A lot of businesses will wake up today with problems stemming from the riots. With clearing up and sorting things out, the sad reality is that many small businesses are tipped over the edge by looting and damage and will not be reopening when their insurance money eventually comes in.
For those whose who are clearing up and carrying on today, here is our short guide to the employment law FAQ we advised on last time there were a lot of riots.
Other duties – can I ask staff to do something unusual?
Employer’s normally need to contract for flexibility but in times of unexpected disaster you can ask your staff to do duties they normally wouldn’t undertake. It is not unreasonable to ask managers to wield a broom in these circumstances. Most staff will be happy to muck in and help out.
Be careful that you do not ask them to do anything dangerous, since health and safety has not been suspended, even if law and order has. If a member of staff refuses their regular or temporary duties on health and safety grounds you should take advice before continuing to insist.
If you are unlucky enough to have an uncooperative member of staff we would be happy to advise (new callers get 20 minutes free advice which should cover this).
Employers and employees need to work together to find a way through this, but it is important to know where the legal land lies
If the workplace is entirely ruined or shut – beyond the staff helping to clear up then you should be aware that staff can be sent home but they may be entitled to be paid. You need to look at your contract to see if they are entitled to be paid their normal rate of pay. Sending staff home unpaid without consent can trigger constructive dismissals and you need to have some idea of what you are doing before you set off.
Your staff can agree not to be paid, or agree to take any unused holiday, but if they are not being paid, despite their agreement they will still be entitled to guarantee pay. This is a statutory right.
In any event, anyone who can’t work because the workplace is closed has a default right to guarantee pay for the first five working days in any three month period. The current rate is 50% of a day’s pay subject to a maximum daily payment of £22.20.
Staff unable to attend
Some staff will have had their homes, or journey to work affected and eve if your workplace is open for business as usual, they may not be able to attend work on their normal basis.
If your business has been otherwise unaffected you may be in a position to ask them to make up the missing hours at a later date. If so, make sure you keep a proper record of which hours are missed, since memory fades and can trigger disputes.
In reality hourly paid workers may not be entitled to be paid for not being at work except under holiday and other paid absence schemes, so you should be sure you know what you contracted do, and what you are thinking of doing beyond the contract, so that you don’t get in a muddle and think you are obliged to do things you can’t afford.
Children can’t get to school
Some parents may find their children cannot get to summer school or child minders booked for the summer holidays (even though they could get to work). Parents are entitled to emergency unpaid dependants leave to sort out childcare and take care of children. Some employers have contracted to pay specific number of days. If you have not gone beyond the statutory entitlement it is to unpaid leave.
Parents often ask for annual leave at short notice to ensure they are still paid. Many parents are already on annual leave now that the schools have broken up.
Where the job is suitable, and the children are old enough you might want to consider temporary home working, if the facilities for homeworking are there or quickly and easily assembled. You need to take a few moments to be quite clear whether this is working at home for the normal hours (location shifting) or whether this also includes changing the hours (time shifting) so some work is done when the kids are in bed,e tc and what duties you want done. Although this is a useful short term measure, one of the problems with home working is figuring out how to measure what is being done. Make short term arrangements if needed so you can get back to this once the initial crisis is over.
Customers chased away?
Some businesses will be open, staff available, but the customers may not be quick to return to areas that have been severely damaged. You should keep a careful eye on your turnover and expenditure since this can be the last straw for some businesses.
If things are so bad you think you may not be able to make payroll, contact your bank and your accountant straight away. We all hope the insurance companies will operate some kind of fast track system, but fast in insurance is not the same as fast in business and you need to take long hard look at what payroll is, and how much is in the bank (or not) and how much money is really going to be coming in over the next few weeks, particularly if your premises are in a badly affected area.
Missing pay dates without agreement can trigger a constructive dismissal, never mind financial chaos for the staff, and difficult as it is, it is best to be honest with people and set out how things are, rather than make promises you can’t keep.
Have a cup of coffee with us
If you have questions we haven’t dealt with, please email us on firstname.lastname@example.org. We will be happy to help. We will be organising a few free telephone conferences (koffeeklatches as we call them) to support employers in Croydon. Some will be during normal working hours and some outside them. If you think you would like to participate email us on email@example.com letting us know what you want to discuss and whether you would prefer inside or outside normal office hours. We can then make sure you know when they are.
Our heart goes out to all our business clients, and all the business community who are affected by the rioting.
Annabel Kaye is Managing Director of Irenicon Ltd, a specialist employment law consultancy.
Tel: 08452 303050 Fax: 08452 303060 Website : www.irenicon.co.uk
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