With one in five workers confessing to calling in sick to binge-watch TV, a North London lawyer has given her top tips for employers

A North London-based Employment solicitor says employers can minimise sickness absence by following a few key steps, after a Radio Times survey found that nearly one in five people have called in sick so they can binge-watch their favourite TV shows.

Hayley Trovato, a Senior Associate at Finchley-based OGR Stock Denton LLP, said that it can be difficult for employers to detect if an employee takes a day off to binge-watch TV and so they should look to minimise absences in the first place.

“Sickness absences are costly and disruptive for employers in any sector, so it is critical to keep them to a minimum. That means making sure employees only call in sick when they are too unwell to come to work,” said Hayley.

She said that there are few top tips that employers can follow in order to minimise sickness absences:

  1. Maintain positive relationships with your employees

“This goes to the heart of the issue and covers your entire approach to your employees. Setting a positive tone for the employment relationship will mean that employees are more likely to be inclined to come to work in the morning and less likely to be inclined to stay at home and watch an entire series of Killing Eve.”

  1. Minimise anxiety in the workplace

“Worries about workload or unmanageable tasks could go some way to explaining why so many employees have confessed to staying at home and binge-watching TV. Supportive management can help alleviate these stresses and again can reduce the chances of employees opting to call in sick.”

  1. Try to be flexible

“While obviously not the case when it comes to binge-watching, sometimes sickness absence can be prompted by employees needing to juggle conflicting obligations.

“Where the nature of your work means there is scope to be flexible it is always a good idea to accommodate requests for different ways of working, such as working flexibly or from home.”

  1. Make the workplace a pleasant place to be

“Making your workplace a pleasant environment can work wonders when it comes to staff wellbeing and motivation. Clearly, in some sectors, workplaces can be inherently unpleasant because of the nature of the work. However, where possible, simple steps such as ensure a good supply of natural light and keeping the premises clean can have a positive effect on employees – this isn’t about installing Silicon Valley-style pool tables and slides on the premises.”

  1. Make your employees feel valued

“Everyone likes to feel valued and that they are contributing. When people don’t feel this way, it can quickly sap their motivation and increase the likelihood that they will call in sick.

“Simply making a point of thanking your staff for a job well done can go a long way to cutting down the number of days lost to sickness absences each year.”

  1. Have a rigorous recruitment process in place

“In ensuring that employees want to come to work in the morning, it is a good idea to ensure that they are a good fit for your organisation in the first place. An effective recruitment process can help in this regard.

“The recruitment process is also an opportunity to find out whether a prospective employee has a track record of sickness absence and whether there was a good reason for this.”

  1. Keep detailed records of sickness absences

“While it’s unlikely to help you identify the occasional incident of calling in sick to binge-watch TV, good record keeping will allow you to identify any patterns in an employee’s absence that might need to be addressed. For example, you’ll be able to see whether they always take the same day off each year or each month or whether absences coincide with certain events, whether in or out of the office. You’ll then be in a position to take the appropriate action at an early stage.”

  1. Keep in contact with employees who are off sick

“For some people, it could seem like an awkward thing to do, but keeping in contact with employees who are off sick is one of the best ways of managing sickness absence. You’ll be better able to gauge when an employee is likely to be back at their desk and you could get an idea of how legitimate their absence is. It will also be an opportunity to make any adjustments for their return to work that could help minimise further absences.”

  1. Be clear about your expectations

“In some organisations, there is a culture that everyone takes a certain number of days off each year as sickness absence, whether or not they are actually sick. This is clearly going to be hugely costly for employers and is actually going to put the pressure on colleagues who actually have come to work.

“Being clear that sickness absence is only for use as a last resort, where an employee is too unwell to work is an important step for any employer.”

  1. Have effective return-to-work procedures in place

“Checking in with employees when they return to work following a period of sickness absence is another to minimise future episodes. It’s an opportunity to find out whether any adjustments need to be made in the workplace and also to gauge whether the time off was legitimate.”

She added that the thread that ties these tips together is good communication between employers and employees.

Reform of the Family Courts will not work without proper funding, says prominent solicitor

A prominent solicitor has said that reform of the Family Courts will not work without proper funding because a lack of resources is the fundamental problem that needs to be addressed.

Graeme Fraser, Head of the Family department at Finchley-based OGR Stock Denton LLP and Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation committee, made the comments after widespread criticism of the Family Courts on a number of fronts from MPs.

More than 120 parliamentarians have written to the Government calling for an inquiry into how victims of domestic abuse are treated.

Over the last five years, at least four children have been killed by a parent after access was granted by the Family Court.

Graeme Fraser said: “The Family Courts have to make extremely careful judgements every day on matters such as whether a parent should have access to their children or whether children should be removed from their parents.

“The consequences of its judgements can be extreme. It is often the case that any course of action open to the Court could potentially have devastating consequences for children and their families.”

He said the key to improving the process so that the Family Courts reach the right decision more often is to ensure the Court is presented with more evidence of a higher quality on which to base its judgments.

“Ensuring that the Court has access to more and better evidence is costly, demanding time and money, both of which are in increasingly short supply,” said Fraser.

He added that the removal of public funding for the parties engaged in Family Law proceedings has also had an effect.

“Of course, a parent who is violent to their child should not spend time with their child on an unsupervised basis but determining what has happened is difficult unless proper resources are available.

“The withdrawal of public funding and Legal Aid makes a proper investigation of the facts hugely difficult.

“I suspect that owing to a lack of investment of resources in the Family Courts generally over recent years in line with cuts in public spending, many of those in need of protection from violence have lost trust that the Courts will give them access to justice.”

Fraser said that there are several possible ways forward, depending on what reforms the Government is prepared to back. This includes integrated domestic violence courts, which enable judges to sit as a criminal judge and then as a family judge, adopting a model already used in the USA.

Additionally, he suggested that to replace the safeguarding currently conducted by CAFCASS, a triage system might be more efficient in differentiating simple and complex cases so as to fast-track cases that can be heard more quickly than their complex counterparts.

However, he added: “The importance of additional funding to achieve these outcomes cannot be emphasised enough to policymakers.”

Family solicitor says piecemeal cohabitation reform perpetuates myth of “common law marriage”, as bereavement damages extended to cohabitants

A North London-based family solicitor has said that piecemeal reform to the rights of cohabitants risks perpetuating the myth of “common law marriage”, following a Government proposal to extend bereavement damages to cohabitants.

Graeme Fraser, a Partner at Finchley-based OGR Stock Denton LLP and Chair of Resolution’s Cohabitation Committee, made the comments after the Government published a Draft Remedial Order to extend the £12,980 payment to surviving unmarried partners.

Cohabiting partners are currently ineligible for the payment, which is made to surviving spouses and civil partners where the death of their partner is caused by the wrongful act or omission of another person.

Under the proposals, a partner who has lived with the deceased for two years immediately prior to their death will become eligible for the payment. Where the deceased was married and cohabiting, the payment will be divided equally between the surviving spouse and partner.

The Court of Appeal decided in 2017 that denying bereavement damages to a cohabitant was incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR), following a challenge by Jacqueline Smith, who had been denied the payment on the death of her partner.

“Obviously, this proposal is welcome in and of itself. However, without wholesale reform, which means introducing basic protection rights in life and on death, there remains the risk that this will only increase the widespread public misunderstanding of the law.

“The myth of ‘common law marriage’ whereby couples believe that they have the same legal rights as those that are available on divorce, means that many couples with children are left significantly disadvantaged in comparison with children of married couples or those in civil partnerships,” said Graeme Fraser.

He added that cohabitants who have given up their home and career to look after children face particular unfairness owing to the lack of financial protection if their partner walks away from the relationship.

“The Government’s recent actions suggest that it will continue to change the law incrementally. However, this may have the unfortunate effect of making cohabitants’ legal rights more complex and confusing,” said Graeme Fraser.

“If the Government considers cohabitation reform a priority, then new legislation should be introduced as soon as Parliamentary time allows to introduce a modern set of family laws for families not in formal relationships to ensure that they and their children receive the basic protections they deserve in a modern and civilised society.

“While news of these legislative changes is welcome, the Government must do significantly more as a matter of greater priority to help cohabiting families both during their lifetime and on death.”

No-fault divorce will transform how couples understand the process

The Justice Secretary’s apparent willingness to introduce legislation to provide for a ‘no-fault’ divorce option will transform how couples understand the process.

Allowing couples to part ways without needing to revisit the past and apportion blame will reframe the entire process, drawing their attention away from past conflict and their differences to the far more constructive task of preparing for life after divorce.

This change of emphasis will help people think at an earlier stage about what they want to do with their lives after divorce, making an adversarial process into one with much greater opportunity for collaboration.

We await to see whether no-fault divorce will be provided for in addition to the current fault-based, or whether fault-based divorce will be dropped entirely as an option.

Our view is that the divorce ‘blame game’ is unhelpful to everyone and fault-based divorce should be dispensed with in its entirety.

In summary, today’s news is welcome in helping to remove much of the acrimony and stress that couples often face on marital breakdown since they will no longer be forced to apportion blame for the end of their relationship or wait lengthy periods of time to divorce.

Removing fault from divorce will avoid the long term damage often caused to family relationships by examining their past relationship difficulties and will better enable parents to resolve matters in the interests of their children going forwards through dispute resolution processes such as mediation and collaborative law.

Graeme Fraser and Peter Martin, Partners, Family Law Team, OGR Stock Denton LLP.

Finchley solicitor named ‘Family Law Commentator of the Year’ at prestigious ceremony

A Finchley-based solicitor has been named ‘Family Law Commentator of the Year’ at a prestigious ceremony.

Graeme Fraser, a Partner at OGR Stock Denton LLP, received the accolade at the Family Law Awards on Wednesday 28 November 2018.

The award follows a rigorous judging process, which saw Graeme shortlisted, followed by an online poll of family law professionals.

Graeme’s comments on family law issues featured across the national media over the past 12 months, including in The Times, The Guardian, The Evening Standard, The Huffington Post and Channel Five News.

Family law matters have been widely covered in the news this year. The Government recently committed to extending civil partnerships to opposite-sex couples following a landmark Supreme Court hearing and several prominent cases have raised questions about the UK’s divorce laws.

Graeme said: “I feel deeply honoured to have won the Family Law Commentator of the Year Award at the Family Law Awards. I would like to thank Sam King QC for nominating me and everyone who voted for me.”

“I am committed to raising awareness amongst the public of family law matters which affect the lives of millions of families up and down the country.

“In particular, many cohabitants can find themselves in perilous situations and at risk of destitution in the event of their relationships breaking down. The law needs to be updated to reflect 21st century society and I will be continuing to campaign on these issues.”

Graeme is Chair of the Cohabitation Committee of family law organisation, Resolution and is an active campaigner for the rights of cohabitants.

Lawyer’s top ten tips for divorcing well

A leading Family Lawyer has set out his top ten tips for couples looking to divorce or separate well and his further top ten tips to stop children becoming casualties of divorce to mark Good Divorce Week (26 – 30 November), which is organised by Resolution, the family law organisation.

Peter Martin, a Partner at Finchley-based OGR Stock Denton LLP who has more than 40 years’ experience in Family Law, prepared the tips to help couples think about how to mitigate the effects of their separation.

Amongst Peter’s suggestions are “reactive decision are usually bad ones”, “try to be rational and objective” and “don’t listen to your friends.”

Peter said: “Having dealt with divorce cases for more than four decades, I have learnt that how one starts the process can dictate the whole tenor of the future of your divorce or separation.

“Certain characteristics repeatedly stand out as leading to what might be termed as ‘constructive’ divorces, which allow divorcees to begin the next chapters of their lives, and ‘destructive’ divorces, which lead only to further pain and suffering. Too often, it is children who suffer most.

“My top ten tips are intended to help people achieve ‘constructive’ good divorces and to avoid the pain and suffering, particularly experienced by children, of a ‘destructive’ divorce.

“I hope these tips will help families emerge from the process of divorce with minimal suffering and ready to start the next chapter in their lives.”

TOP TIPS FOR DIVORCING OR SEPARATING WELL

As a divorce lawyer – now more accurately called a Family Lawyer – of more than 40 years experience I have learnt that how one starts the process can dictate the whole tenor of the future of your divorce or separation.

So here are my top ten tips for an amicable divorce and my tips for trying to protect the children:

 

  1. Reactive decisions are usually bad ones. If you are feeling hurt or have just discovered your partner with someone else don’t take any legal actions until the red mist has gone from your eyes.

 

  1. Try to be rational and objective. Going through a separation is highly emotional, but try to put that emotion to one side and sit down around a table with a neutral party with the aim of making sensible decisions.  Remember that you loved the other person once.  There must have been a reason – focus on this not the hurt.

 

  1. Decide on your priorities. More often than not one of the biggest priorities is to move on with your life with your dignity intact. The more amicable the divorce the quicker it will be over, leaving you to get on with the next chapter of your life.  It is also a lot cheaper.

 

  1. Be nice for the sake of the kids. If you have children then it is only in the most exceptional circumstances that it is not in the children’s interests for their parents to get on with each other and remain friendly, even if they are separated or divorced.

 

  1. Go to a good family lawyer. Find a family specialist committed to working out solutions as amicably as possible and in a way that will preserve your relationship with your spouse.  If you can, use mediation or collaborative family law.

 

  1. Expect a big change in your lifestyle. Your life is going to change dramatically, it is the surprise of this that can often lead to resentment and breed conflict. Your partner’s life will be changing too and they will be having the same problems adjusting as you are. Yes really.

 

  1. Don’t do it the celebrity way. Every week there seems to be another celebrity couple fighting out a dirty divorce in the media. You don’t have to fight dirty to get the best result – in fact, in reality, judges will frown upon it when making their settlement.

 

  1. Don’t listen to your friends. Turn to them for emotional support but remember that every marriage is different and every divorce is different.  Just because friends think it is a good idea, doesn’t mean it is.

 

  1. Be the bigger person. Even if your nearly ex is trying to play dirty, don’t rise to the bait. It is easier said than done, but I often hear from people who years later regret that they allowed themselves to get lowered to that level.

 

  1. Think about divorce before you get married. Think about what your situation will be if things don’t work out and how you think the other person is likely to behave in those circumstances as well. Consider a prenuptial agreement. Realism does not have to be anti-romantic.

 

 

North London property lawyer says Supreme Court decision will affect many more landlords following change in the law

A north London-based property lawyer has said that a recent Supreme Court decision will affect many more landlords following a change in the law that widens the definition of ‘house of multiple occupation’ (HMO) to take in two as well as three-storey houses.

Zahra Himani, a Property Solicitor and Senior Associate at Finchley-based law firm OGR Stock Denton LLP, said that the Supreme Court decision in Nottingham City Council v Parr and another will become increasingly relevant under the new rules.

The case concerned whether a property with a bedroom that the local council deemed to be too small to comply with the HMO rules could receive an HMO licence on that basis that it was let to students who are likely to make greater use of shared facilities than other tenants.

The Supreme Court found in favour of the landlord and ruled that the room in question could only be let to a student.

Under the new rules, which came into effect this month, any house let to five or more unrelated people who share the same facilities, will require a licence costing £1,235.

Commenting on the Supreme Court decision, Zahra Himani said: “This is an interesting judgment as it gives us an indication of the type of debate that will become commonplace now that HMO licences are required for more properties.

“There will be arguments that certain properties that were not previously within the HMO rules and which now require HMO licences might be unsuitable, which could cause strain on the already tense housing situation.

“The judgement confirms that licences can be granted with certain conditions which would permit these properties to remain as HMOs and, therefore, there seems to be a nod towards moving away from a simple tick-box exercise.

“However, it remains to be seen whether this levels the playing field for landlords or whether it disadvantages tenants who are living in unsuitable properties and will continue to have to do so.”

Failing to comply with the HMO rules can be very costly for landlords found not to be compliant, with a fine of up to £30,000 applying to every property found to be in breach of the rules.

Civil partnerships to be extended to opposite-sex couples

Theresa May has announced today that heterosexual couples in England and Wales will now be able to choose whether to enter into a civil partnership rather than get married.

The intention is to provide greater security for unmarried couples and their families to address the “imbalance” that allows same-sex couples to enter into both civil partnerships or get married.

A consultation will now follow on the technical details but Equalities Minister Penny Mordaunt promised that the change in the law would happen “as swiftly as possible”

Graeme Fraser, Partner at North London firm OGR Stock Denton commented as follows:

“Today’s news means that modern family types outside marriage for heterosexual couples are being recognised by the State. Tax advantages, pension rights and welfare benefits previously provided only to married couples will now be extended to those heterosexual couples choosing to enter into civil partnerships rather than marriage.

“This is not a panacea for the millions of couples who choose not to have their relationship formalised by the state. While civil partnerships work well when both parties are in an equally committed long-term relationship, it can never cater for relationships where one party is more committed than the other and one partner is left financially and legally vulnerable when the relationship breaks down.

“I express concern that the ideal of formalised relationships for all may be seen as an opportunity to remove cohabitation from the political agenda despite the vulnerability that will continue to exist for many.

“It is vitally important for basic protections to be extended to unmarried couples and new legislation would offer the perfect opportunity to achieve this. This would herald real change to the lives of all who choose not to marry.”

Divorce Law to be reformed – consultation announced

No Fault divorce is edging closer to happening following publication by the Ministry of Justice of its consultation “Reducing family conflict” to reform the legal requirements on divorce.  The consultation runs from 15th September until 10 December.

The Government proposes to reform the divorce process to shift the focus from blame and recrimination to supporting adults to better focus on making arrangement for their own and their children’s future. To deliver this, the Government proposes to remove the requirement to allege “fault” by removing the need to justify the reason for the irretrievable breakdown of the marriage and the ability of a spouse to contest the divorce. The conclusion by one spouse that the marriage is over would be respected. The intention is to also prevent the divorce process itself from enabling an abusive spouse to exercise coercive control over the other.

The consultation seeks views on (a) how best to reduce family conflict and strengthen family responsibility; (b) the length of the divorce process and the period couples should have to reflect on the decision to divorce and to make arrangements for the future where divorce is inevitable;  and (c) whether provision should be made to enable a couple to jointly request a divorce where this is a shared and considered decision.

The Government also acknowledges that any future change on how the court can make financial orders should be founded on a revised legal process in which the potential for conflict has been minimised.

Graeme Fraser, Partner at North London firm OGR Stock Denton LLP comments:

“The announcement of this consultation is a welcome step towards No Fault divorce but this change needs to take place sooner rather than later.

Family lawyers have long known the stress and upset caused to families by having to set out details of unreasonable behaviour.  This would be removed by the proposed new law.

Enabling couples to get out of an unhappy and loveless relationship without attributing blame provides them with the opportunity to lead independent lives at the appropriate time once the relationship has irreversibly ended.

It is pleasing that the Government has finally taken heed of the need to reform divorce law which once taken will be a positive step towards the overall modernisation of our family laws.  It is vital that the Government legislates quickly as soon as the consultation ends”

Divorce poised to become less confrontational

Details of a Government consultation on no-fault divorce have just emerged which should improve the process of divorce going forwards.

David Gauke, the justice secretary is expected to launch the consultation shortly. He previously acknowledged that the argument for reforming divorce is “strong”

Under current law, to obtain a divorce either spouse must prove fault through adultery, unreasonable behaviour, desertion, or if both spouses agree after two years of separation. If there is no consent or evidence of fault, the applicant must wait until the couple have been living apart for five years.

It is estimated that two thirds of divorcing couples use one of the fault grounds, and family lawyers have long understood that this commonly increases acrimony for the family during an already stressful time.

The issue came to the fore in July when the Supreme Court ruled that in her case, 68 year old Tini Owens could not divorce her husband until a period of five years’ separation had elapsed in 2020, thus trapping her in an unhappy loveless marriage.

Graeme Fraser, Partner at North London firm OGR Stock Denton LLP is a member of Resolution’s Family Law Reform Group, which is spearheading the campaign to modernise family law. He comments:

“This news could prove to be the catalyst for long overdue divorce law reform in England and Wales. Removing blame from the process would hugely assist couples in their attempts to resolve matters avoiding needless conflict and damage to family relationships. The government urgently needs to introduce measures to improve the divorce process and modernise family law”.

The experienced and specialist Family Law team at OGR Stock Denton LLP can deal rapidly with all queries in relation to separation and divorce in order to resolve matters as effectively and efficiently as possible.