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News & Blog

DeBrieF – December 2012

Welcome to the last issue of DeBrieF for 2012…

It’s been a busy year here at Davis Blank Furniss and highlights have included; the launch of our HR Package, the arrival of Anita Shepherd and the subsequent expansion of our Family and Private Client team, the introduction of our Collaborative Law offering as well as the successful staging of our own bespoke breakfast seminars and the conferences around Commercial and Employment Law we staged with EN Magazine. I’m also delighted to report we’ve made several internal promotions so it’s been a positive 12 months all in all. Having said that, we are also conscious the market remains tough so we have tried to tailor our services and expertise to the actual needs of our clients and this is something we’ll continue to do in 2013.

In this issue of DeBrieF, we hear from Richard Hamilton in our Property team on the state of Manchester’s commercial property sector, from Shiva Shadi on all the latest Employment Law news and from Karen Witter who answers two reader questions on Family Law. Plus, we give you a quick teaser of an exciting launch that will be happening in early January.

Finally, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support and from everyone at Davis Blank Furniss. We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a safe & prosperous New Year!

Kate Oldfield,
Managing Partner

New Launch for Professionals Coming in 2013…

As a business we are acutely aware that many of our clients are time poor. Every day we see clients across all departments running into the office so we wanted to set up a new service that would help them overcome the issue. Engaging a lawyer can be stressful so the process needs to be made as simple and stress free as possible. The launch of our brand new service, which is aimed at busy professionals, will be revealed in January but get set to ‘click’ your way into our team…

Manchester Commercial Property 2012 Review
Richard Hamilton, partner in the Property Department…

Manchester and its surrounding areas continue to be viewed as the second city after London and the commercial property market reflects this. Construction does appear to be slowing – with fewer developments due to complete than occurred in 2011/2012 – and most major projects seem to be driven by the public sector and the various university expansion programmes.  

However, on a positive note, commercial office leases and – in particular – Grade A office space continues to be attractive with rents reaching around £30 per square foot.  With no new Grade A space expected in 2013, rents should – in theory – again remain high and may even rise slightly.  Although headline rents at the top end remain buoyant, there are still some extremely attractive incentives available to potential tenants such as long rent free periods, contributions to fit out costs and attractive break options. 

Unfortunately, the “second tier” office rental market it not so buoyant with the take up of new leases being much slower and many refurbished properties are remaining on the market for some considerable time.  As with Grade A spaces, there are some great incentives available and these are mainly due to landlords finding it difficult to complete deals as tenants have a wide choice and so are considering their options right up to the last moment of signing.

In terms of new tenants, the main growth sectors are coming from several key business sectors including; professional services, banking and finance. Several high profile London firms have opened offices in Manchester over the last 24 months and this trend will hopefully continue.  The creative and digital industries should also help achieve some growth in the commercial property sector particularly in areas such as the Northern Quarter, Ancoats and of course Media City.

Finance still appears to be the main barrier to new construction projects as well as to further investment in both the city and wider region’s commercial property stock.  Funding needs to be made available at competitive rates with funders having more realistic expectations around the additional security being offered by developers.  I also believe that overseas investment will be more important than ever in 2013 and beyond with key markets such as China, Brazil and India needing to be further explored; this is particularly in relation to the creative and digital sectors. Hotel construction seems to be one area where there is further potential growth for 2013 too.

Employment Law Update 2012/13: Shiva Shadi, head of Employment… 

Employment Law can be complex so it’s vital to stay on top of the latest legislation. Over the past year, there have been a number of key developments which affect businesses of all sizes. The following summary gives a comprehensive overview of what organisations need to be aware of to ensure they’re both complaint and up to date…

The Bribery Act:

The Bribery Act continues to be a crucial piece of legislation for businesses. It created new offences which can be committed by commercial organisations which fail to prevent persons associated with them from bribing another person on their behalf. All organisations will have to have specific procedures in place in order to have a defence to such offences that may be committed by their employees.

 Social Media:

Social media continues to grow at an incredible pace and whilst creating opportunities for businesses it has also created challenges. It is now crucial to have a Social Media/Internet Policy in place to prevent legal liabilities; whether the use is for business or for private purposes. The most damaging can include comments made by employees on the company or its products that are posted on sites such as Facebook or Twitter.

 Apprentices:

The increased use of apprentices has recently been addressed and new legislation came in to force under the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children, and Learning Act. Employers need to be careful as to how they categorise apprentices as they have certain additional responsibilities for apprentices employed under a Contract of Apprenticeship which can actually affect an employer’s ability to terminate the apprenticeship before the expiry of the fixed term. If unfairly dismissed, such apprentices would not only have a right to an unfair dismissal claim and damages but should they succeed, also damages for loss of training for the remainder of the term and for loss of future career prospects.

Sickness:

Managing sickness absence continues to be crucial for small and medium sized businesses so it is important that non-sickness related absences, otherwise called “Mondayitus”, are minimised. However, in doing so, employers need to be conscious of genuine absences due to sickness which in certain circumstances will involve seeking a medical report. They also need to be aware of whether the absences are caused by matters such as stress, bullying or disability. Sickness that coincides with periods of annual leave will now also cause headaches for employers. Recent case law has indicated that an employee who is on annual leave, but then falls sick, can ask to take those particular days at a different time in the year. Unless organisations have a specific policy on requiring employees to report sickness during annual leave – and requiring a note from the employee’s doctor – it may prevent them from being able to refuse such a request.

Unfair Dismissal:

The increase of the unfair dismissal qualifying period from one year to two years came into effect in April 2012. This should enable companies to remove staff more easily, and to avoid the threat of vexatious claims which waste management time and incur unnecessary fees that can be difficult for SME’s to cope with.

Introduction of Fees for Claimants:

The introduction of fees for Claimants who wish to issue Tribunal claims,  are due to come into effect in April 2013. This is a positive step in favour of employers and may discourage Claimants from ‘trying it on’, and which in turn may reduce the number of claims being issued.

Retirement & Age Discrimination:

Retirement and age discrimination following the removal of the default retirement age of 65 is another key issue. Until more cases have been heard, it is difficult for companies to know how easily they can retire individuals, and what age can be relied upon by employers wishing to take this step. Employers must therefore tread carefully in the interim.

Restrictive Covenants:

For small companies, it is essential that they have valid clauses in place in the contracts of senior employees in order to prevent any damage being caused to their business if an employee moves on. The ever changing law in this area is hard to keep track of and many clauses will already be out of date and therefore invalid if companies try to rely upon them in the future.

The Agency Workers Regulations:

Smaller companies often rely on temps as a cheaper method of replacing absent staff. The AWR will have a financial impact upon companies which must now provide the same financial package to temps as they do to permanent full time employees if the temp stays with the company for 12 weeks or more. Businesses will therefore need to consider alternative working arrangements – including an increase in fixed term contracts – if they wish to avoid the impact of these regulations.

Karen Witter – Partner in the Family & Private Client team… answers two reader questions…

Q: My husband and I have decided to separate. We are still on good terms with one another and we have agreed everything in respect of our finances. We would like to go and see the same solicitor to keep the costs down. Is this ok?

A: As solicitors we are unable to act for both parties in a divorce because of our professional conduct rules relating to conflicts of interest. That said, if you have agreed everything between you – and there is no need for matters to unravel or become acrimonious – then you should go and see a solicitor and set out exactly what it is you have agreed and take some advice as to the appropriateness of that agreement. If, following that advice you are happy that you want to proceed, your solicitor can then write to your husband setting out those terms for him to approve. Your solicitor is likely to advise your husband that he should seek his own independent legal advice and it would be a good idea for him to do so. Whether or not he does, however, is of course up to him. If both of you agree a the way forward the documentation can be drawn up and submitted to the Court hopefully without matters becoming complicated. 

Q: My husband and I separated last year and are currently going through a divorce. When we first split up we agreed that he would see the children (who are eight and six) every Tuesday after school for a couple of hours and every other weekend. For the last three months he has either been late collecting them or late returning them or has not turned up at all. What steps can I take to try and make him stick to the agreement?

A: Sadly it is not possible for you to go to Court to persuade your husband to see the children more. In reality, the only way in which you can force the issue if he is refusing to adhere to what sounds like a sensible arrangement, would be for you or your solicitor to write to him. You need to tell your husband that he needs to stick to the arrangements or explain to you why they are not working for him and ask what his alternative proposals are. He needs to be made aware that it is really important for children that there is consistency and stability so that they know that they can rely on both their parents. If he continues to let the children down you could ask him to attend mediation or try and agree an alternative contact arrangement. As a very last resort, you could reduce the contact or remove it altogether. This is a difficult choice but is often the one thing that makes a less reliable parent sit up and take notice and take on board the children’s needs.

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