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Club Law and Management

by Philip Smith, Secretary of the A.C.C.

Questions and Answers


Q. My first question this month is one that I have been asked many times recently. It is this: should the Club pass on the VAT reduction of 2.5 per cent on the beer / spirits sold over the bar?

A. The ACC can confirm that Clubs are under no legal obligation to pass on the VAT reduction on any goods or services. Most clubs and many businesses are not passing on the VAT reduction in view of the fact that the rate will revert back in January 2010. Beer duty has also increased by 8% at the same time which has effectively cancelled out the VAT reduction in any event. Bearing in mind the tiny difference passing on the reduction would make to prices we fail to see how it would increase the amount of purchases by any amount and so recommend that Clubs save additional expense by keeping with their usual prices and plough any extra revenue back into the Club.

Do we advertise?

Q. Is there any requirement within the Association rules to offer a job through a public advertisement rather than offer the position directly to a member of the Club who would be ideal for the job?

A. I confirm there is absolutely no requirement for the Club to publicly advertise any job vacancy. The Club is not a public employer and is not publicly funded. If the Club has found an ideal candidate within the membership then why not offer the candidate a three month trial? The candidate must, of course, be prepared to give up membership of the Club.

Vested Interest

Q. I have a long-running dispute within the club that the caterer, who has a concession or franchise with the Club, is also an elected committee member. Some members of both the Club and the Committee itself feel that it is a conflict of interest and the caterer herself freely admits that she offered herself for election solely to protect ehr interest in the concession. Can you advise?

A. The situation raised is not as uncommon as you may think. If the Club's catering franchisee is a member then she is entitled to stand for election to the Committee. As a member she could not. under the rules, be denied this right. In future, the Club may wish to adopt a policy whereby Club franchisees cannot either become or remain Club members. However, such a policy cannot be made retrospectively.

The situation, therefore, will continue until the franchisee is voted out of office or stands down. In the meantime, as a result of vested interest, she should not be permitted to contribute to discussions pertaining to any catering matter or, indeed, to vote on any such subject. I also think her vested interest should be extended to include matters relating to Club staff with whom she works alongside.

Fit for work?

Q. Our steward is at present signed off sick. He has just come out of hospital (for the 3rd time) this time with what we think could have been a mini stroke. The question is, even when he has been signed off the sick list as fit for work, by the hospital and his own GP, can we, as his employer, ask him to take, at our expense, a full medical to decide if he is fit and capable in the long term of doing the job for which he is employed?

A. Legally there is nothing to stop you, as the steward's employer, asking him to take a medical. However, you can in no way force him to take a medical and if he refuses this cannot be used in any way to prevent him returning to work. If the employee acquiesces to the request and then fails the medical the Club would be then placed in the awkward position of having two conflicting medical conclusions the GP's and their own. The Club should, in that circumstance, look closely at the contract of employment and, if they still believe after the medical the employee is not fit to perform his duties then should consider terminating the employment on medical grounds

New Act

Q. My Club, so presumably all others, has received a booklet from BERR concerning the new Employment Act 2008. Does the implementation of the new Act have any material effect on the disciplinary procedures embodied in the ACC standard employment contract?

A. The Act has only just come into force so there are still questions to be answered with regard to its full implications. We do not believe the changes will have any material bearing on ACC contracts as they have more effect on the procedural side of employment law. These are the key changes.

A procedural breach on the part of an employer will not automatically render a dismissal unfair. In cases where failure to follow the correct procedure renders a dismissal automatically unfair, tribunals will have the power to diminish, or even eliminate, the sum of compensation paid if the dismissal would have gone ahead anyway even if the procedure had been correctly followed.

Employees will be able to bring a claim to an employment tribunal without first raising a grievance with their employer.

The power of tribunals to raise or lower awards by up to 50% and to extend the time limits for bringing claims will be removed. This will be replaced by the power to increase or reduce awards by 25% where the relevant Code of Practice has not been followed.

Generally the new changes are not unduly harsh on either employers or employees and have little practical effect for either. In recognising the complexity of employment law the new Act gives some additional leeway for claims brought only because of a procedural breach and a tribunal's leeway in awarding awards has been diminished by 25%. Employees can now bring claims without first raising a grievance with their employers but I do not feel that such claims would ultimately be successful if the employer has been given no opportunity to resolve the situation before litigation. However we shall have to wait and see what actual effect these changes have.

SKY Sports

Q. Many years ago the Club Committee introduced SKY Sports to the Club. At last year's AGM a motion was put to the membership that we cancel our subscriptions to SKY Sports. This was defeated quite convincingly. However, because of the recent lack of members using our Club and also the facilities we offer, the Committee wish to cancel our subscription to SKY as a way of saving extra monies. Does the Committee, have to go to the members via a motion at this year's AGM to do this ?

A. In view of the fact that the members have already determined whether or not the Club has Sky it will not now be possible for the Committee to overrule this decision. If the Committee wish to get rid of Sky they must call a Special General Meeting for this purpose. Now the Committee have given the authority for whether the Club has Sky to the members future decisions must be determined by the members.

It is preferable for the Committee to deal with all general business of the Club under the authority given to them under the rules. Should the Committee wish to consult the members at a general meeting then this is advisable but it is preferable to make it clear that they are not bound by any decision.


Arbitrators / Objections to Membership Candidates

Q. Since adopting the new Model Rules, we have been unable to attract any members into standing as Arbitrators in the event of a member appealing their suspension or expulsion in accordance with Rule 29 (2). We invited nominations for the Committee prior to the AGM but nobody has come forward. We are concerned that, should a member appeal, we will be unable to deal with it and will have to let them back in.

On another matter, we also wish to amend the rules so that a member objecting to a membership candidate has to give a reason. At the moment we just get letters saying "I object to Mr X becoming a member". We than have to bring the objector in to find out why he is objecting. Can we make this amendment?

A. Clubs often have difficulty in finding Arbitrators. In the event of arbitration being claimed, there is nothing to prevent the Club from holding a Special General Meeting in order to elect Arbitrators, although, it is preferable to have them in place.

May I suggest you contact your nearest other ACC affiliated club and ask the Secretary whether officers of their club would be prepared to act as Arbitrators and in return officers of your Club could provide a similar service? This has been successfully achieved by a number of clubs.

In answer to your second question, I think to go as far as amending the rule by way of a formail Rule Amendment, would perhaps, be going too far. It would be easier for the Committee to adopt a policy of returning an objection letter, which did not contain reasons for objection, to the member in question asking for specific reasons otherwise the objection would be invalid. This is simpler than all the work involved with a Rule Amendment. Alternetively, make the policy a bye-law and put it up on the Notice Board.