Employers need to mend the roof before the storms

With the threat of harsh weather on the heels of Christmas, as in previous hard winters, UK business is likely to lose millions of working hours due to employees not turning in for work.     
But despite many businesses suffering drastic cuts in output by staff absence, or where outlets are forced to close due to lack of staff, too many employers get caught out each year by the bad weather and don’t tackle employment contracts when the sun is shining.
As employees are not legally entitled to receive payment if not at work, they are not entitled to be paid if they do not get to work due to travel disruption.  But having clear adverse weather and journey into work policies in place can help avoid confusion and disagreements with staff, by setting out the steps that employees should take to get to work and what will happen if they are late or do not attend. 
For example, the contract might say that the employee’s enforced absence will be treated as unpaid time off work. This would have to be clearly set out in the contract of employment to avoid being treated as an unauthorised deduction of pay. The absence could be treated as holiday, but again, this has to be agreed in the contract because employers can’t force employees to take holiday at a certain time without notice.  Or, the contract might say that the absence will be paid, but the employee must make up the time later.
But if it’s the employers who close their business premises at short notice, they cannot usually withhold pay.
Where schools are shut, employees can ask for unpaid time off to look after dependants and how this works in practice, for example by being taken as holiday, should be covered by the employment contract. 
Staff manuals can play a part too, encouraging employees to consider alternative ways of getting to work, or, if there are none, it should encourage employees to work from home where this is possible. It should also remind employees of the terms of the employment contract.
Said Brendan O’Brien, Commercial Law expert with multiple award winning law firm Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP : “The important thing is to have a policy in place, make sure everyone knows and understands what it covers, and then make sure that it is applied fairly and consistently.  It’s no good having a clear policy for all employees and then giving one employee a sympathetic nod, but penalising another.”
He added:  “It’s also important that too much pressure isn’t put on employees to risk their safety to get to work.  And it’s always worth remembering that it may not be a boost to staff morale  to make a payment where people were genuinely unable to get to work, as it may be a bigger boost to business once the snow has cleared.”
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This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.

Chancellor’s Autumn budget has sting in tail for landlords and expats

Property owners and landlords caught the eye of the Chancellor George Osborne in his Autumn statement, which included a package of measures designed to stimulate the housing market whilst bringing in more taxes from the property sector.
The budget was delivered by George Osborne against a more positive economic backdrop, which saw the forecast for growth in 2013 from The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) upgraded from 0.6% to 1.4%, and for 2014 upgraded from 1.8% to 2.4%.
Catching the headlines in the Autumn statement was the introduction of Capital Gains Tax for overseas investors in UK property, who will face a tax bill on profits after the Chancellor closed a loophole.
Currently, capital gains tax (CGT) is paid only by people who are resident in the UK. It is charged on gains made from the sale of any property that is not the owner's main home, with basic rate taxpayers handing over 18% of their profits, and 28% for higher rate taxpayers. For 2014 the annual exemption allowance before CGT is payable is £11,000, and £5,000 for most trustees, rising to £11,100 and £5,500 respectively in 2015.
The rule change will come into effect in April 2015 and will apply to future increases in value, not any previous growth.
But below the headline grabbing image of multi-millionaire foreign investors being made to cough up on CGT, the rule change will also hit any UK expats looking to sell property while they are living overseas, though many ex-pats will be able to claim relief if they are living abroad because of their job.
Also further down in the small print of Mr Osborne’s speech there was news of a change in the CGT rules for UK property owners, who in future will benefit from less tax relief when they eventually sell up if they are claiming any private residence relief.
At present, if a property has been occupied at any time as an individual’s private residence, then the last three years of ownership are disregarded for CGT purposes, even where the individual is not living in the property when it is sold.
But from 6 April 2014 this final period exemption will be reduced to 18 months, leading to higher tax bills in future for any property owners who, for one reason or another, are slow to sell a property that was once their residence.
Said Brendan O’Brien, Managing Director of Breeze & Wyles Solicitors LLP: “Any property owners considering selling a property that has been a private residence at some time should be thinking about the impact of this change on any future sale. It’s worth considering an early sale if they can sell before 6 April 2014, as they will still be able to claim exemption for the last three years of ownership from CGT.”
In other property-related news, some local authorities may be turning to housebuilding once again after the Chancellor announced there would be a limited relaxation on local authority borrowing caps, to boost building and help achieve his target of 10,000 new affordable social homes over the next four years.
Other measures aimed at increasing housing supply, included speeding up the planning process and making it easier for developers to push ahead with new schemes.
But the Chancellor did not make any move on stamp duty on lower price houses, despite lobbying from many quarters.
He added: “It’s a disappointment not just to those trying to get on the property ladder but those looking to downsize as well. Many retirement housing providers say it’s holding back sales.”
The Chancellor also announced a new reoccupation relief to encourage the use of vacant town centre shops, halving rates for new occupants. There will be a discount on business rates worth £1,000 to every retail premises in England with rateable value up to £50,000.
Web site content note:
This is not legal advice; it is intended to provide information of general interest about current legal issues.