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Page last updated at 14:06 GMT, Friday, 9 May 2008 15:06 UK

Q&A: Employment and workplace issues

Greg Paine from website
Greg Paine from an advice website answered your queries
Your employment law and workplace queries are answered by Greg Paine from an advice website.

Tony: My wife works in a shop where the temperature level is uncomfortable. We want to get this sorted out. What rights does she have, what action should she take and what action should the management take, after all air con units are only 100.

Although there is a specified minimum temperature in the UK, there is no specified maximum. The HSE guidance publication, Thermal Comfort in the Workplace, seeks to define thermal comfort, and states: 'An acceptable zone of thermal comfort for most people in the UK lies roughly between 13C (56F) and 30C (86F), with acceptable temperatures for more strenuous work activities concentrated towards the bottom end of the range, and more sedentary activities towards the higher end.'

You can't just walk out if you feel the temperature is unreasonable as that could be seen as unofficial industrial action, but employers have a duty of care towards their employees, and therefore you are within your rights to put your case and ask for air conditioning to be supplied. What it boils down to is negotiation, you have get an agreement with your employer what the definition of reasonable is and what action staff can take once the threshold is reached.

Alex: What is the law regarding employment references? I had a bad reference from a school from which I (and others) had left due to difficulties with the head teacher. I had been in post at another job for a month - it was perfect - before the reference arrived, late, and I was dismissed on the spot because of it. I am a single parent of three children. Finding childcare-friendly work for a man is not easy, and I've found it very difficult to get alternative employment, particularly with this reference hanging over my head. What can I do?

My understanding is that under the Freedom of Information Act you are allowed to request to see your reference, and to challenge it if it is not true. That is why it is the policy of many companies not to provide a detailed reference but simply confirm that you were employed by that company and the dates of your employment.

Since you work in education if there were anything which compromised a child's safety then it is the duty of the Head teacher to pass on that information. However, if it is not true you are certainly entitled to challenge and I would recommend that you seek the service of an employment solicitor to help you to do so.

M Holmes: I had to take emergency leave (three days) from work to look after my sick child. I applied for this as parental emergency leave. My employer has however arbitrarily taken it out of my annual holiday leave. Can they do this?

My understanding is that just as there is a limit on the number of paid sick days you are allowed during a year, there is also a limit on the number of day's compassionate leave an employee is allowed. You don't mention how many days you have taken off but it may be that you have exceeded this limit. In addition, if there are two parents then an employer would expect the parents to share the caring, rather than it always falling on one partner.

Normally one would expect the employer to explain this to the employee if this were the case. It would be a bit unusual for an employer to simply take the leave out of holiday without discussing it with the employee. I suggest that you meet with your company's HR department and discuss this with them.

Anna: I work in a large chain restaurant. All the waiting staff are paid 4.10. "Tronc" as the company call it is used to make the wage minimum. The tronc is basically credit card tips. Also managers and anyone who has any stature within the company regularly get bonuses while the staff see nothing, even though it is staff who work really hard - how can this be right?

Tronc is legal and is a long established scheme in the catering trade. It is recognised and legislated by HMRC and Tronc is in fact even liable to tax under PAYE.

In most companies, the managers receive larger bonuses than their staff. These bonuses are generally paid out of profits rather than tips.

Helen Verley: I've just been watching your programme about there being more older people than children and how is this going to be paid for. There's a terribly simple solution: get employers to stop being so desperate to employ under-24s and take on over-50s and keep on their over-60s. What is being done to promote employment amongst older members of society?

Attitudes are gradually changing and I think a lot of people recognise that 50 is now the new 40. The government has certainly recognised this and enacted legislation which prohibits age discrimination and which allows people to remain in work after the previous statutory retirement age of 65. There are number of websites such as Laterlife, Saga and Mature Times which are specifically intended to help the over 50s back into employment. However it takes time rather than just legislation to change attitudes.

Caroline: I work for a large financial institution in the City of London and my role, along with over 100 others, is being moved to Scotland. I job share with another person and we would both like to be made redundant. However speaking to other people in the same position it seems that the company will not be making redundancies and wants to redeploy everyone into other jobs. On what grounds can we request to be made redundant?

In order to avoid the accusation of unfair dismissal it is your employer's duty to attempt to redeploy you elsewhere within the company. However dependant on your contract, if the hours and days which they offer you are significantly different you would have to opportunity to decline and in this case you could be made redundant.

If they offer you alternative employment of a similar stature, hours and salary and you then decline this employment then my understanding is that you would be perceived to have resigned and therefore not be eligible for redundancy compensation.

Sheena: Can you please explain the working time directive? My contract of employment says my working hours are 9am to 5pm with one hour for lunch. However, for the past months I have been in the office at 8am and working through my lunch hour as we are so busy. I have asked for a temporary worker to tide us over the busy time, but this has not happened. Is there anything I can do?

Have you spoken to your boss about your workload? What has been their reaction? What you should do depends very much upon the company for which you are working. If they recognise that you are working hard, appreciate it and will reward you in some way then it might be worth continuing. If not, then perhaps you need to explain to your boss that you cannot do all that is required in the hours available and ask them to prioritise for you.

A viewer who wishes to remain anonymous has emailed to tell us: Currently I work for a large public sector organisation. I do not drive and my journey time will increase from a ten minute walk to a 45 minute journey. I am a single parent and still have a child at school for whom I still need to be responsible. says all cases should be treated individually as what travelling is acceptable for one person may not be for another. However management dont seem to want any contact to discuss this matter and seem intent on an almost bullying / intimidation approach. Any ideas?

Although your journey time may increase from 10 to 45 minutes, I think most people would still consider this an acceptable commute - many people commute for far longer.

However, since you work for a large public sector organisation they will have an HR department who will be well versed in the law. Have you discussed your circumstances with them? Alternatively are you a member of a union such as Unison and have you asked them for advice?

Since you are a single parent perhaps your employer would be flexible about your starting time. In addition most schools will offer some sort of assistance with after-school clubs or similar to look after your child for the additional 35 minutes in the afternoon.

Derek: I have work for Royal Mail for 40 years and it is common knowledge that the local office is being sold and we will be moving to a smaller site . In law how much notice must Royal Mail gives us for those who are thinking of taking Early Voluntary Redundancy. or even normal Voluntary Redundancy?

Not entirely sure what E.V.R. stands for. Is it "early voluntary retirement" or "enhanced voluntary redundancy"?

How many people are likely to be made redundant? For twenty to ninety nine redundancies the minimum legal period for consultation is set at thirty days before the first dismissal takes place. For one hundred or more redundancies it is ninety days.

Although your company may choose to pay more than the statutory minimum payment, legally you are required to be paid one week's salary for each year of continuous employment and the maximum number of years continuous service that can be counted for statutory redundancy payments purposes is 20. The current statutory weekly pay limit is 330.

The opinions expressed are Greg's, not the programme's. The answers are not intended to be definitive and should be used for guidance only. Always seek professional advice for your own particular situation.



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