When sick pay really pays


Life is seldom simple and sometimes problems are more like plagues. My anonymous trader is trying hard to deal with a member of staff who takes long sick spells with a bad back (over two months when the retailer first contacted me). The member of staff does two jobs: one on the till and the other cleaning. My caller wasn’t sure the member of staff was actually ill because, despite doctor’s notes, she had alluded to the fact that she could come in and do the lighter till work but it wouldn’t really be worth her while as she would make more from her Statutory Sick Pay (SSP).

The retailer wanted to know whether he could fire her or make her redundant although he would have to hire someone else then to do the job. I sent him to the conciliation service ACAS as they give free, usually good, impartial advice. I also spoke to ACAS which confirmed that the employer could request to see the employee’s doctor’s report or could suggest to the employee that the company would like to arrange its own private medical examination, financed by the company.

I assured him he was perfectly entitled to do this and could put it to her that, as an employer, he would like to follow proper procedures. He could tell the doctor what the employee’s duties were and ask for a prognosis.

If the doctor reckoned she would be off for a long, long time, then it could lead to dismissal on the grounds of incapability. But if the doctor suggested a phased return then the retailer would have to be flexible.

This sort of situation, said the ACAS bloke, is all about being reasonable and having documentary evidence. All very fine theory but when I got back in touch to find out how things had gone it seems the saga continues. The retailer decided to go down the route of asking the employee’s permission to get a medical report from her doctor as this was the cheaper option.

"Unfortunately, the medical report I received was very vague though and did not really answer any of my specific questions, such as, will the employee be able to return to work in January?"

He added: "I am quite sure now that the employee is actually ’sick’, however, I do feel that sheis playing the system by telling me that she could come back part time, but financially she is better off on SSP."

After receiving the doctor’s report, he phoned ACAS again and they suggested that a meeting with the employee would be the best thing. The situation at the moment is that the employee is about to see a specialist to discuss the possibility of an operation.

This could mean many more months off but also means that the employer can go down the incapable to work route.

He says: "We are far too small a business to be able to keep someone on while also having to pay someone else.

"ACAS suggested that we buy machines and aids, such as a machine to clean the showroom floor, but again we are a very small business. Financially this is not an option. The job is very physical and demanding, and I have been told by ACAS that if the employee is unable to do the job on their own, then that is a reason for dismissal.

"I will await the surgeon’s report!" he concludes.

I think it’s all well and good that employees have so much protection these days, but when they start playing the system there should be an easier get-out card for the employer to play.


Best to get it in writing


Roy Devlia, who runs Powick Service Station near Worcester, never buys things on time. He pays upfront. When he ordered two coffee machines he thought that he would be paying in full as usual. Then he received paperwork from the leasing group, BNP Paribas, showing that he was tied into a five-year contract, paying £91 a quarter for each machine. He managed to stop delivery of one of them but not the other.

He approached the leasing company to see if he could still buy the machine but BNP Paribas wanted £1,800 plus VAT to cancel the contract. After that Roy could go back to the original supplier, SupaVend, to buy the machine outright. Obviously not an option.


Running on ’thick air’


In my occasional series on weird and wonderful alternative fuels I have suggested in the past that the day hasn’t come yet when cars can run on ’thin air’. However, there is one in development that will run on, as it were, ’thick air’ (technically known as compressed air). India’s largest automaker, Tata Motors, is set to start producing the world’s first commercial air-powered vehicle. It says on the internet that some 6,000 zero-emissions air cars, called the MiniCAT, will hit Indian roads by August.

The car will cost around $8,000 in India and will have a range of 300km between refuels (twice that of an electric car). Top speed is 105 kmph.

The car has a tubular chassis that is glued together, rather than welded, and a fibreglass body. Micro-controllers are used in every device in the car so one tiny radio transmitter sends instructions to the lights, the indicators and so on.

There are no keys, just an access card that can be read by the car from the owner’s pocket.

The good news, it sez ’ere, is that once the market develops, refuelling will take place at adapted petrol stations. The next debate will be: what can you charge for air?