Employment FAQs

Managing a salon involves a unique set of staff challenges. David Wright answers some of the most frequently asked questions...

I'm regularly contacted by clients who begin their sentence with, “am I allowed to…?” Often, their questions don’t relate to a specific piece of law but rather to managing their businesses on a day-to-day basis. Some of the most common questions are:

1. Am I allowed to fix holidays or insist staff take them in quiet months?
The answer is a definite yes and it is covered in the working time directive. It’s a good idea to include the requirement in your contracts. For example, you may write, “we reserve the right to fix up to one week’s leave each year”. But even if it’s not in the contract, it’s still legal. You may want to fix leave over Christmas or in your known quiet months.

Legally, if you want to fix holiday, your notice period must be twice the length of the holiday. For example, to fix a week of holiday you have to give two weeks’ notice. In reality, this would be a last resort and you would give staff significantly more notice, but it is useful if you have to close the salon at short notice. In theory you can fix all staff holidays but that is likely to be extremely unpopular, although I do have clients who insist on one week per quarter.

Another client decided it was better to incentivise staff to take holiday at less popular times, so she agreed that if they booked a week off during the quiet January to March period they would only have to use four holiday days.

2. If I have made an error when dismissing an employee will I automatically lose a claim for unfair dismissal?
Not necessarily. In a recent tribunal, an internal appeal hearing corrected an earlier procedural failing. At the time of the first disciplinary hearing, the employee hadn’t been told what the charges against her were or that they amounted to gross misconduct. She had not been shown the witness statements in advance nor been given sufficient time to prepare her case. All of the above were substantial failings by the employer.

The court of appeal decided that the question to be answered was whether the disciplinary process as a whole was fair – in other words, the dismissal and the appeal procedure combined. By the time the appeal was heard, all of the shortfalls identified above had been rectified. This wouldn’t be a comfortable position to find yourself in and it might involve some hefty legal bills, so my advice is to follow your disciplinary procedure and get it right first time.

3. Gross misconduct means instant dismissal so am I allowed to sack someone on the spot?
Sorry, but no. In all cases you’re required to investigate and invite the employee to a hearing in writing, spelling out the allegations and their right to be accompanied. In a recent case, a client sacked an employee by text after seeing them on CCTV putting products in their handbag. However guilty they appear, you must give them the opportunity to respond. 

4. Am I allowed to recover training costs if an employee leaves?
Yes, so long as you have a provision in your contract and you’re aware of the rules. Employers need to take care that the contract only requires reimbursement of sums that they can prove have actually been spent on particular training courses. It may be difficult to quantify accurately the cost of informal or in-house training as there is normally no invoice. Case law has shown that an arbitrary deduction of £500, for example, could not be justified.

5. My staff get a paid break. Am I allowed to ask them to answer the telephone or to miss their break if there is a walk in?
The law requires staff to receive a minimum of 20 minutes’ break if their working day is six hours or more. For under- 18s it’s 30 minutes after 4.5 hours. Payment is optional but very few employers pay for breaks. They are given under the auspices of health and safety, to give staff a rest. The break is meant to be continuous so, in theory, if it was interrupted the 20 minutes would start again. Whether or not you pay for the break makes no difference.

6. Can I insist that part-time staff who are pregnant attend their ante-natal appointments on their day off?
No, but you can always ask them, and some employees will do this anyway. The law requires employers to give pregnant staff (and their partners) time off to attend antenatal appointments.

David Wright is a consultant in all aspects of employment practice and law. He is the main employment law consultant for Habia and provides a personalised support service for UK salons