’t hesitate to contact us on 01909 512 120 or email ella@loftusstowe.com for advice.

Can you withdraw a job offer?

There may be some reasons that employers will need to withdraw job offers, this may be due to a change of management or may be due to funding for a certain role being withdrawn. Or, the employer may realise that the candidate isn’t suitable for the role. But what are the risks of withdrawing an unconditional job offer?

You may think that the employer can withdraw the offer, but they risk the employee taking a claim to tribunal for breach of contract. Not only that, but withdrawing job offers can affect the reputation of the business.

When exactly is the contract of employment formed? Once the unconditional job offer is made and accepted, this is when the employment contract is formed. An employer risks being liable for damages for the candidate’s loss, if they withdraw an unconditional job offer once it’s been accepted.

You may think that just because the candidate hasn’t started, you can withdraw the offer immediately. However, the employer still needs to provide the candidate with a notice period.

If the employer withdraws the job offer due to recruitment plans changing because of the business’s needs, they will need to notify the selected candidate(s) as soon as they can, which may mean that the selected candidate may not have resigned from their current role yet. If this is the case, the employer should explain their reasons for withdrawing the offer and apologise.

The safer route.

By offering a conditional offer, it means the candidate has to satisfy certain conditions such as providing references or proof of qualifications. This means the employer has the right to withdraw the job offer without being liable for damages, if the candidate doesn’t satisfy one or more of those requirements.

It’s important for employer to make it clear at the point of offering, that is a conditional offer, if not and the candidate doesn’t meet the requirement(s), the employer could then be in breach of contract and liable for any damages.

The safest option is to ensure that when offering employment it is made clear to the selected candidate that it is a conditional offer, and let them know the requirements that need to be met. If the employer doesn’t do this, it could end up a costly mistake!

For more support and advice on job offers, contact us on 01909 512 120 or email phillipa@loftusstowe.com

We raised £645 – Thank You!

You may remember last November, we took part in Will Aid which is where solicitors all over waive their fee for writing a basic Will, in turn our clients make a donation to Will Aid.

By doing this it means that Will Aid can pass these donations on to their nine charities they support which includes:

  • Action Aid;
  • British Red Cross;
  • Christian Aid;
  • Age UK;
  • NSPCC;
  • Save the Children;
  • SCIAF;
  • Sightsavers; and
  • Trocaire.

This means that not only do you get the peace of mind knowing you have your estate and affairs looked after, but you help fund and support  life-changing charities.

We are extremely proud to announce that we have just received our certificate which shows we raised a total of £645 towards those charities!

We would like to take this opportunity to once again thank all of our clients who donated and took part in Will Aid last November.

Residential Landlords To Deduct The Cost Of Replacing Furnishings – April 2016

As of April 2016, residential agents and buy to let landlords will longer need to decide whether their property is sufficiently furnished to claim the new replacement furniture relief (RFR), which replaces the wear and tear allowance.

The relief enables all landlords to deduct the costs they actually incur on replacing furnishings in the property.

According to HMRC “The relief will apply to landlords of unfurnished, part furnished and furnished properties. 

The relief will not apply to ‘furnished holiday letting’ businesses (FHLs) and letting of commercial properties, because these businesses receive relief through the Capital Allowances regime. 

The new (RFR) will only apply to the replacement of furnishings. The initial cost of furnishing a property would not be included. 

Under the new RFR, landlords of all non-FHL residential dwelling houses will be able to claim a deduction for the capital cost of replacing furniture, furnishings, appliances and kitchenware provided for the tenant’s use in the dwelling house.

Fixtures integral to the building that are not normally removed by the owner if the property was sold, would not be included because the replacement cost of these would, as now, be a deductible expense as a repair to the property itself.”

Please feel free to call us on 01909512120 – we will be happy to assist.

New Changes to Director Loan Accounts (DLA) April 2016

Most owner mangers of small companies have a director loan accounts (DLA) and sometimes these go overdrawn.

HMRC legislation states that an overdrawn DLA should be cleared within 9 months following the end of the company’s trading year.

If the loan is not repaid in that time, the company will incur a penalty charge under section 455 of the Corporation Tax Act 2010.

This charge is paid alongside the corporation tax.

Before 6 April 2016 the penalty charge was 25% of the value of the loan however, this has now increased to 32.5%.

What are the director’s options?

1)    Personal Funds  -  use own money to clear the loan

2)    Bonus Payment – a bonus can be voted to the director which is used to repay the loan

3)    Dividend Payment – a dividend can be voted, documented and the director can use this to repay the outstanding loan amount

Based on the a company’s circumstances, any of the above mentioned options can work.

The key is to try avoid getting to this point in the first place.

A perfect way to doing this, would be to engage a proactive accountant to advise accordingly.

Please feel free to contact us on 01909512120 – we can assist

Femi Ogunshakin Managing Director
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