Nicholas Moore answers some of your legal questions

Q One of our sales assistants recently told me that she is entitled to be
paid more money. We currently pay her £3.80 per hour. Is she right?

A This will depend on her age. If she is aged 22 or older, she is entitled
to receive £4.10 per hour as from 1 October 2001. However, if she is between
the ages of 18 and 21 she is entitled to £3.50 per hour. (as from 1 October

Q We employ approximately 100 people and we are getting a number of
queries from our staff regarding their pension arrangements. We do not
currently provide any company pension scheme and do not make contributions into
any personal pension schemes. Is this acceptable?

A No. From 8 October 2001 all employers who employ five or more
employees must ensure suitable pension arrangements are available for the
majority of their employees.

This means that employers must either provide an occupational pension
scheme, which all employees can join within one year of beginning employment,
or provide contributions of at least 3 per cent to each employee’s personal
pension scheme (which satisfy certain criteria) or provide access to a
stakeholder pension scheme.

Q A company that carries out surveys of students has contacted us. We
have been asked to provide details regarding our students, such as their names,
grades, religious views and race. The details are held on paper files in a
filing cabinet. Can we disclose this information?

A No, not without each student’s consent. From 24 October 2001, the
Data Protection Act 1998 applies to paper records kept in an organised filing

Q One of our employees did not do very well in his GCSEs and has asked
for time off to re-take them. He is 17 years old. Do we have to allow him to do

A All 16 and 17-year-olds, not in full-time education, are allowed
time off work for study and training in order to try to achieve certain
qualifications – GCSEs are included in this.

Q We intend to introduce shift working for the majority of our employees.
This will involve a night shift. Some employees are complaining that this will
have a detrimental effect on their health – this isn’t our problem is it?

A As an employer you may face legal action if you fail to take steps
to combat the ill-effects of your employees’ sleep patterns. It is well
recognised that a person does not get as good a quality of sleep when sleeping
during the day. This can lead to increased stress and the possibility of the
employee making more mistakes. If an employee operates machinery or drives while
on a night shift and has an accident because of tiredness the company may be
held responsible.

The effects of sleep deprivation may need to be taken into account when
assessing an employee’s performance.

It is necessary to educate employees on the effects of sleep deprivation,
carefully plan shift rotas and reduce the number of safety critical tasks
planned for the night shift.

It is also important to consider the Working Time regulations 1998 as they
impose more stringent obligations on employers in relation to employees working
a night shift.

Nicholas Moore is head of employment at Osborne Clarke

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