The art of letter writing

A semi-regular correspondent, Tony Barlow, who runs Local Service Stations in beautiful Shrewsbury, saw a piece I wrote a while back about an employer plagued with an employee on long-term sick leave and who was at the mercy of his doctor’s useless reports.

It prompted the response: "At the time of your writing that report I was in the same position with an employee that had been off sick for 10 months and, as I was in the final throes of solving my problem, I could not write without the possibility of messing up the whole process."

It’s over now so he can report. "An employee can leave work one day and call in sick with a sickness that cannot be verified as genuine and be absent for months without any sanctions from the employer," says Tony. "The employee can obtain very easily a doctor’s ’Statement of Fitness for Work’ saying that he/she is either ’not fit for work’ or ’fit for work’. If an employer treated his staff in the same inconsiderate way he/she would be before a tribunal with the prospect of being ruined."

As Tony points out, an employee’s absence can mean the boss having to fill in as well as other members of staff.

"How does an employer, already managing his business to its leanest, give himself time off, cover for staff holidays or genuine sickness?" he asks.

It wasn’t the first time this had happened. In a similar situation years ago Tony had obtained a doctor’s report that was of no use because of its non-committal nature. "I did not pay for it but learned a good lesson. This time, for this employee, I obtained as I expected, the same non-committal report even after detailing the questions I required answering."

He is a member of the Federation of Small Businesses and so was advised by Abbey Legal every step of the way.

Now his advice: "When writing a letter to any authority it has to be planned. The first letter has to have questions that you should expect answers to so that if answers are not given it leaves open an opportunity for a response.

"The response in our industry can place a responsibility on the authority, this time the doctor, for anything that can go wrong in the future. The letter has to imply that they can be blamed if anything does go wrong in the future."

He sent me copies of the letters and his second letter reply to the doc’s non-committal one makes it very clear that petrol stations can be very dangerous places with the wrong supervisory management.

It and also mentions being regulated by the local authority and the need for clear answers to questions should there be devasting consequences.

Tony got the desired response. And being not too far from retirement, has decided not to replace the member of staff.

"My wife and I have a working schedule that gives us both time off but never time off together. Until there is some sanity within employment laws to give fairness to both employee and employer many employers will, I am sure, take the same course and many worthy people will miss out on potential jobs."

Egg-asperated over dates

Let us crack on to eggs. Jasmin Patel is on the boil over eggs. "What do those codes mean?" she asks. Good question. Apparently her father’s filling station doesn’t sell that many eggs. She says, on email, that their store is on an edge-of-town site and eggs sell okay, but not that regularly.

"It’s a nightmare keeping up with all these regulations. I had a customer ask me recently how to decode the codes."

The favourite file in my filing cabinet is called ’Retail detail’.

It sits between ’Refrigeration’ (least favourite file especially at this time of year when refrigeration if it’s going to fail always fails in the, ha! heat) and ’Scams’, my second favourite file for its sheer inventiveness.

Retail detail is big on statistics and funny rules. The reason eggs have a seven in brackets (7) after the best-before date is to remind retailers that they must remove any unsold eggs from shelves seven days before the best-before date.

From when laid, the maximum date for best-before is 28 days. The law says that the eggs must have at least seven days ’life’ left in them when consumers buy them.

Eggs are a bit of a special case in the best-before world in that they could contain salmonella which multiplies over time.

There is a great deal of online chatter about whether you can still eat eggs after their date but that’s the customer’s decision, not yours.

Blazing summer days

Just what we all needed rioting, looting, grinning thuggery. It moved as one: one (very small) brain, one body. And of course it posed horrendous threats to petrol stations.

I used to think it was handy living near a parade of shops and just a four-minute walk past them to the Central Line. The parade ends further down from me, at the petrol station.

There was enough warning for the convenience stores, pub and the petrol station to put their own hoodies on look-out after the first night.

Then they all shut early and the invasion petered out in my area after one jewellery store looting, the torching of a carpet shop and several smashed shopfronts.

Fortunately we have no ’leisure’ or mobile phone shops round here!