Category Archives: Agreements

Apprenticeships – Make Them Work For You!

79035611 - teacher with students in metallurgy workshop

SUMMARY: With the Government championing apprenticeships in the UK, the uptake of these working arrangements by employers is at an all-time high.  The pitfalls however of getting the arrangement wrong can prove extremely costly.  These can be avoided very easily by following a few simple do’s and don’ts.

DON’T use an ordinary contract of employment.

Using an ordinary contract of employment for an apprentice makes it much harder and far more costly for an employer to terminate the agreement.  Apprentices should sign an appropriate apprenticeship agreement which sets out the terms of their engagement.

DO be aware of the minimum durations for apprenticeship agreements.

From 1 August 2012, the minimum duration for apprenticeships for 16 to 18 year olds is 12 months.  For apprentices aged 19 and above, apprenticeships must last between one and four years, unless prior learning or attainment has been undertaken.

DON’T get caught out by the National Minimum Wage Act.

The apprenticeship rate, which was introduced in 2010, applies only if the correct agreement is in place and the apprentice is in their first year of apprenticeship or is under 19 years of age.  In all other instances, apprentices will be entitled to either the development or adult rate.

DO be aware of young workers’ rights under the Working Time Regulations.

Apprentices under the age of 18, but over compulsory school age, have additional working time rights. These rights include stringent daily and weekly limits, and greater rest break entitlements.

A child ceases to be of compulsory school age on the last Friday in June in the academic year in which he/she reaches the age of 16 or if he/she reaches 16 after the last Friday in June, but before the start of the new school year.

Get it right and apprenticeships can play a vital role in the long term development of your workforce as well as contributing to enhanced productivity.

Contact Details

For more details about apprenticeships please contact:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 808 172 93 22

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.

Are You Ready For The Changing Face Of Employment?

FG DSC_0545Just a few months into 2017, emerging alternatives to traditional working patterns and arrangements are raising a number of interesting questions about the future direction of employment law.

Employers now operate in an employment arena where short-term contracts are commonplace and temporary positions and
freelance work is the norm!

While this operates to provide greater freedom and flexibility in relation to work for individuals concerns are starting to emerge that for some employers it creates opportunities for exploitation. The legislature and employment law courts now have a critical role to play in ensuring clarity and certainty for employers and individuals alike in avoiding unintended consequences.

Informal ways of engaging workers has existed for decades but arguably, technological advances make it easier for the informal workforce to tap into the mainstream working environment. This has led to concerns about employees within formal work patterns being disenfranchised and experiencing a gradual erosion of rights associated with traditional working arrangements.

Lost in the debate about the evils of non-traditional forms of working is the host of benefits that it can bring. Flexibility is the key argument of supporters. The ability of individuals to work whenever they want has a direct impact on earning income without undermining childcare, family obligations and medical priorities. Employers also benefit by being able to optimise resources while at the same time managing costs.

The legislature and the courts now need to provide confidence to business that where they engage individuals with the intention on both sides that they are genuinely self- employed, they are not subsequently declared workers or employees.

The genuinely self-employed do not have employment rights. Workers, a creation of European law enjoy fewer rights than Employees but are entitled to receive among other things the National Minimum wage and have a right to paid holiday. Workers can also claim for arrears of holiday pay, which can create very onerous financial burdens on businesses in the event that there is a large group of claimants.

There have been the much publicised decisions in the continuing saga of “employee v worker v self-employed” – this saga is set to continue in the light of the Uber decision that a group of 19 Uber drivers were entitled to receive the National Minimum Wage and holiday pay, being appealed. Whether the recently published Employment Status Review will help organisations determine the question is yet to be seen, but commentators have already pointed out that the review is dated December 2015!

Traditionally, organisations have relied on contracts and policies as a means of plotting a safe passage through the thorny landscapes mentioned above. And, whilst any employment lawyer worth their salt will advise that organisations should ensure they have in place up to date and relevant employment documentation (such as contracts and handbooks), is this enough? Very definitely “no”.  Long gone (if ever it was) is the time that organisations could brandish these documents in a “get out of jail free” way.

The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has recently issued a statement which included the following “an individual’s employment status is determined by the reality of the working relationship and not the type of contract they have signed. Individuals cannot opt out of the rights they are owed, nor can an employer decide not to afford individuals those rights. Employers cannot simply opt out of the NLW by defining their staff as self-employed.” A sign of things to come?

For assistance with minimising the risk and guidance on proposed engagement agreements you can contact a member of the team at FG Solicitors on 01604 871143.

Sports Direct: Use of Zero Hours Contracts – A Business Model With Exploitation at its Heart? (Part 2)

11578822 - 3d human charcter holding green zero, 3d render, isolated on whiteSUMMARY: The Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley faced the Business Innovation and Skills (“BIS”) Select Committee on 7 June 2016 for an evidence session into the working practices adopted by Sports Direct. A month later, it was widely reported that Sports Direct’s profits had been hit. Mr Ashley’s fortunes have not improved as, at the beginning of this month, it was announced that shareholders will be asked to vote on whether there should be an independent workplace review; and this week it was reported that Sports Direct is to pay £1million to its workers for breaches of the minimum wage legislation.

But how did it come to this?

To recap, Mr Ashley received intense criticism stemming from the Guardian Newspaper’s investigation at the end of 2015, which uncovered allegations that his Company:

1. Failed to pay its workers the minimum wage;

2. Engaged a significant proportion of staff via zero hours contracts and short term hours agency worker agreements;

3. Created a culture of fear throughout its workforce due to arbitrary and outdated disciplinary practices; and

4. Conducted daily physical security searches of employees.

In the first article of a two part series, we deal with the allegation concerning a breach of national minimum wage legislation; the first article can be accessed here.

In this second article, we explore the allegation that Sports Direct sought to increase its profit margins by engaging workers on zero hours contracts and short term hours agency agreements in order to avoid many of the legal obligations of employing staff. We also review the legal considerations that your business should take into account when using either zero hours contracts or being supplied with temporary workers via an agency.

THE ALLEGATIONS

Reports revealed that nearly 80% of Sports Direct’s workers are not employees but, instead, workers engaged via zero hours contracts or short term hours agency worker agreements. During the Select Committee’s evidence session on 7 June 2016, Steven Turner, the Assistant General Secretary of the Unite Union, remarked that this practice has created a “business model that has exploitation at its heart.”

In May 2015 the Government banned exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts; clauses that prohibit a worker from taking up work under another contract, or which require the worker to get the company’s consent beforehand can no longer be included.

However, alternative work arrangements, specifically the arrangements adopted by Transline and the Best Connection Group, who supply Sports Direct with agency workers, could be placing workers in a worse position compared to if they had been engaged via a zero hours contract post the May 2015 change.

The reason behind this claim is that the Transline and the Best Connection Group do not have an obligation to offer these agency workers any work over and above a minimum of 336 hours over a 12 month period.

However, the agency workers must accept any suitable assignment offered to them unless there is “just cause,” and if assignments are not accepted, it is likely that the worker will not be offered another.

In addition, the workers are effectively forbidden for looking for additional hours elsewhere; workers who have done so have not been offered any further assignments – this is effectively an exclusivity clause in disguise.

WHAT IS A ZERO HOURS CONTRACT?

Zero hours contracts are contracts between a company and a worker and/or an employee, which specifies that the company is not obliged to provide the worker or employee with any minimum working hours, and that the company only pays for work undertaken. Similarly, the worker or employee is not obliged to accept any of the hours offered to them.

CAN ZERO HOURS CONTRACTS STILL BE USED?

Yes, zero hours contracts can still be used by companies.

The change in the law in May 2015 did not ban companies using zero hours contracts completely, instead it prohibits zero hours contracts containing exclusivity clauses.

WHY WOULD A COMPANY USE A ZERO HOURS CONTRACT & WHEN IS IT APPROPRIATE TO DO SO?

The key benefits of a zero hours contract are that a company using these contracts:

  • does not have to guarantee a minimum amount of work, and
  • only pays for work undertaken.

This is useful if your company is a start-up business and you are unsure of your people requirements. Alternatively, zero hours contracts may be useful if a company wishes to engage staff for seasonal work, or to cover absence and holidays.

The other benefit to companies is that the relationship between the company and the worker does not have to be one of employment. However, the worker will still benefit from the right to receive the National Minimum Wage, paid annual leave, rest breaks and will be protected from discrimination.

WHAT SHOULD THE BUSINESS CONSIDER WHEN ENGAGING AGENCY WORKERS?

If like Sports Direct, your company is supplied with workers via an external agency, you should be very clear as to the employment status of these workers because this will affect their rights.

Usually, the arrangement dictates that workers supplied by an agency are classed as workers of the end user client and not as their employees.

From day 1, agency workers are entitled to access to collective facilities (such as canteen facilities, child care facilities and transport facilities) and access to information about employment vacancies. Agency workers are also entitled to take rest breaks, receive the National Minimum Wage, receive Statutory Sick Pay (if they satisfy the relevant qualifying conditions set out in the legislation), take paid annual leave and benefit from protection against discrimination.

Following 12 weeks with the Company, agency workers are entitled to receive the same pay and other basic working conditions as equivalent permanent staff; this can include the auto enrolment pension obligations.

This is a relationship which often gives rise to uncertainty of employment status and, consequently, there are many reported cases on this very issue. Companies are therefore advised to ensure that, when engaging agency workers, they have in place the appropriate documentation with both the agency supplying the worker and the agency worker.

COMMENT:

Exclusivity clauses in zero hours contracts, which could exploit the most vulnerable of workers, are now unenforceable. However, this protection does not address the real issue for zero hours workers, which is the practice of ceasing to use workers who have turned down an assignment because they have accepted an alternative assignment and are unavailable.

In addition, as is evident from the Sports Direct review, Companies are now taking advantage of other working models such as the arrangements adopted by Transline and the Best Connection Group; although these arrangements are not prohibited by law, they raise questions of morality.

Only time will tell if the ongoing review by the BIS Select Committee will result in recommendations for change. In the meantime, we would recommend carrying out a review of the arrangement that your Company adopts for the supply of its staff to ensure that any legal obligations are being met.

CONTACT DETAILS:

If you would like more information on this topic or would like to discuss a specific concern in relation to your business, please contact us:

Call: +44 (0) 808 172 93 22     Email: fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive legal advice.

Sports Direct: Failure to Pay National Minimum Wage – A Business Model With Exploitation at its Heart? (Part 1)

14184143 - green grass  uk pound symbol against blue skySUMMARY:  The Sports Direct founder, Mike Ashley, faced the Business Innovation and Skills (“BIS”) Select Committee on 7 June 2016 for an evidence session into the working practices adopted by Sports Direct.  A month later, it was widely reported that Sports Direct’s profits had been hit.  Mr Ashley’s fortunes have not improved as this month it has been announced that shareholders will be asked to vote on whether there should be an independent workplace review – we will have to wait until September to see how this latest chapter unfolds.

But how did it come to this?

To recap, Mr Ashley received intense criticism stemming from the Guardian Newspaper’s investigation at the end of 2015, which uncovered allegations that his Company:

  1. Failed to pay its workers the minimum wage;
  2. Engaged a significant proportion of staff via zero hours contracts and short term hours agency worker agreements;
  3. Created a culture of fear throughout its workforce due to arbitrary and outdated disciplinary practices; and
  4. Conducted daily physical security searches of employees.

On the back of the ever increasing publicity of how some high profile companies treat their employees, we have produced a two part series to enable you to assess whether your company is inadvertently making the same mistakes as those reportedly made by Sports Direct.  The first in this series explores the allegation that Sports Direct failed to pay its workers the minimum wage and sets out the law behind this complex issue.

___________________________________________________________________________

THE ALLEGATIONS:

HM Revenue and Customs (“HMRC”) are currently investigating allegations that Sports Direct paid its workers less than the National Minimum Wage (“NMW”) effectively saving the Company millions of pounds per year.

The underpayment allegedly arose as a result of workers being forced to undergo compulsory rigorous security checks at the end of their shifts as a theft prevention measure, adding as much as 15 minutes onto their working day (or up to one hour and fifteen minutes to their working week), which is unpaid.

In addition, it is also alleged that workers faced a 15 minute deduction from their pay for “clocking on” 1 minute after their designated start time, even if they actually arrived on site on time.

WERE THE SPORTS DIRECT STAFF WHO WEREN’T EMPLOYEES ENTITLED TO NMW?

All employers are obliged to pay the NMW regardless of their size, and the NMW applies to all “workers” ordinarily working in the UK who are over compulsory school leaving age, not just employees.  This includes agency workers and apprentices.

WHAT ARE THE CURRENT NMW RATES?

From 1 April 2016, there are now 5 rates of NMW:

CATEGORY   RATE (£)
National Living Wage Workers aged 25+

7.20

Standard Adult Rate Workers aged 21-24 (inclusive)

6.70

Development Rate Workers aged 18-20 (inclusive)

5.30

Young Workers Rate Workers aged under 18 but above the compulsory school age

3.87

Apprentice Rate Apprentices either:

  1. Under the age of 19; or
  2. Aged 19 or over, but in the first year of their apprenticeship

3.30

HOW DO I DETERMINE IF MY COMPANY IS PAYING THE NMW?

In order to determine whether the NMW is being paid to your workers, you will need to determine their average hourly rate of pay.

On the face of it this calculation seems quite a simple one – sadly, this is not so. The average rate of pay is calculated by dividing the total amount of “money payments” that a worker earns across the relevant reference period, by the number of hours the worker has worked during that same reference period. However, what amounts to a “money payment” frequently trips up the uninitiated – see below.

The number of hours worked (known as “working time”) can also prove a tricky area for companies and one which has given rise to a raft of case law on its own. This is dealt with below.

Turning then to the relevant reference period, this is usually one month and cannot be greater than one month. However, if the worker is paid weekly or daily, then this is their reference period.

What Money Payments Should Be Considered?

Companies must exercise caution as some payments cannot be included as “money payments” for NMW purposes:

EXAMPLES OF INCLUDED PAYMENTS Basic salary
Bonus**An annual bonus paid for example in December, will usually only count for the December reference period
Commission/Incentive Payments Based on Performance
Accommodation Allowances
Allowances Paid by HMRC Dispensation Agreements
 

EXAMPLES OF EXCLUDED PAYMENTS

Benefits in Kind
Loans Given by the Company
Advances of Wages
Pension Payments
Lump Sum Payments on Retirement
Redundancy Payments
Tribunal/Settlement Awards
Premiums Paid for Overtime/Shift Work
Expenses
Tips and Gratuities

What About Deductions From Pay?

Certain deductions from a worker’s pay can reduce their pay for NMW purposes, including deductions made by a company in respect of expenditure in connection with carrying out their duties (e.g. the cleaning or purchase of uniforms). After these deductions have been taken into account the worker must still be left with at least the NMW.

Another famous retailer, Monsoon, was ordered to pay more that £100,000 to its employees in 2015 as a result of its practice of requiring staff to wear Monsoon clothes at work and deducting the discounted cost of the clothes from their wages. After the deduction, staff were left with less than the NMW.

Conversely, certain deductions do not reduce a worker’s pay for NMW purposes such as a deduction permitted by the contract between the Company and the worker due to misconduct.

In the case of Sports Direct, it has been reported that deductions were made from workers’ pay for lateness. If the deductions were not permitted by contract, the deduction would reduce the workers’ pay for NMW purposes.

A deduction of this nature could also amount to an unlawful deduction of wages, allowing the worker to bring a claim in the Employment Tribunal.

What Is Classed As Working Time?

Finally, a key issue for the Sports Direct case is what is actually classed as working time?

Working time is defined as any time during which a worker is working, at their employer’s disposal and carrying out their duties. There has also been recent case law demonstrating that, for those workers without a fixed placed of work, travelling time to their first assignment of the day and travelling time from the last assignment of the day may count as working time.

Against this legal backdrop, should the time spent by Sports Direct workers undergoing compulsory security checks be considered working time that is counted for NMW purposes? It is highly likely that the answer to this question is “yes”.  This is because workers are not free to leave the company’s premises until the compulsory security checks are completed.

How Can Your Company Avoid A Similar Fate?

Those companies operating in sectors where payment of the minimum wage is prevalent often adopt a proactive stance and schedule annual reviews to ensure legal compliance in this respect. These reviews can be linked to annual pay reviews or can form part of wider audits which align HR strategies to deliver the businesses’ objectives.

In any event, and at the very least, all companies need to:

  • have an awareness of the current NMW rates which are updated twice a year;
  • understand what payments can be included for NMW purposes; and
  • understand what counts as working time for NMW purposes.

This then enables a company to identify any risks which may arise on the back of the publicity surrounding high profile NMW cases such as Sports Direct; at the very least this will enable that company to tackle those risks head on.

CONTACT DETAILS:

If you would like more information on this topic, audits or would like to discuss a specific concern in relation to your business, please contact us:

Call: +44 (0) 808 172 93 22     Email: fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive legal advice.

Contract Essentials

Contract sorter - FG Solicitors

SUMMARY: With unemployment rates at an all-time low we are frequently asked by clients whether they can use the same contracts for each type of employee or worker they engage. The short answer to that question is “no”. As there are a number of contracts and agreements widely available to organisations, we have produced a quick guide to the key contracts.

Type of contract/agreement

Who does it apply to?

Who should it not be used for?

When should your organisation use this contract/agreement and what are the key considerations?

Directors’ Service Agreement

Any Executive Director

Employees generally

Apprentices

Temporary Workers

Zero Hours Casuals

Consultants

Non-executive Directors

  • It is a legal requirement to provide specific terms and conditions within 2 months of an employee commencing employment. Although a standard employment contract can be used, businesses often prefer using Directors’ service agreements due to the additional obligations owed by directors.
  • For owner managed businesses these agreements are favoured to provide protection of the directors’ rights on the sale/transfer/takeover of a business.

Employment Contract

Employees (including directors where a Directors’ Service Agreement is not in place)

Apprentices

Temporary Workers

Zero Hours Casuals

Consultants

  • It is a legal requirement to provide specific terms and conditions within 2 months of an employee commencing employment.
  • Contracts can be standardised for differing categories of employee within the business such as managers, shift workers or home based employees.
  • The contract can include additional protections for the employer such as post-termination restrictions, confidentiality and intellectual property rights – particularly relevant for a number of industries including IT, Professional/Financial Services and Pharmaceuticals. These need to be tailored to the organisation’s needs.
  • Employment contracts for part-time employees need to include specific provisions to ensure entitlements are accrued on a pro-rata basis.
  • Employment contracts for fixed-term employees need to include specific provisions relating to the termination of the employment.

Apprenticeship Agreement

Apprentices (on a work-based training programme).

Employees (including directors)

Temporary Workers

Zero Hours Casuals

Consultants

  • Apprentices are employees and the legal requirement to provide specific terms and conditions within 2 months of the employment commencing applies.
  • Failure to ensure the appropriate apprenticeship agreement is in place, can result in apprentices having rights which can make it difficult and costly to terminate their employment before the end of the apprenticeship.
  • The agreement will include specific provisions relating to the termination of the employment.
  • The agreement can include additional protections for the organisation such as post-termination restrictions, confidentiality and intellectual property rights – particularly relevant for some industries typically associated with apprenticeships such as the IT industry. These need to be tailored to the organisation’s needs.

Zero-hours Casual Worker Agreement

Zero Hours Casuals

Employees (including directors)

Apprentices

Consultants

Directors

  • The agreement will make it clear that it is intended the individual is a worker, rather than an employee, so does not have employment rights.
  • The agreement will set out how work will be offered and accepted.

Consultancy Agreement

Consultants (individuals who are self-employed or whose services are provided through a service company)

Employees (including directors)

Temporary Workers

Zero Hours Casuals

Apprentices

Directors

  • The agreement should specify that the individual is not a worker or employee, but is self-employed or engaged by a service company*.
  • The agreement will detail the basis on which work is offered, payment (including the submission of invoices) and where tax liability sits.
  • It is prudent to set out whether the consultant will have the benefit of various employment rights, or the more limited rights available to workers.
  • The agreement should clarify whether the individual is owed health and safety duties or whether the individual (as an independent contractor) is responsible for their own safety.
  • The agreement can also include additional protections for the organisation such as appropriate restrictions, confidentiality and ownership of intellectual property rights – particularly relevant for a number of industries including IT, Professional/Financial Services and Pharmaceuticals. These need to be tailored to the organisation’s needs.
  • The agreement should also contain appropriate termination provisions and/or substitution rights.

*Organisations are advised to take advice on the practical workplace arrangements and obligations when engaging consultants as these considerations will factor when determining if the “consultant” is, in fact, an employee.

Secondment Agreement

Secondees

Consultants

Zero Hours Casuals

  • Specific agreements should be put into place where the employer intends to temporarily transfer an employee from one organisation to another.
  • The agreement will set out details of the relationship between the two organisations and the employee.
  • The agreement will deal with the employee’s employment status, payment arrangements, day to day management arrangements and the corresponding liabilities.

 

 

Contact Details

For more details about any of the above contracts, or if you just want someone to check that your current contracts are up to date, please contact a member of our Employment Law team:

fgmedia@fgsolicitors.co.uk

+44 (0) 808 172 93 22

This update is for general guidance only and does not constitute definitive advice.